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August 31, 2012Just days from Kentucky's season opener against Louisville on Sunday, football season ticket sales are still far behind where they were a year ago.
There were 37,948 total season tickets sold as of Sunday, Aug. 26, executive associate athletics director DeWayne Peevy said on Friday.
As of Aug. 28, 2011, 47,655 season tickets had been sold. That's a decline of 20.3 percent from a similar time a year ago.
Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart told Cats Illustrated in a phone interview on Wednesday the decline was due to a number of factors, including "issues with the economy and anticipation of what's going to happen, and we're dealing with a little of both."
There were 48,392 total season tickets sold for the 2011 season, with the final 737 season tickets being sold between Aug. 28, 2011 and the Wildcats home opener on Sept. 10.
There still is more than a week until Kentucky's home opener this year on Sept. 8 against Kent State.
Of the 37,948 tickets sold as of Sunday, 3,115 of those were student season tickets. Updated student season ticket numbers were not available, but as of Aug. 21, 2011, 5,880 student season tickets had been sold, according to an earlier open records request by Cats Illustrated.
The most recent UK athletic budget, approved this summer, accommodated for a decline in revenue from football season ticket sales. Barnhart said the department was conservative in its estimates for season ticket sales, hoping to meet its projected numbers.
If season ticket sales still fall short, he said he didn't expect it to have a major impact on the department.
"There have been a couple of years going back that we haven't fulfilled our hopes for numbers but we've found a way to bounce back," he said.
There's still time for sales to recover at least partially, with one major factor that has yet to be decided.
A win on Sunday in the season opener against rival Louisville could stir some members of the fan base and inspire a late surge in ticket sales.
"That's fairly evident," Barnhart said. "If you beat your state rival, people get excited about that."
The Wildcats finished 5-7 a year ago and the program did not reach a bowl game for the first time since 2005. Head coach Joker Phillips is 11-14 in his first two seasons coaching the Wildcats.
If those numbers improve, Barnhart said, season ticket sales should follow.
"To find our way out of it, we have to go win some games and do some things that people want to see," Barnhart said. "Generally, fans are like that everywhere."
The athletic department announced in July that mini-packs of football tickets would be available for sale. Mini-packs, featuring tickets to either three or four home games rather than the entire home schedule, had not been sold by UK in previous years, but Barnhart said similar deals are common elsewhere in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina and Tennessee, among others, are offering mini-packs for football.
"People want to use that as a sign that something's wrong, and that's not the case at all," he said.
The decline in season ticket sales might have changed the outlook for the athletic department's budget, but it doesn't change Phillips' situation, Barnhart said. The third-year coach still has the full support of the athletic director.
"Our goal is to give Joker the most support we can give him to continue to grow our guys and make progress towards championships," Barnhart said.