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Does Mitch Barnhart cater to big donors over average fans? He says no.

Volleyball coach Craig Skinner is one of the coaches UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart says he has to find ways to give a chance to be competitive in the SEC. (Larry Vaught Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

How often have you earned the “average” University of Kentucky fan say that UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart has lost focus on them to cater to “big donors” way too much?

Whether is disgruntled football fans over having their seats moved or higher parking passes, donations that season ticket holders must make to buy tickets, mandatory huge donations now to become a new basketball season ticket holder to special fans being able to buy alcohol at Kroger Field but not the average fan, many fans have not been happy.

During his State of the Wildcat address to media members last week, Barnhart was asked about possibly focusing on the big donors too much and what he would way to fans who have been faithful supporters of UK athletics for years but can’t write mega checks to UK like some donors do.

Here was his complete answer:

“Well, I think we’ve tried to come — a couple things I would say is we’ve kept our season tickets pretty flat in football. They have not gone up hardly at all over the last seven, eight years, so we’ve tried to keep our expenses relatively flat,” Barnhart said.

“There’s plenty of entry points for people to come to Kentucky football games, Kentucky basketball games. The lower bowl is hard. We understand those things don’t turn over very much at all. The upper bowl there’s opportunity. There’s been openings for people to buy tickets to come to Rupp Arena.

So I’d say there’s plenty of entry points.

“Do I have to pay attention to our donor base? Absolutely. I have to do that. That’s part of what we do. We’ve got a big operation. There is no question about that. But that’s what we’ve also tried to go border to border across the state and we went down in the coal mines in eastern Kentucky this year. And we went to the western part of the state and spent time out there. Those are important things that we do. We try to keep and stay connected.

“So yeah, not all of it’s going to be a perfect deal where we make — again, everyone looks at it a little bit differently. But we try and stay connected a variety of different places. One part of our student-athlete experience was to take all of our student-athletes to eastern Kentucky and work over there with some of the folks over there and some of the projects over there. We’ve worked really hard at that.

So I think there’s different ways we try and connect.

“In terms of the actual — so you’ve got to find a balance between, yeah, do you want a program that competes at a high level in the SEC? Okay, here’s what it costs to do that, and we’ve got a responsibility to do that. It is not going to be easy. If you look at some of our ticket prices, our prices are probably on the higher end in terms of basketball, but they’re on the lower end in terms of football.

“So we’ve tried to find a balance on that in terms of everything else we’ve done, women’s basketball has been pretty flat, volleyball, all of our other sports, there’s an entry point for everyone to come in and enjoy Kentucky athletics.

“Yeah, do I have to pay attention to it? Absolutely I do. Yeah, that’s my responsibility to the young people that compete in our sports. If I don’t do that, then we don’t keep 16 head coaches for an average of 10 years apiece. They don’t stay. We don’t have athletes doing the things that they’re doing. I don’t get to read that list of wonderful accomplishments that I get to read. If you don’t want me to read that, then we don’t have to pay attention to any of that.
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2 comments

  1. I have had my issues with Mitch Barnhart over his tenure, but this is not one of the issues on my personal list.

    On balance, I believe Mitch Barnhart has been one of, if not the best AD’s at UK in my time as a fan. Overall, his leadership has elevated UK sports across the board, his coaching hires have been very strong overall as well, and UK athletics is on strong financial footing at a time when many University athletics programs are struggling to stay out of the red.

  2. Ticket prices and donations have been raised to where only the “well to do” have access to the best seats at UK facilities in basketball and football. It is almost like professional sports pricing now. For their donations the rich, they get perks, I got over that a long time ago.

    Barnhart is doing a great job at UK IMO. He is the best AD at UK in my lifetime for sure. For one thing, he has put UK football on a par with basketball in many ways (facilities) whereas in the past that was not the case.

    Before he draws criticism, and he surely will by some, I would like to know how other major programs handle things, big donors, etc. If I had to be critical of one thing it would be the lack of seating available at CWS or Kroger Field. The lack of seats was a mistake to start with I do believe, especially as the football program excels. For example Michigan at Ann Arbor. Their stadium seats 100,000 plus does it not? It always seems packed too. So, more seats some maybe available for the average fan, at a reasonable price, would seem to be the way to bring in much needed revenue and improve the home team advantage, Look at Tennessee and Neyland Stadium. Do they do things that much different than what Mitch does at UK as far as catering to the wealthy? I don’t know, but I would say yes they do. Mitch has a tough job, and he is damned if he does or doesn’t. He can’t please all. UK Athletics is in good shape from my view. and my big screen TV works just fine. My next thing of a critical nature would be; he should have outlawed alcohol for all, rich and poor, drink Pepsi within the stadium.

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