When the Southeastern Conference announced a 15-year deal with ESPN last fall, it was unclear how University of Kentucky athletics fans might be affected.
Would basketball and football games be broadcast on a lesser-known ESPN channel that might not be offered by area cable providers?
Because ESPN is owned by ABC, would major games go to Lexington ABC affiliate WTVQ (Channel 36)?
Some of those questions have been answered, but many remain in flux because the full basketball and football television schedules for the upcoming seasons have yet to be released.
Lexington CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27), which has long been the home of most UK football and basketball games, recently signed a deal with ESPN to continue to broadcast many of the Wildcats' games.
But ABC will broadcast four SEC men's basketball games, meaning as many as four UK games this season might show up on rival station WTVQ, according to SEC executives.
As in years past, a television pecking order will be in effect. Typically, CBS gets first choice for games, particularly in football and a "very limited number of basketball games," SEC Associate Commissioner Charles Bloom said.
After CBS come ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack said. After those stations have their picks, the remainder will be doled out by the ESPN Regional organization, which has signed a three-year deal with WKYT.
ESPN Regional is in a position akin to the former SEC rights holder, Raycom Sports, and is negotiating with stations in the geographic areas of individual conference universities. In the past, though, Raycom did get some selections before ESPN, Womack said, and "ESPN now controls all of those picks."
Regional sports providers Comcast and Fox Sports South might also receive some games, Womack said, but for the most part, things will be as they were.
In the case of the football season, each school will be allowed to broadcast one game via pay-per-view.
No full television schedule information is available yet, Womack said, and it will vary for both football and basketball. The only UK game determined so far is the football opener against Miami (Ohio), which will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The channels televising basketball games will all be picked before the season begins, he said. The television schedules for the first few weeks of the football season will be announced in the coming weeks, and then the goal is to settle on TV schedules within 12 days of games, he said.
The greater prominence of ESPNU and the addition of ABC stand as the most significant changes that came from the 15-year deal signed by the SEC and ESPN, financial terms of which were not disclosed.
ESPNU is available only on digital cable in Lexington and has less penetration regionally than major networks ESPN and ESPN2.
Womack said the conference and ESPN are working together to raise the profile of ESPNU with cable providers.
"I think you'll continue to see the distribution of ESPNU grow considerably," he said. "We're hopeful even before we get to the start of the college football season that there will be some significant growth of where ESPNU is distributed."
The addition of ABC is a change for Wildcats fans who are used to following the teams on CBS affiliate WKYT and not other local affiliates.
Under the deal, ABC will air two regular-season SEC basketball games and both the semifinals and finals of the conference tournament.
"From a standpoint of my television station, it's possible we could have UK on there as many as four times," said WTVQ General Manager Chris Aldridge. "And the SEC deal with ESPN is a 15-year deal, so it's a long-term deal."
Aldridge said WTVQ bid on the ESPN Regional rights against WKYT but was unsuccessful.
Overall, fans shouldn't notice too many differences, said Mike Kanarek, vice president of operations at WKYT.
"We don't have a complete schedule or anything from them yet, but it will be pretty much like it was before," Kanarek said.
He said ESPN Regional plans to continue to offer — through WKYT in Central Kentucky — a Saturday afternoon SEC football game.
And when basketball season rolls around, they will "continue to do a weeknight, we assume Wednesday, game of the week and the Saturday and/or Sunday games like Raycom always did," Kanarek said.
One thing that will change is that the station will have access to more games, but not necessarily more football or basketball.
ESPN will syndicate a number of other UK sports that probably will appear on WKYT's digital subchannel, The CW, available over the air at 27.2 and on Insight cable systems as Channel 5 or 117.
"From a viewer standpoint, really nothing major is changing," Kanarek said.