Rupp Arena – Kentucky Wildcats
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Big Blue in the Bluegrass State
Let’s face it. Lexington, Kentucky is known for two things … horses and Kentucky Wildcats basketball. The second largest city in the Bluegrass State is home to the University of Kentucky, a public university with just over 27,000 students. The men’s basketball team is one of the most famous, iconic sports teams in North America. With a history that dates back to 1903, seventeen Final Four appearances, eight National Championships and a stranglehold on the Southeast Conference, Big Blue is in the forefront of the national consciousness for college basketball. Add to that a semi-controversial coach in John Calipari and his willingness to exploit the rules to the advantage of Kentucky and you have a formula for a consistently competitive program at the highest level. Of course, Kentucky also boasts a massive basketball alumni that include NBA royalty at all levels.
Rupp Arena has been the home of Kentucky basketball since 1976. Located in downtown Lexington and essentially owned by the city, Rupp Arena is part of the larger Lexington Convention Center. Although the arena is central to the city, it is clear that it is the home of the Kentucky Wildcats first and foremost. It is, after all, named after iconic Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp.
Food & Beverage 4
Concessions at Rupp Arena are decent for college basketball. All of the expected items are available along with some locally specific spots. Hunt Brothers Pizza, Gold Star Chili, City Barbeque and Repicci’s Italian Ice and Gelato are some more unique spots. One consideration is the nature of the concourses. They are a bit of a labyrinth and some concession areas are hidden around corners. At the main concession stands peanuts, popcorn ($4.25/$5.50), nachos, pretzels, chips, beef jerky, pulled pork, burgers, sausage and hot dogs ($4) are all available.
Soft drink options center around Pepsi products ($3.75/$4.25/$5.25) and include Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper. Bottled water and coffee are also available. Alcohol is not served in the main concessions for Wildcat games.
Upon first view of Rupp Arena, it is quite clear that it was built in the seventies. Pretty much a rectangular box covered in siding and with little to no windows, Rupp Arena’s exterior pales in comparison to the much nicer, newer attached Lexington Center. Parts of the siding are covered with murals boasting Big Blue Nation’s eight National Championships and honoring legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Otherwise, from the exterior, Rupp Arena is nothing special.
The interior is a bit of a different story. The attached Lexington Center offers a bit of decent entryway into the Rupp Arena. It is littered with banners for Conference Tournament championships, great players, regular season conference titles and NCAA Championships. A large video wall helps advertise future events. After passing security and entering Rupp Arena proper, fans are assaulted with what seems like blue all over. The floors are blue. The walls are blue. The concessions are blue. The concourses are a bit of a maze and there is plenty for fans to look at as they make their way around the arena.
Upon entering the seating bowl, fans will immediately notice the littering of banners in the rafters, which essentially line the perimeter of the east-west oriented basketball court. Banners honoring the 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998 and 2012 NCAA Champions hang in the east end. They are joined by NCAA runner-up banners from 1966, 1975, 1997 and 2014. Final Four banners also hang for 1942, 1984, 1993, 2011 and 2015. Impressive to say the least. The other three sides of the arena are lined with the banners which honor 42 former players, coaches and contributors. Some names that fans will assuredly recognize include Tony Delk, Dan Issel, Jamal Mashburn, Pat Riley, and Kenny Walker. Coaches Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino and Adolph Rupp are also honored with banners. It is curious how these honors will change with Kentucky’s embracing of “one-and-done” players who have fame in the professional ranks, but spent little time as Wildcats.
The best spot to get the perfect center-court logo photo is from the north side of the area. The video board in the center is not massive, but state of the art. There are additional video boards in the four corners above the seating bowl showing statistics. As far as seating goes, the lower bowl has typical arena chair seating and the very steep upper bowl has bench seating. The students sit behind the basket in the west end with the band.
The production of a Kentucky Wildcats game is about as professional as it gets for a college basketball game with a number of old school traditions sprinkled throughout. Pyro and fireworks are featured throughout the significant pre-game introductions. The Wildcats make great use of their video boards. The Wildcats band help remind fans that this is still a college basketball experience. The national anthem at Kentucky is one of the best renditions that will be heard anywhere and the opening tip is precluded by the “First Call” or “Call to the Post,” the traditional bugle melody signalling the beginning of a horse race. The mascot, Wildcat, makes his presence felt in the pre-game and roams the court engaging fans. The cheerleaders also perform a number of typical stunts and lead students and fans in cheers. One of the best traditions at Kentucky is the cheerleaders spelling out Kentucky with their bodies. When it comes to the “Y” a former player or celebrity is brought out to participate.
Rupp Arena is located in downtown Lexington and as a result there are a plethora of places to eat or drink before or after a game. Most are found between Main and Short Streets. Some spots that fans may want to consider include Bluegrass Tavern, Saul Good Restaurant, Tony’s of Lexington, Goodfellas Pizzeria, The Village Idiot and Shakespeare and Co.
Lexington is the center of horse country. Although not in the downtown, there are a number of horse-themed options for fans who are in the area for a bit of a longer stay. Fans are encouraged to check out The Thoroughbred Center and Kentucky Horse Park.
While in Lexington, fans can find other sporting options as well. The local horse racing track is Keeneland. Single A baseball can be found at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends. Of course, UK offers other sporting options, most significantly, Kentucky Wildcats football at Kroger Field.
Fans who wish to stay near Rupp Arena can stay at the Hyatt Regency Lexington or the Hilton Lexington Downtown and take just a couple of steps to get to the arena.
Although there is some mild panic at an average drop of over 1,000 fans for Kentucky basketball games in 2017-2018, Kentucky is still locked into some of the highest attendance figures in the entire NCAA. In 2017, the Wildcats averaged almost 23,500 fans per game to lead the entire NCAA, including the mighty Syracuse Orange, who have the opportunity to bring in more than 30,000 fans per game. The Kentucky Wildcats are the game in town and also have a significant stranglehold on the entire state of Kentucky. Wildcat fans, led by the students, are rabid and loud and ready to support their team.
Rupp Arena is located in downtown Lexington, a pretty significant distance west of the interstates I-75 and I-64. Fans travelling to the arena from out of town will definitely have to maneuver through the city. It can take a little time, so leaving sufficient time is a pretty good idea. There is parking around Rupp Arena specifically behind the arena and on the other side of High Street. For fans who desire public transit, there are buses that travel High Street, Broadway and Main. Check the Lextran website for fares, maps and schedules.
Getting around the arena can be tight at times. There are a ton of corners and pockets that can be challenging to navigate. Combine that with crowds of over 20,000 consistently and you have a good reason to plan your visits to the washroom well. Washroom facilities are adequate, but not spectacular.
Return on Investment 3
Although the Kentucky Wildcats are a great experience and a bucket list item for sports travellers, it remains one of the most expensive experiences in college basketball. Tickets are extremely hard to come by and often remain on the overly inflated secondary market. That being said, conference games are over $75 face value for the cheapest ticket, in the upper deck on the benches. Lower bowl tickets are all subscribers and students and come in at an even heftier price. Parking is affordable and concession prices are pretty decent. Fans who attend a Kentucky Wildcats game will have a great time, but will definitely pay for it.
An extra mark for the national anthem experience at Kentucky. One of the great renditions in sports … mostly run by the fans and led by UK faculty member Everett McCorvey.
An extra mark for being a simply legendary program.
An extra mark for a facility that remains named after a legendary local figure rather than a corporation.
Kentucky Wildcats basketball is most definitely a bucket list item for any college hoops fan. A trip to Rupp Arena gives fans a taste of what the Bluegrass State is all about. However, fans must be prepared to pay for the experience. If you can get past the price tag, then you will not regret the experience!
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Hyatt Regency Lexington
401 W High St
Lexington, KY 40507
Hilton Lexington Downtown
369 W Vine St
Lexington, KY 40507
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