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UofL burns its brand into UK's backyard

Right here in the very capital of the Kingdom of the Blue, the invading Reds have planted a flag.

OK, actually, it's just a billboard on New Circle Road (near the Nicholasville Road exit). But there, the University of Louisville athletics department has placed an advertisement.

Featuring the U of L Cardinal Bird mascot and pictures of a pair Lexington-reared Louisville athletes, the billboard reads "Kentucky's State Bird Salutes Lexington's Own Justin Burke and Gwen Rucker."

The close proximity of a U of L sports advertisement almost within (a long) walking distance of the University of Kentucky campus is not meant to be provocative, says Gary Friedman, a U of L senior associate athletic director.

Instead, the Lexington billboard that recognizes U of L football quarterback Burke (Lexington Catholic) and volleyball/basketball player Rucker (Henry Clay) is part of a series of such promotions that Louisville is running in cities all around Kentucky.

"We've got 14 total (billboards), 13 in Kentucky and one in (Floyd Knobs) Indiana," Friedman said.

In Winchester, Kentucky's State Bird salutes Preston Knowles (men's basketball); in Radcliff it is Marcellus Hobbs and Breion Goldsby-Harris (both track and field athletes from North Hardin); in Elizabethtown, it is golfer Karsten Clements and rower Lauren Mensch.

And in Louisville itself, the Derby City's own Victor Anderson (running back) and Monique Reid (women's basketball) grace one billboard.

"The first objective of the campaign is just recognizing some of our student-athletes," Friedman said. "The second goal, we're trying to get the message out, we want people to recognize this is a state-wide university."

Some of the other places where the Louisville athletics department has billboards as part of this campaign, Friedman said, are Owensboro, Bowling Green, Pikeville, Prestonsburg, Danville, Lebanon and Paducah.

Friedman said he did not have a specific amount for how much U of L is spending on the billboard campaign. In many cases (including Lexington), the Cardinals sports ads went up on billboards after promotions from the academic side of U of L came down, he said.

From word of mouth, Friedman said feedback from around the state of Kentucky has been positive.

"We've had people call the athletics department to tell us they like them," Friedman said. "That doesn't always happen with your advertising. But everyone loves the Cardinal Bird (mascot)."

In these parts, I'm not certain it's everyone.

It's somewhat amazing how much fire that billboard placement seems to put into the churning Kentucky-Louisville sports rivalry.

Back in 2007, UK put up billboards in Louisville featuring then-Kentucky wide receiver Keenan Burton, a product of Manual High School, near the U of L football complex.

In reaction, Cardinals star receiver Harry Douglas told The Associated Press that UK's advertisement in the Cardinals' hometown was "ridiculous. Lexington is in Lexington and Louisville is in Louisville."

Conversely, I know UK fans who work up a bit of a froth over a U of L billboard near Frankfort that west-bound drivers on I-64 see. The one that shows the Cardinals logo and simply says "We're Miles Ahead."

Friedman laughed when asked about the latter advertisement. "I'm not responsible for that one," he said.

In the "Kentucky's State Bird Salutes campaign," Friedman says, "we're certainly not trying to make any statements toward any other schools or any other companies or anything else.

"All we're trying to do is expand our brand and, in this case, do it in a way that recognizes our athletes in their home communities and, hopefully, makes those communities feel connected to U of L."

Which is how, citizens of the capital of the Kingdom of the Blue, you came to be viewing that Louisville Cardinals sports advertisement on your daily commute around New Circle Road.

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