When we launched BBN First, we knew your feedback was going to play an important role as we committed to putting you, the fans, first in all we do. I don't think we knew exactly how important it would be until your suggestions started rolling in.
Three weeks after I introduced BBN First and asked for your help, you have responded in a way only Kentucky fans could. We have received hundreds of emails and comments on our new website and they keep coming.
The volume of feedback is one thing, but the quality has been another entirely. Almost without exception, your suggestions have been constructive. You have told us some things that are hard to hear, but you want to help us get better. I appreciate your thoughtful feedback immensely.
To fill you in on how we are handling your feedback, members of my staff are reading and responding to everything and keeping me updated along the way. If you have sent in a suggestion and haven't heard back yet, you will. Once we read an email, we categorize and sort it for discussion in our Fan Experience Committee meetings. Already, you have helped us identify important trends.
A few things stick out to me about what we've heard so far.
First of all, your pride in this university is incredible. The sense of ownership you take in all of our programs is one of the most special things I've witnessed in my three decades working in college athletics.
But even more importantly to BBN First, your feedback has given us insight into what matters to you and what we can do better. Some of the topics we are hearing most about are music selections; parking, traffic and tailgating; and concessions. We expected that, but some of the specific feedback we have gotten has changed our perspective.
To give you just one of many examples, we already knew fans want better food with more variety at our venues. What we didn't realize until we began this process was how many of you want more local Kentucky flavor at our concessions stands.
You are giving us so much valuable information, but it's on us to turn that into action. We are hard at work reviewing your feedback, prioritizing and planning our next steps. In the coming weeks and months, we will communicate details to you. We have some cool stuff in the works.
Dr. James Jagger was named the SEC Team Physician of the Year in December. (UK Athletics)
For the second consecutive year, the University of Kentucky is home to the Southeastern Conference Team Physician of the Year. A year after Dr. Darren Johnson earned the prestigious honor, Dr. James Jagger joins the club.
Dr. Jagger is an assistant professor in the UK Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, while also serving as the UK chief of athletic medicine and head team physician for all UK sports. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Jagger is in his 14th year at Kentucky and has been a vital asset to the UK sports teams.
The Team Physician of the Year award is chosen by the athletic training staffs at SEC member institutions and is given annually to recognize a team physician who has contributed greatly to both his or her school's teams and to the SEC sports community. Jagger received the award this week at the annual SEC Sports Medicine Conference held in Opelika, Ala.
"It means a lot because they're the most important people we have," said Dr. Jagger about the league's athletic trainers. "They bridge the gap between us and the athletes and coaches and we can't do our job without the athletic trainers. To be recognized by the athletic trainers is really an honor."
After the award was created in 2003, Dr. Jagger's award this year makes back-to-back wins for UK physicians, following Dr. Johnson, chair of the UK Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, and head orthopaedic surgeon for UK Athletics.
"To have our physicians win back-to-back awards is extremely representative of the care that's being rendered to our student-athletes in all the sports, as both physicians tend to more sports than the high-profiled sports," said Jim Madaleno, who is the director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer at Kentucky. "Our student-athletes are getting excellent care and this award speaks for that."
Two UK athletes witnessed firsthand how lucky the university is to have Dr. Jagger on board. Caitlyn Ciokajlo, a former UK gymnast, and senior men's basketball guard Jon Hood, have both spent their fair share of time in Dr. Jagger's care.
Hood went through knee and head injuries during his time at UK, while Ciokajlo suffered from a broken neck that sidelined her for a season.
"Dr. Jagger has provided treatment and guidance over my long college career, assisting me in getting back to the playing surface as quickly as possible," Hood said. "He is an outstanding role model, physician and overall human being."
Ciokajlo and Hood had nothing but praise for Dr. Jagger as the two athletes endured setbacks that tested their spirits both physically and mentally.
"I'm grateful to have gotten to work with Dr. Jagger while recovering from my injury," Ciokajlo said. "His care and support were very appreciated during a time when I very much needed it and I'm honored to have gotten to work with such a compassionate doctor."
Madaleno described Dr. Jagger as being an extremely warm and cordial person that exudes an extremely professional atmosphere. He is more than just a doctor to the athletes, as students are encouraged to express any problems they might be having, on and off the court.
"Dr. Jagger presents a real warm atmosphere where he's very approachable should the athlete have any concerns," Madaleno said. "And they know that. He has the calming effect on each of them that everything's going to be OK. Let's work out a plan and figure out what's causing the problem."
Dr. Jagger has provided care and support to many athletes during his tenure and there will most certainly be more.
"This is coming into my 14th year here at Kentucky and I never in my wildest dreams thought I would win it at this point in my career or ever perhaps," Dr. Jagger said. "I've worked with just unbelievably great student-athletes over the last 14 years and they make my job easy too."
It was dubbed "Big Blue Weekend," and a big weekend it was for the Big Blue Nation.
In the span of 44 hours, UK baseball hosted Ole Miss, the UK softball team hosted Tennessee in addition to the annual Blue-White spring football game.
Fourty-four hours, seven games and 46,883 total fans. On a beautiful weekend in the bluegrass, Commonwealth Stadium, John Cropp Stadium and Cliff Hagan Stadium were the places to be.
The spring game attendance was 35,117. It was the second-largest crowd in program history behind last season's, when over 50,000 watched UK's annual spring scrimmage. As No. 9 softball took on No. 8 Tennessee in a top-10 matchup, 4,664 fans filled John Cropp Stadium, the largest crowd for a three-game series in program history.
Big Blue Nation did not disappoint this weekend and came out in droves to support their team as only they could.
After the baseball and softball teams opened the weekend on Friday night, the party hit its peak on Saturday with a jam-packed day.
Head football coach Mark Stoops got things started when he threw out the first pitch at the baseball game in front of 2,474 fans. Each of the baseball team's three games drew at least 2,200 fans.
As the football team arrived at Commonwealth Stadium, players and coaches were greeted by fans, forming the Catwalk into the stadium. The energy and sheer numbers from the Big Blue Nation for Saturday's Catwalk were like those seen on Saturdays in the fall, not in the spring.
"Great turnout today," assistant coach Neal Brown said. "Our Catwalk was tremendous. It was like an in-season Catwalk today. They were lined--it was backed up and then the crowd in the game was terrific. That shows people, that shows recruits that people are serious about football here and we are very thankful. I want to make sure that I thank the fans."
The parking lots surrounding Commonwealth Stadium were a sea of blue hours before kickoff. Food on the grill, music blaring and footballs flying through the air made it seem like a typical fall Saturday. All that was missing was a chill in the air and some color in the leaves.
Once inside the stadium, 35,117 fans watched as the Blue team beat the White squad, 38-14. Not only was it the second-largest spring game crowd in UK history, but it was the 12th-best crowd in the country this spring and seventh in the SEC.
UK is one of just 16 schools to draw 30,000 fans or more this spring.
As the football game was winding down, the softball team's second game of its series with Tennessee was beginning, with another big crowd on hand.
The second-largest crowd in program history, 1,858 saw the Wildcats beat their SEC rivals, 5-2, to even the three-game series. The sold-out crowd came a day before the Big Blue Nation packed in 1,685 Sunday on Senior Day for a second consecutive sellout.
"The fan base was incredible this weekend and especially today on Senior Day for them to come pack this place was awesome," softball head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Saturday the fan support really helped push us over the edge. I love the Big Blue Nation and everything they do for our athletic department."
1,685 at John Cropp Stadium today, taking the weekend total to 4,664 fans - which is a program record for a three-game series! Thanks, #BBN!
While Big Blue Weekend officially is complete, there is still plenty of action left in the 2014 season for UK's spring sports at home.
The baseball team hosts Auburn on Senior Weekend May 9-11, while the men's tennis team is expected to host the NCAA Regionals, May 9-10.
The following weekend, the SEC Track and Field Championships come to Lexington May 15-18. Should the softball team host the NCAA Regional for the second consecutive season, that will be held at John Cropp Stadium May 15-18.
As I rode with our men's basketball team from the airport to the celebration of a remarkable NCAA Tournament run, I was reminded of the deep ties we share with our fans. I saw the blue you wore and the pride on your faces and couldn't help but think about how important the Big Blue Nation is to all we do.
It's a fact we have never forgotten, but it bears repeating: None of this is possible without you, the fans. Without you, none of us -- student-athletes, coaches, staff -- would be here.
With that in mind, I am asking everyone involved with UK Athletics to make a renewed commitment to our fans. We will honor those deep ties by making sure you have great experiences when you invest time and money to support your Wildcats. We are going to put you, the Big Blue Nation, first.
Three core concepts will guide this effort:
1. We will compete for championships and make our fans proud.
I am incredibly proud of the work our Wildcats have done to make Kentucky as strong overall as it has ever been, culminating in the first top-25 finish in national all-sports standings in school history. For them to do it while also excelling in both the classroom and the community is even more impressive.
Now, just as I am asking my staff to take the fan experience to the next level, I am challenging student-athletes and coaches to build on that solid foundation and work to be the best department in the country and to continue to do it the right way. That's what the Big Blue Nation deserves.
We all share in this.
As a department, it is our job to give our teams the resources they need to compete for championships. With new and under-construction facilities across campus, I believe we are doing this. In all those venues, I ask you to help us create the best possible home-field advantage for all of our teams. I have seen and heard our fans be the difference in more games than I can count. We need you now more than ever.
2. We will provide a first-class game-day experience.
We know your experience on game day begins well before you enter the stadium. It starts when you are making plans to attend a game, continues when you are parking your car and doesn't end until the moment you arrive at home. For that reason, we will be intentional and transparent in all we do, from our ticketing process to enhancing the action on the field with music, audio and video.
No matter the venue, we want to create an atmosphere that tells fans they are at a Kentucky event. We will strive to create memories for fans, not only through the action on the field but also through one-on-one interactions with each and every one of you.
3. We will create a shared family atmosphere.
From children experiencing their first UK event to students supporting their school to fans who have been attending games for decades, we will create an atmosphere everyone can share. In doing this, we will ask fans to take an ownership role in the game-day experience by observing good sportsmanship, interacting positively with fellow fans and helping to take care of our facilities.
We have the best fans in the world and that will shine through in all we do. We truly appreciate you, the members of the Big Blue Nation. We will demonstrate this appreciation by connecting you to Kentucky like never before, using technology to supplement the game-day experience before, during and after events.
Though we will strive to be on the cutting edge, we will never forget where we come from. We share an incredibly special history and tradition and will always honor what it means to wear a Kentucky uniform.
Guided by these concepts, I formed a Fan Experience Committee with staff members from event management, marketing, ticketing and communications as we began the new year. We are meeting regularly to assess all aspects of our fan experience, but we need your help.
We want to know how we can best serve you. We want to know what we can do to give you the game-day experience you deserve. We are already investigating and refining on our own, but we need your input.
What can we do better? What are we already doing well? What have you seen at other sporting events that we should implement?
No suggestion is too big and none too small. From concessions to promotions to music selection, we want to know what matters to you. We are going to use every outlet available to us to listen to your feedback.
UK currently ranks second among all 14 Southeastern Conference schools, trailing only No. 6 Florida, and leads all schools from the Bluegrass state, with Louisville coming in at No. 20.
Looking ahead, UK appears to have a good chance of maintaining its current ranking or even improving on it. UK will add points from gymnastics' finish at NCAA Regionals when standings are tabulated on April 24 and potentially even more as spring sports play out.
The women's outdoor track and field team currently checks in at No. 5 in the polls after finishing ninth at NCAA Indoor Championships, while the men are No. 24. Baseball, softball and men's tennis are all ranked in the top 15, while women's tennis is No. 28 and both golf teams are in contention for NCAA berths.
If those teams perform as well as expected, UK could be in line to meet Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart's goal of finishing in the top 15 of Directors' Cup standings by the year 2015 as part of the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan. UK has won 11 of the 15 conference or national titles needed to meet Barnhart's goal and has reached his threshold of a 3.0 department-wide grade-point average in three straight semesters.
It's also worth mentioning that UK is faring well in Capitol One Cup standings, tying for seventh in men's standings with 41 points and coming in 37th in women's standings.
All in all, 2013-14 is shaping up to be a year to remember for UK Athletics.
UK fans who subscribe to DISH Network had reason to be excited on Monday night.
DISH agreed to a long-term distribution agreement with ESPN on Monday that will make the SEC Network available to its subscribers when the new network launches in August. The channel will be available in DISH's Top 120+ and higher packages across the country.
"Few fan bases rival the passion and loyalty of the SEC, and DISH is
proud to be the first nationwide television provider of the SEC
Network," said Dave Shull, DISH executive vice president and chief
commercial officer. "We strive to give our customers and consumers what
they want, and there's no better place for the college sports fan than
The channel number will be announced at a later date.
"This is an important day for the SEC Network," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. "We are pleased to
welcome DISH to the SEC family. More than five months ahead of the
network launch, it's exciting to have a national distributor and our
first satellite provider onboard. Now SEC fans from across the country
have another way to show their conference pride and sign up to get the
Fans played an important role in making the deal happen by showing DISH and other providers how much they want access to the SEC Network. UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart reminded everyone in that fact soon after the announcement.
I'm excited to hear the news tonight about @dish signing on to carry @SECNetwork and thankful to the fans who helped make it happen.