Rupp Arena, Lexington's most recognized downtown landmark, could be getting some much-needed technology upgrades.
In addition to ribbon advertising boards around the second tier, Rupp Arena officials are considering a new overhead center-hanging scoreboard, additional video screens and wireless Internet.
Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp., which oversees Rupp Arena, told the corporation's board Thursday that center officials have just started to explore the state-of-the-art additions.
Owen said center staff would return to the July board meeting with better cost estimates for the upgrades.
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"This all started with the LED ribbon boards," Owen said during a presentation by Learfield Communications on the benefits of having ribbon screens around the upper bowl of the arena, rather than static or board advertising.
"This is about sustaining current revenues and growing where we can," Owen said.
During the May meeting, the board agreed to a three-year extension of Learfield's contract to sell and market advertising for Rupp Arena. As part of that deal, Learfield gave Lexington Center Corp. $800,000 to install the ribbon boards.
With ribbon boards, Learfield can sell more advertising. The more advertising it sells, the more money Rupp Arena receives, said Keith Burdette of Learfield.
Learfield has agreed to give Lexington Center an additional $450,000 a year in guaranteed advertising revenue after the ribbon boards are installed. For the next three years, that minimum advertising revenue is $2.25 million a year. The center could earn more if Learfield is able to increase advertising sales.
Owen said the ribbon boards would be installed by the beginning of UK's season. Bids from potential contractors are due Monday, he said.
Rupp Arena is prime advertising real estate, particularly for national advertisers.
The University of Kentucky has the most-watched basketball team in the country, Burdette said. "The Los Angeles Lakers is the number one professional basketball team in the country as far as household reach. They reach 15 million (households). We reach 24 million."
A center-hanging scoreboard with additional screens also would lead to more advertising revenue for the center. The cost of installing the scoreboard would be recouped in additional ad revenue in just a few years, Burdette said.
But installing a center-hanging scoreboard would mean re-engineering the roof structure of Rupp Arena. A modern scoreboard is roughly 65,000 pounds.
In addition, only certain areas of Rupp's roof can hold the maximum of 150,000 pounds. By enlarging the "grid" of where overhead structures such as lighting can be placed, the arena could attract more diverse entertainment, Owen said.
The lack of wireless Internet inside Rupp has been a top complaint of UK fans for years. Currently, only Verizon customers can get wireless inside the arena. That's largely because Verizon paid for the technology inside the arena so its customers could access it, Owen said.
Wireless Internet would allow more fan interaction during UK games and other events, Burdette said. For example, if fans want to vote on their favorite player or favorite play of the game, the results of that live survey could be relayed on the screens. That survey could be sponsored by advertisers, Burdette said. "It's where everyone is moving," he said of interactive fan experiences inside arenas.
Because almost all of the advertising in Rupp Arena is placed on boards, the only current way Learfield could increase ad revenue is to build more walls to place advertising, and that would make the arena look cluttered. By moving to video screens, the arena can sell advertising by minutes rather than by location, Burdette said.
Mayor Jim Gray had proposed a major overhaul of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center in 2014. Those plans were scrapped after the city and UK could not agree on the scope of the project.
Gray has said the Rupp Arena redesign — which included the ribbon boards, a new center-hanging scoreboard and wireless Internet — could be resurrected at any time.
Owen said that if the overhaul of Rupp Arena gets the green light, the investments in new technology would not be wasted. All of the upgrades could be designed so they could be removed, stored and reinstalled after a renovation, he said.