Author: Dave Brooks
Date: March 07,2007

No one knows basketball better than the University of Kentucky, one
of the most storied programs in NCAA College Hoops. Such a
high-profile program means high expectations for its in-house
concession department at the Rupp Arena in Lexington, one of the
eight venues to host this year’s first round of the
Men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association “March
Madness” Tournament.Concession Department Manager Brian
McMillin said this year is the first time the school will host the
tournament since the launch of a new menu. The last time the arena
hosted the tournament in 2002, the school only offered the typical
concession fare.“This year we’ve introduced new chicken
sandwiches, hamburgers, barbeque and Philly cheesesteaks and
that’s all going to be new for the tournament although
it’s been available to fans here for about a year now,”
McMillin said.The food items at the 24,000-capacity arena sell at
built-in concourse stations, which are basically uniform
throughout, except for the Philly cheesesteak stations. Those have
their own permanent stands and are sold as part of an all-beef
products display in partnership with the Kentucky Cattleman’s
Association.With alcohol sales banned at all NCAA tournament games
(and all regular season UK games), McMillin is hoping the event
exceeds the typical $2.50 to $2.75 per caps the building does
during non-conference games — that figure can go higher, or
lower, for UK conference games depending on the time of day
they’re played.Dealing with the NCAA’s no-alcohol
policy can be difficult for any venue, but Ben Witte, general
manager of the Georgia Dome — host of this year’s Final
Four tournament — said the rule has been a long-time reality
for college hoops.“Most fans already know about it and expect
it coming in,” he said. “I think because it has been
around for so long, there really isn’t that much
dissatisfaction.”Times for the March 15 and 17 games at Rupp
have not yet been assigned, nor have the participating teams
— that will be announced on Selection Sunday, March
11.“Right now we’re just waiting on how the draw turns
out,” McMillin said. “If we get a regional school, like
Ohio State or Tennessee, we’ll do quite well and that could
impact attendance significantly. As of now, we still have several
thousand tickets available.”A lot also matters on how well
the schools’ own basketball team does — if it gets
stuck traveling a great distance, many UK fans might simply try and
stay home and attend the tournament. Of course if the game is a
relatively short travel distance, many UK fans might attempt the
journey — at least those who can get their hands on
tickets.“I think when it comes to ticketing, a lot of people
are going to wait and see who gets picked before going out and
blindly buying tickets,” McMillin said.That uncertainty can
also be difficult when it comes to providing the appropriate
staffing levels, especially when the building learns the game-time
only four days out.“Trying to staff mornings in what is
typically a night and weekend facility is really difficult,
especially finding staff to work the 10-to-5 shift that can handle
point-of-sale systems in a potentially full 24,000-seat
house,” he said. “Of course that changes if we’re
only half-full. Getting those numbers just right to maximize
revenues is very difficult.”The only specialty item Rupp
Arena is planning this year is a souvenir 32-oz. cup with the
special NCAA logo and a listing of the participating venues. The
NCAA has released two cups this year — one for buildings with
Coke contracts, and one for non-Coke buildings. Rupp Arena is a
Coke building.“We jumped on it with both feet,”
McMillin said. “We did a souvenir cup in 2002 and it did
phenomenally well.” — Dave BrooksInterviewed for this
story: Brian McMillin, (859) 233-4567 x3530; Ben Witte, (404)