Kenny Payne hasn’t won a big game or taken a tough loss. The Louisville basketball coach hasn’t conducted a full practice or even filled out his first roster.
But he’s already having a significant impact on the program — including at the box office.
As of this week, Louisville has sold 539 new men’s basketball season tickets for 2022-23. That’s up from 25 new sales this time a year ago, according to a budget presentation during Tuesday’s U of L Athletic Association Board of Directors meeting.
It’s more new season tickets than Louisville sold all of last offseason.
“I think the city felt a tangible Kenny Payne impact the day that he was introduced,” U of L interim athletic director Josh Heird told the Courier Journal after the meeting. “But now I think we're really starting to see it come to fruition.”
New ticket sales are a significant first step for a Louisville program that last season struggled to excite its fan base, finishing 13-19 in a season that saw the school part ways with coach Chris Mack in January. Fans largely turned away from the Cardinals, with scanned ticket numbers showing that fan turnout at the KFC Yum Center was significantly lower even than the announced attendance.
Louisville is adding seven new floor seats for the 2022-23 season, Jeff Spoelker, the school’s associate athletic director for finance, told the board at Tuesday’s meeting.
U of L removed half of the 20-foot table opposite the scorer’s table that housed visiting radio broadcasters, who will move to the scorer’s table next season, adding six of the new seats there.. All seven of the floor seats have sold.
The proposed 2022-23 budget, presented to the ULAA board Tuesday, plans for $10.1 million in men’s basketball ticket sales, up from the projected $9.7 million in the projected 2021-22 budget. Louisville is budgeting for nearly $1.3 million in seat donations, a number Spoelker told the board was “pretty aggressive.”
Payne is a big part of that projection.
Though there’s an expense to a coaching change — Louisville will pay Mack $4.8 million over a span that began in February and runs through January of 2025 — they can be good for business when they ignite fan interest.
In addition to the 539 new season tickets sold, Louisville has season ticket renewals from about 60% of its existing base, Laura Clemente told the board. Clemente, U of L’s associate athletic director for strategy and innovation, said with more than a month before the early renewal deadline.
The biggest jump in renewals comes in the month leading up to the deadline, Clemente told the board, leaving Louisville “really confident we can get well above where we were in terms of renewal rate” last year, Clemente said.
To this point, Payne’s impact on the program has been apparent but mostly anecdotal.
Fans seem excited by the hire. Louisville is in the mix for high-level transfers and big-name recruits. And the coach already has taken steps to unify former Cardinal players who have felt ostracized by the program, including the hire of Louisville legend Milt Wagner as the director of player development and alumni relations.
But the ticket data is a tangible way of showing the coach’s fan-base influence.
“Obviously, it's the honeymoon period, right?” Heird said. “But (Payne) has the ability to get out and really embrace the community and unite the community and unite Cardinal nation. He’s doing that and we're feeling the impact of it. Now we're feeling the impact of it financially.”
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville basketball: Kenny Payne sparking new ticket sales