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Only 18,885 Fans Showed Up For UK-VU Last Saturday; Think Rupp Would Ever Be Just 27% Full?

Outgoing coach Joker Phillips suggested earlier this week that he knew that his fate was sealed as Kentucky’s coach when he looked into the Commonwealth Stadium stands last week and saw more silver benches than people.  If you didn’t see the “crowd” for yourself, it was really more like a gathering than a crowd:




The fact that UK announced the attendance for the Wildcats’ game with Vanderbilt as 44,902 led The Lexington Herald-Leader to file an open records request in the hopes of learning exactly how many tickets were actually scanned — not sold, but scanned — upon people’s entry into the stadium.  The paper got the records.  And the real attendance on Saturday… was just 18,885.

Most spring games in the SEC draw more than 19,000 fans.  Many Texas high school games draw more than 19,000 fans.

The school provided the numbers for UK’s other home games this season as well.  The number of fans who actually had their tickets scanned at Commonwealth Stadium this season is as follows:


Kent State game — 37,000

Western Kentucky game — 43,174

South Carolina game — 35,086

Mississippi State game — 29,927

Georgia game — 33,420

Vanderbilt game — 18,885


UK’s listed capacity for the stadium is 67,492 but that number includes players, coaches, stadium personnel and others not included in the tickets-scanned numbers.  Still, these digits give us a clue as to how much money UK has been losing this year.

Through six homes games, UK could have sold 404,952 tickets this season.  The announced combined attendance for those games — meaning: tickets sold — was just 251,591.  So about 150,000 more tickets could have been sold.

The actual number of scanned tickets and passes equaled but 197,492.  About 200,000 more people could have attended Wildcat football games.  That’s a whole lotta concessions, merchandise, programs, and the like that went unsold as well.

Lose that kind of money and you have to make a coaching change.  Period.  So in that sense, Kentucky fans truly made their voices heard by not showing up to watch Phillips’ team this year.

Unfortunately, they also proved that UK has one of the least-supported football programs in the Southeastern Conference.  This fact always upsets Cat fans when it’s pointed out, but do you think — even in a terrible year — Rupp Arena’s actual attendance would ever drop to just 27% of capacity as was the case with the Cats’ football game against Vandy on Saturday?  No way.



As a UK fan and grad, I am in the minority in that I am more of a UK football fan than a UK basketball fan. I ready pretty much every post on this site and genuinely agree with them and this one as well. However, I will say that UK has done well for itself in attendance when looking at the national rankings for attendance in the FBS. Since 2003, UK has finished no worse than 31st in the nation in average attendance, according to these statistics:

Now, your claim of them being one of the least-supported teams in the SEC is founded by these stats because of actual stadium size. When you look at % full against stadium capacity since 2003, UK's lowest % full was 84% in '06 and highest was 103% in '09 for an average of 95% for that span. That seems like pretty good fan support to me and is better than Arkansas, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vandy over that span. That seems like pretty good fan support to me. Again, I'm a fan of this site and mostly agree with you on every topic but I had to stick up for my school this time.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



Just an quickie clarification here.  I didn't suggest other programs don't have attendance issues of their own.  But if you can show me a photo of any other SEC stadium with fewer than 20,000 fans in the stands for an in-conference game, I'd love to see it.  Whether UK fans were trying to make a statement or not.


There's a reason photos like the one above made national news -- you don't see other SEC schools draw fewer than 20,000 fans.  Even when folks are trying to get a coach fired.  Let's see if photos from Auburn and Tennessee look at stark this weekend as this shot from Kentucky a week ago.  Their stadiums might be half-empty, but here's betting there'll be more than 20-grand in attendance.


Many thanks for reading the site,



I wonder how full the Swamp or Death Valley would be if those teams posted 3 or 4 losing seasons in a row? Few fans go to games just to support the team, they go to the games to have their egos stroked. Almost no one posting on a sports blog has actually played college ball, but almost every fan will say "We beat......". Fans don't beat anybody. The team wins or loses. Read sports stories from the "storied" past, and students and alumni very seldom used the term "we beat you", it was Bama, the team, our school won the game. College games are more and more an investment in chest pounding, most students have never met a player on their team and do not go to the games to support the guy sitting next to them in class who is going out to represent the school. How many stadiums have emptied out this year before the third quarter actually started? And in storied SEC programs? A lot more than we like to admit as "the toughest football conference in the nation." 


At any major college,  the way to increase attendance in any sport is to build a winning program. "Build it and they will come."


Looks like Western Kentucky must have a pretty good road following for a smaller school.


 @SevierVol They didn't have to travel far and this was a real chance to beat UK. WKU has a huge alumni numbers in KY. Plus more UK fans attended because their team was an unknown they still had hope for the season. 


UK's football attendance deception is similar to the schools that list tickets sold for basketball games when half of that show up for the non-conference games in December . The troublesome thing is that schools that do this get away with it.  NCAA attendance rankings reflect only what the schools self report, so they can tout fake sellouts and crowd support that is likely overinflated.


The starting times of these games needs to be factored all of these noon start times hurt attendance. 


Think UK basketball would only win 3 games in a season?  Do that for 2-3 years and try to charge $50 a ticket, and make them play outside on a miserable day, and it might get close....


Your evaluation of this being a sign that Joker had to go is correct, but your evaluation of the UK fan is unfair and incorrect. I went to game literally longer than I can remember from pre-Bill Curry through Mumme, Morris, and Rich Brooks years (I've had to move away since).  The worst I've been to was the 1-10 slog of Curry and been to the goal posts coming down against 'Bama....  Kentucky fans can be every bit as passionate about football and only require mediocre results with the hint at something special.  We just have to have SOMETHING to be optimistic about, especially given the cost to go to a game.  If I were in Lexington and had tickets, I would have gone...but I can't blame ANYONE for missing that game.


At the same time, I hope the attendance is better to send Joker and the seniors out right.  Everyone likes one likes losing.  I won't be there, but will be at the UT game in Knox for whatever that's worth



SethDavis 1 Like

John, this is a garbage post.  Given the lack of historical success, UK fans have been wildly supportive of UK football (think South Carolina, pre-Holtz).  We regularly fill up commonwealth stadium (prior to this year), even when fortunes are grim.  Ironically, it is this loyalty that has allowed our university to continue putting an inferior product on the field b/c they knew damn well that we would all show up each week regardless of their neglect and unwillingness to pour resources into the product.


Now, we are finally ACTING like a real football school by not showing up to support a bad product.  Take a look at what's going on at Auburn and Tennessee...thousands and thousands of empties each and every week.  UK fans FINALLY get it that the ONLY way to get our message across to the administration is by not showing up.  That forced Barnhart's hand, even when he has made every effort to retain his good buddy, Joker Philips. 


UK does not have poor fan support.  UK is not Indiana or Vanderbilt.  We may not be Alabama when it comes to fan devotion, but I'd put our loyalty-per-win ratio right up there with the heavyweights in our conference.  If I ever live to see the day when UK is winning 9 and 10 games a year, then you couldn't build a stadium big enough to house all of the demand.  Fans that don't care don't send 50,000-60,000 fans to nashville for the second-rate MUSIC CITY bowl (UK did this twice, against Clemson and FSU, respectively).  Fans that don't care don't send 50,000 fans to tampa against penn state in 98.  We are STARVED for football success.  UK fans love basketball b/c we're great at it, have great history, have a great coach, etc; but UK fans also want to support football in teh same manner.  If our school ever rewarded us with an investment in the program, then you'll see UK fans (once again) fill up the stadium every week. 


So, please don't be lazy like the Chris Lows and the Pat Fordes of the world who act like UK fans don't care.  We do.  A lot.  The empty stadium against vandy was a concerted effort by the fans to send a message.  It worked.


Dang.  Looks almost like a Miami game. 


I would like to know the lowest attendance at Rupp during Billy Gillespie's time.


i would love to know how many were actually at the UT-Troy game.  they claim 80k+.  i don't buy it


Most said the Kick-off attendance was higher, but there was less than 50,000 at half time.


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