Kentucky Sports

University of Kentucky signs 15-year, $210 million deal for athletics multi-media rights

Video boards are a  relatively recent innovation at Commonwealth Stadium, UK's football home.
Video boards are a relatively recent innovation at Commonwealth Stadium, UK's football home.

The changes probably will be so subtle that the average Kentucky fan might never notice them, but a new 15-year, $210 million deal signed with JMI Sports means big bucks for the University of Kentucky.

The multimedia rights contract, which begins in spring 2015 after UK's contract with IMG College expires, is among the most lucrative in college sports history and includes a hefty signing bonus.

"We're excited about what this means for the University of Kentucky and the stability it provides for our program going forward," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said during a news conference to announce the contract Monday morning.

He noted that the $29.4 million signing bonus would be used exclusively for athletics department projects, including a baseball complex and upgrades at Memorial Coliseum and Commonwealth Stadium.

Even though television rights no longer are included in the contract because the Southeastern Conference has broadcast agreements and is preparing to launch the SEC Network, UK's multimedia rights deal significantly increased in value. UK's current deal with IMG, which expires in April, was worth $80.5 million over 10 years.

The Kentucky brand and its national fan base were huge draws for JMI Sports.

"We felt it was the ideal opportunity and we pursued it very aggressively," said Erik Judson, chief executive officer of the company, based in San Diego. Kentucky will be the first multimedia client for JMI, which provides sales, marketing and project-management services to schools and professional teams around the country.

Officials from IMG, which submitted the only other bid for the contract, declined to comment Monday.

The numbers tell the story of how the relatively new company (founded in 2006) won out. The JMI Sports offer of $210 million over 15 years was more lucrative for UK than IMG's proposal, which was for $246.25 million over 20 years.

IMG's offer, released to the Herald-Leader Monday evening, included a $5 million signing bonus over the first four years of the deal. It also included a $5 million extension bonus to be paid in the 2025-26 calendar year.

At the news conference, JMI Sports president Tom Stultz said his company offers innovation in a multimedia world that is constantly changing.

"We need to be more proactive and creative as an industry, and I think that's what we're trying to do on the multimedia side is to innovate, create and provide brand new opportunities while strengthening and enhancing what we've always done well," said Stultz, a Greenup native and former vice president at IMG College.

When asked what types of changes fans might expect, answers were not concrete, but officials said the focus would be on the experiences of fans and athletes.

"It's more just a philosophy that says let's start with the fans, and if we meet their needs, then we'll meet our sponsors' needs," Stultz said. "If we meet their needs, we'll meet the university's needs, and if we meet those, we'll be happy and we'll be fine."

Some highlights of the new deal include:

■ Radio rights to UK's football, and men's and women's basketball and baseball games. Officials noted that it was not their intention to change on-air talent, such as Tom Leach (football, men's basketball) and Neil Price (women's basketball, baseball), with the new deal. Those affiliated with the broadcasts are independent contractors and not part of the deal.

■ Stadium and arena corporate signs and game programs for all home UK events, other than those at Rupp Arena.

■ Naming rights to university athletics properties and premium areas, which Barnhart said might be granted in certain circumstances.

"As much of a traditionalist as I want to be and am, I also have to be a realist, and you have to think, OK, what is in the best interest of this athletic department and this university," Barnhart said.

■ Sponsorship on as well as new features, although Barnhart said: "We're not trying to reinvent. We want to make sure that we're on the cutting edge of what's going on."

■ Game sponsorships and game promotions.

■ Coaches' endorsements, which Barnhart said enables UK to make sure that all of its endorsements "and all the people that want to be a part of your program are centralized in one spot."

■ Pre-game and post-game television shows and specials, and postseason highlight DVDs.

■ Video features on video boards, other than those at Rupp Arena, perhaps even including feeds in different parts of Commonwealth Stadium that are not available now, Barnhart said.

■ Opportunities to develop the UK Athletics' Corporate Partnership Program. Many of the big-name corporate sponsors have contracts ending in 2014, but UK said it hoped that most would renew and be transferred to JMI in 2015.

■ The potential, at the university's discretion, to market multimedia rights in nonathletic campus facilities, thus creating an integrated approach to multimedia rights and marketing — something few universities are doing.

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