While WKU-UK game ticket sales are down, efforts to promote it aren’t

Cole Claybourn

Ticket sales are down for the game between WKU and Kentucky on Sept. 1 at L.P. Field in Nashville, but not because WKU isn’t trying to promote it.

Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications Todd Stewart said the athletic department and marketing staff have actually done more promoting for this game than any other game.

“I don’t mean this to sound self-serving, but there’s not really much more we could do,” he said.

Promotion for the game started in February when members of the athletic department sponsored a booth at the Nashville Sports Fest to distribute promotional flyers for the game, similar to a “save the date” flyer.

Since then, Stewart said, promotion has been a “non-stop” venture.

Countless television advertisements have been placed on channels such as ESPN, ESPN2, ABC Family, CN2 and Fox Sports, as well as several others.

Anyone who clicks on wkusports.com is greeted by a full-page promo for the game with info on how to buy tickets, as well as a count down on the main site that tells fans, down to the second, how much time is left until kickoff.

Season ticket holders and single game ticket holders — including those who have bought tickets to the last two games in Lexington — have all been contacted about purchasing tickets for the UK game.

Just last week, Head Coach Willie Taggart recorded a 30-second voice message that was sent out to 25,000 people in the Bowling Green and Nashville region, including alumni, to encourage buying tickets to the game.

WKU alumnus Scott Toncray said he got that message and was inspired to make the same sales pitch to his friends who he thought might be interested in the game.

All of that was done on top of numerous mass emails that went out from WKU, the Nashville Sports Council and even Ticket Master, who sent theirs out to roughly 12,000-15,000 people who have bought tickets to the Music City Bowl — also held in Nashville.

So it’s not as if people aren’t aware of the game. Stewart said plenty of buzz has been generated throughout the state and Bowling Green region about it.

With a new coach, a tight end in Jack Doyle who has been named to a postseason award watch list and one of the nation’s best running backs in Bobby Rainey — named to three postseason award watch lists — an increased level of interest has surrounded the WKU football program.

But despite the excitement, as Stewart put it, one plus one isn’t equaling two, for whatever reason. Ticket sales for the UK game aren’t moving, even less than two weeks away from kick-off.

“You’d think if you had (that excitement), it would translate to ticket sales,” Stewart said. “So far, it really hasn’t. Our selling of tickets for this game has not met the expectations that we had so far.”

When the deal was announced that WKU would play UK in Nashville, Stewart said officials realistically believed 35,000 people would show up in the roughly 70,000-seat stadium, based on the initial enthusiasm over the game.

“We’re not there and we’re not really close to there today,” Stewart said on Friday.

As of Monday, Stewart said plenty of good seats remained available.

Unless anything changes, WKU will yet again be plagued by a problem they’ve faced many times.

“Historically — and this is a hurdle we have to get over — we have not traveled well to games outside of Bowling Green,” Stewart said.

He said in both 2009 and 2010, WKU had to return tickets to Tennessee and UK that weren’t sold. Even in 2002 when WKU played in the Division I-AA National title game, just 6,000 fans drove the three hours to Chattanooga, Tenn., to watch the Toppers play.

“Obviously we have to win more games, and we recognize that,” Stewart said. “We need to sell more tickets and get people in the stands here at Houchens-Smith Stadium.”

Stewart said he’s hoping that at least the student body will turn out as expected in Nashville, even though the game is during the first week of classes. The first 4,000 students to show up at L.P. Field will get in free. Typically an average home game at Smith Stadium will draw around 5,000-7,000 students, Stewart said.

Those who don’t get in free to the game in Nashville may be turned off by the ticket prices, given the state of the economy. The cheapest ticket to this particular game ($28) is nearly as much as the cheapest set of season tickets ($36).

To counter what some might pay for gas money, a fan bus is being organized to take fans to the game in Nashville and back to Bowling Green for $20 a person.

As of now, only one bus is scheduled to make the trip, but Stewart said that could change based on demand.

Stewart said he’s still not totally discouraged at this point by the slow ticket sales because WKU has historically had a good walk-up rate as far as ticket sales are concerned. Many tickets are sold the week of the game, and Stewart said he expects that to be the case again this year.

However, he acknowledged a couple more remaining factors that could inhibit ticket sales, namely the hour-long drive on a Thursday night and the national television availability.

But at this point, Stewart said the television exposure, while it might keep fans from coming to the stadium, is a necessary evil.

“You can’t really put a price tag on the value of having a game on a Thursday night with virtually no competition that goes into 75 million homes,” he said. “I don’t think we’re in a position right now with our football program to say no to national TV. I don’t think that would be in our best interest.”

An important part of that is the fact that alumni will be able to see the game, as well as potential high school recruits.

“We have alumni in close to 50 states and close to 50 countries,” Stewart said. “Certainly their ability to see this game is huge. That’s where TV is a tremendous benefit. To measure this game in only how many people were in the seats at L.P. Field would be short-sighted.”

While Stewart said the athletic department acknowledges that many people will stay home to watch the game on TV, that doesn’t mean the efforts to keep selling tickets and generate interest in the game will stop.

Just this past Sunday, football players helped incoming freshmen move in to the dorms for M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan and took part in convocation activities to help spread the word about the game. Family Fun Day is on Saturday, which will be another way for the players and coaches to engage fans about the game.

“We’re going to see this thing through to the finish line,” Stewart said.