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Volume 21 No. 39
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JMI to sell ’Cats, Rupp jointly

For the first time, Rupp Arena’s sponsorship inventory will be sold in conjunction with the University of Kentucky’s.
Photo: Getty Images

In Rupp Arena’s illustrious 40-plus years as the University of Kentucky’s basketball home, the venue and the school have never joined their sales and marketing efforts. That will soon change.


The Wildcats are finalizing an agreement with their existing multimedia rights holder, JMI Sports, that will enable the agency to sell the arena’s sponsorship and advertising assets in tandem with the university’s. The amendment required to bring those rights together will take effect July 1.


In the past, if an advertiser wanted signage at UK’s football stadium, it would buy that from JMI. But similar signage at the basketball venue, Rupp Arena, which is owned and operated by the city, had to be purchased through Rupp’s own rights holder.


Jason Schlafer, UK’s chief revenue officer, said the new arrangement will clean up any confusion in the marketplace so that sponsors can buy football and basketball through a single source at JMI.


“It should make things a lot easier for our partners and anyone who wants to be associated with UK athletics,” Schlafer said.


The past approach occasionally created category conflicts.
Photo: Getty Images

Through the years, Rupp Arena’s sales and marketing rights have been managed by Learfield, and previously the defunct Action Sports Media. They were hired by the Lexington City Center, the entity that operates Rupp Arena and the surrounding development.


That fragmented approach led to category conflicts. UK Healthcare is the official sponsor for the Wildcats, but Kentucky One Health owns the category inside Rupp. UK pours Coca-Cola, Rupp pours Pepsi. Farm Bureau is UK’s official insurance, State Farm and Geico have a presence in Rupp.


But in a December 2016 extension between UK and the city, which will run through 2033, Rupp’s owners decided to turn over the sales and marketing rights to the school.


UK pays the Lexington City Center $4.75 million per year for the multimedia rights, which include inventory in and around Rupp, premium spaces, video board content, public-address announcements, promotions, parking and other assets. If annual gross sales revenue exceeds $7.25 million, then the school shares 25 percent of that excess with the LCC.


JMI is negotiating its own set of financial terms with UK separate from the school’s deal with the LCC, but those numbers are still being finalized.


The Rupp Arena name will not change, but the city is in the marketplace seeking a naming-rights sponsor for the LCC, which could result in a name like “Rupp Arena at the ABC Center.”