Big Blue Madness Campout is a prime example of what makes Kentucky Basketball so unique; what other school can boast that its fans camp out for free tickets to a practice? Yet, in recent years, Madness Campout has lost its luster. Not only has construction forced UK to limit areas in which fans can camp, the event has become such a production that it’s lost its original charm. With UK once again asking fans to consider getting their tickets online instead of camping out, it’s time to ask ourselves: has Madness Campout run its course? Let’s break it down.
It doesn’t really serve its original purpose
Let’s go back to the origin of the event itself. Midnight Madness began in the 1980s under Joe B. Hall, but fans didn’t start camping out for tickets until 1993. Back then, camping out served a simple purpose: it was the only way to ensure you got your tickets. For the majority of Kentucky fans, that’s a big deal. Tickets in Rupp Arena can be hard to come by, so Madness became the event for the everyday fan, and Madness Campout the event for the most passionate. To some extent, this is still true; however, now that you can get tickets on Ticketmaster, campout is purely symbolic. Case in point: only 1,000 fans camped out last year, and apparently, not everyone who did got lower level seats. If you can’t get lower level seats by camping out, what’s the point?
The spontaneity is gone
One of the best parts about Madness campout used to be the pick-up games on the blue courts. Players would come out and play against campers, the type of interaction fans dream of their entire lives; however, that tradition ended in 2012 when Nerlens Noel almost hurt himself and a young camper on this ill-fated dunk attempt:
So, no more pick-up games. Early on in the Cal Era, players would come and play cornhole and mingle with fans, but the event has grown so big that it’s now an actual production, sponsored by Coke and Papa John’s, with a “Tent City Live” stream and a schedule of activities. From 9-11 a.m., campers will be treated to Coke promotions from the Coca-Cola Stage; at 1 p.m., there will be a hot dog grill out sponsored by Kroger; at 9 p.m., get ready because the players will be passing out Papa John’s pizza!
Campout evolving into a corporately sponsored event was probably an inevitability in this day and age, but it stifles the spontaneity that made the event so fun to begin with.
They’re actually running out of space
UK sent out a warning again this year that because of construction on campus (and the new buildings that construction has produced), space will be extremely limited, and that once the area around Memorial Coliseum reaches capacity, fans will be asked to get their tickets online instead. From a logistics standpoint, camping out is harder than ever.
What has it really become?
Look, I love Kentucky basketball, but, as family, we can admit that we go a little crazy sometimes. That crazy is on full display at campout. For the most part, it’s harmless; fans being fans, sharing their excitement for another season and supporting the players. Yet, in recent years, it feels like campout has become a glorified autograph session, to the point UK puts up barriers between the lodge and gym so the guys can go work out without being mobbed. Some groups embrace that, hanging outside with fans to sign autographs and mingle; others shy away from it, holing up in the lodge.
What can make it better?
Madness campout is one of the best traditions in Kentucky basketball, but it needs a jolt of life. Space limitations can’t be helped, but there has to be a better way for players to interact with fans. Get them out of the lodge to cover it for KyWildcatsTV? Find a unique way to honor the first ten people in line? Open Memorial for a dunk contest? I’m not sure what the solution is, but something’s gotta change.