UK football notebook: Cats say billboard in Cards' backyard not what it looks like

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJune 16, 2012 

High above the University of Louisville campus is a new Kentucky football billboard featuring a player and the phrase, based off a fan tweet, that says, "Football Time in the Bluegrass!!!!!"

The location of the outdoor advertising — on Arthur Street above a main campus building — caused a bit of a fan uprising in Louisville.

In response, Big Time Yurts, a merchandising and apparel company based in Louisville, has created a YouTube video mocking UK fans, and the company is making a push to sell 900 bumper stickers with the phrase "Lexington is for the Birds" so it can rent an interstate billboard of its own near Lexington that will have the same black-and-red phrase.

While the attention for its billboard is nice and all — especially with the big rivalry game still some 77 days out — UK officials say their billboard wasn't placed there as a way to enrage Cardinals fans.

"We didn't even consider the proximity of that billboard to another campus when we made the decision to purchase the space," said Jason Schlafer, a senior associate athletics director at the University of Kentucky.

UK has a state map of season ticket holders to determine its advertising and marketing priorities and there's a high number of those in Jefferson County.

But because it's expensive to advertise in the Louisville metro area, the cheapest way to do it is with rotating billboards that "let us blanket that marketplace and save us some money," the UK marketing guru said.

So UK focuses on the three months leading up to football season to do the bulk of its advertising in Jefferson County, Schlafer said.

"We bought a billboard in a high-profile location that fit our rotational needs in a high-traffic interstate location," he explained. "Their campus is on an interstate and we happen to buy outdoor advertising in high-traffic areas like interstates."

At various times in the past few years, both schools have had prominent billboards on, around and near the opponents' home turf.

Hashing it out about hashtags

For Kentucky's spring Blue-White game, there was a prominent new feature on the Commonwealth Stadium field, a sign of the Twitter universe times, a "#weareuk" painted close to each end zone.

That hashtag and phrase will become a main marketing push for the upcoming football season and beyond, Schlafer said last week, including prominent display on the UK Athletics Web site and Facebook pages.

But the "#weareuk" will not become a permanent fixture on the stadium field, he said.

Marketing can only extend so far, even for UK Athletics' top marketing guy.

"I'm somewhat of a purist on the actual playing surface," Schlafer said.

Changing things up

After giving the media a tour of the face lift last week at UK's Nutter Training Facility, senior center Matt Smith fielded questions about the off-season.

He talked about this year's senior class taking a more active leadership role, being vocal about not wanting to have another season like last season when the Cats finished 5-7 and were locked out of a bowl game for the first time in five years.

"We don't want another season like last year where we felt we got too comfortable," Smith said. "We've always got to be on our toes and keep everyone going as hard as they can."

One thing that has changed in the off-season routine is workouts with strength and conditioning coach Ray "Rock" Oliver.

"He's really, really stepping it up this year, pushing us every day of the week," Smith said, noting that there has been a bigger push to do workouts specific to positions.

"He's really breaking things down and having position specific drills that we run instead of overall conditioning," Smith said. "You don't see linemen running 60 yards down the field, so you don't see us going out there and doing 100-yard sprints when we could be working on our footwork and explosion off the ball."

Smith also noted that the team's off-season routine has been more organized behind quarterback contenders Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith.

Matt Smith said in previous years, this time of the summer was more individual based and less team oriented.

"Those guys have it definitely orchestrated better," he said when asked about Newton and Smith. "They have scripts and play calls they've made up themselves that they're out there running against our defenses.

"We're really starting to work on things now so when we get to our camp in August, it'll be much easier to get us going."

Gameday Ready Tour adds stops

Kentucky football's annual "Gameday Ready Tour" around the state has added four stops this summer, the school announced last week.

Joker Phillips and members of his staff will be in Lincoln Park in the head coach's hometown of Franklin on June 24; Old Mill Park in West Liberty on June 25; Bob Amos Park in Pikeville on June 26 and Shawnee Park in Louisville on July 15.

Admission is free at each stop, which will feature skills drills for children age 7 and older. There also will be games and inflatables for children under the age of 6.

The UK Athletics home page has more details about registration and times.

A Cat from the past?

In last week's notebook, I promised a new occasional series about former UK players and where they are now. That was sidelined by other news and events last week, but I have quite an impressive list going.

Hint: The first one will involve a former Cats linebacker who was living a secret life.

The notebook and I are taking some time off, but please keep the suggestions coming.

If you know of a former UK player doing something special or interesting or want to know what happened to a Cat from the past, please contact me.

The paragraph below will tell you how.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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