University of Kentucky fans created a social media buzz Tuesday in hopes of persuading ESPN to change its plans to televise only portions of UK's Big Blue Madness on Friday. But the so-called "FreeBigBlueMadness" movement will not reach that goal.
As planned, ESPNU — which is the ESPN channel devoted to college sports — will include Big Blue Madness as part of its coverage of six Madness celebrations around the country Friday night. When the FreeBigBlueMadness effort reached high-tweet intensity Tuesday, ESPNU noted how it would provide "robust cut-in coverage" of activities in Rupp Arena while also showing Madnesses at Connecticut, Arizona, Florida, Gonzaga and San Diego State.
Big Blue Madness will be available in its entirety on the website ESPN3 and on UKAthletics.com.
The #FreeBigBlueMadness movement launched on Twitter hoped that UK's annual basketball observance could be televised by the new SEC Network. Instead, the SEC Network will stick to its scheduled telecast of the LSU-Missouri volleyball game. The SEC Network will show a one-hour recap special on Big Blue Madness at 11 p.m.
Bill Fey, a 31-year-old UK fan living in Louisville, started the #FreeBigBlueMadness movement Monday morning with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
"I was listening to Kentucky Sports Radio," he said. "They just said that the SEC Network has the rights. It almost sounded like they were holding it hostage.
"So I just came up with #FreeBigBlueMadness just as a joke to try to get my tweet read on the radio."
FreeBigBlueMadness quickly trended nationally. UK freshmen players Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis all tweeted the FreeBigBlueMadness hashtag. Their posts were re-tweeted nearly 1,000 times by mid-afternoon Tuesday.
Fey said that he did not intend to create a protest movement. He has not written or called ESPN to ask for the entire Big Blue Madness to appear on the SEC Network.
Rights fees attached to the airing of songs played a role in ESPN’s decisions on how to televise Big Blue Madness. The all-sports network had the clearance on songs to carry the event in its entirety on ESPN3. In some cases, ESPN did not have the clearance to televise UK’s Madness when certain songs would be played, but could offer it on the website.
Hence the decision to show Big Blue Madness in its entirety on ESPN3, which reaches 75 million homes.
Lexington station WKYT, Channel 27, has televised Big Blue Madness live and in its entirety for more than 20 years. The creation of the SEC Network, which is one of ESPN's channels, removed local channels from televising athletic events.
"This is hard on us," said Chris Mossman, the station's vice president and general manager. "We'd like to continue."
The SEC's contract with ESPN made that impossible.
"We really wish we had the ability and did everything we could to air this," Mossman said. "We want it. We can't have it."
Much the same could be said about UK fans who joined the #FreeBigBlueMadness campaign in hopes of changing ESPN's coverage plans. Although Fey held out hope.
"Kentucky fans, they're an army," he said. "If they're not happy, they're going to complain until they get their way."