What does new deal mean for Kentucky?

Signing with JMI looks like a win-win situation for Wildcats

By Brian Rickerd Published:

LEXINGTON — Let me put this out there right off the top: I don’t fully understand the particulars of UK’s new 15-year, $210 million multimedia deal with San Diego-based JMI Sports.

Not sure even athletics director Mitch Barnhart and the boys at Kentucky fully understand how all of this money, and the power it holds, will play out.

But the whole deal appears be a win-win for everyone involved with the university and its fans, both in and out of athletics.

It gives UK a $29.4 million windfall right off the top — a signing bonus, if you will.

That will be used exclusively for athletics, presumably to help pay off the renovations at Commonwealth Stadium, for a badly-needed (more on that later) baseball stadium off Alumni Drive, and for some upgrades at Memorial Coliseum.

Beyond that, I’m having a hard time grasping how much more money the contract will pump into Kentucky than the university’s current TV/radio, etc., deal with IMG.

UK will function for one more year under the IMG contract, before the JMI deal kicks in.

I’ve looked at some numbers from various sources, including the Lexington Herald-Leader, and it looks like the increased amount of money in UK’s coffers will be between $3 million and $6 million, annually over the IMG deal.

I’m not sure how far the reach of this money stretches, especially when you start looking at financial needs of the university outside athletics.

But within the sports realm, among other things, you’re apparently going to see a radio network that could be on the air with all-UK, all-the-time programming.

There are limitations how much the JMI deal will do on the television side because the Southeastern Conference is launching its own cable channel in August, and the latter will be the mother ship for the conference on the TV side.

JMI will be able to seek sponsorship/naming rights for various UK venues, with the exception of Rupp Arena.

Speaking of Rupp Arena, there has been much speculation since Monday’s UK-JMI announcement that this new deal may be why university officials backed out of their previously lukewarm, at best, commitment to a renovation of Rupp Arena.

Some are suggesting it’s a sign that UK may be looking to back out of Rupp entirely and build an on-campus arena.

By all accounts, UK’s lease agreement with the Lexington Center Corp. — that expires in three years — is heavily weighted toward the benefit of the city.

I don’t know about that. I’m not sure the fact that Rupp has only 8,000 seats that are even moderately comfortable to anyone outside of 4-foot-8, 90-pound gymnasts, or that Rupp has concessions below the quality of many high schools (even the popcorn isn’t allowed to be made on-site) is the fault of the city.

Barnhart cautioned reporter Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader Monday not to run with the on-campus arena idea.

“I don’t want to tie these two things together,” Barnhart told Smith. “Everybody’s gonna mistakenly look at this deal today and say, ‘Oh, is this taking you down a different path with basketball and the arena?’ And this is not what today’s about.”

But, back to UK baseball, here’s my take on this: The vast majority of people I talk to say, ‘I think Cliff Hagan Stadium is just fine ... UK doesn’t need a new baseball stadium.’”

I disagree for two reasons: First, the parking situation around Cliff Hagan Stadium is terrible. The vast majority of it is reserved for UK staff and students, at least on weekdays.

On weekends, granted, it’s not so bad.

But Kentucky also needs, ideally, a facility with a larger seating capacity.

UK officials say Cliff Hagan Stadium has a seating capacity of 3,000, though they also tell me that there are only 1,600 actual seats. Go figure. I’m just the messenger.

Even 1,600 is fine 90 percent of the time, with the rare exception being a weekend game against a top-notch SEC opponent.

But UK will be a more attractive site in the eyes of the NCAA baseball selection committee to host more regional tournaments if the Wildcats have a facility with more permanent seats.

Kentucky has hosted regionals in the past with the current setup by bringing in portable seats, but it would be nice to have the extra seating be a part, again, of the permanent structure.

Also, a new venue could be no small help for UK baseball coach Gary Henderson and company as they recruit in the same state as University of Louisville coach Dan McDonnell.

UK baseball has never been to the College World Series, while McDonnell has made Louisville pretty much a fixture in that event, thanks, at least in no small part, to U of L’s gorgeous Jim Patterson Stadium.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.