- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky has announced a 15-year, $210 million partnership with JMI Sports that includes radio broadcast rights to Wildcats games and naming rights to on-campus athletic facilities.

The new multimedia deal begins in April 2015, when Kentucky’s current contract with IMG expires - that deal was worth $80.5 million over 10 years. The school will be JMI Sports’ first multimedia rights client, one that CEO Erik Judson said during a Monday news conference presented “the ideal opportunity.”

Kentucky will receive annual payment starting at $9.1 million in 2015, and increases to $16 million in 2029. The university will also get a $29.4 million signing bonus over the first two years.

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said that besides allowing fans to stay connected to the Wildcats through radio, the Internet and coaches’ shows, the deal helps the program remain “self-sustaining” as it aims to improve sports facilities and support other university projects.

The deal could include a corporate sponsor for Commonwealth Stadium, the on-campus football facility currently undergoing a $110 million renovation that’s expected to be completed by the 2015 season. The deal grants JMI Sports naming rights if it chooses, but Kentucky also could secure its own title rights holder.

“If the right partnership comes along and the right sponsorship, we’ve talked about that,” Barnhart said, though not mentioning Commonwealth specifically.

“There may be some creative ways we do that, and part of that might be naming rights; that’s not an unusual deal in today’s world.”

Plans for building an adjacent football training complex are underway, and the department envisions a new baseball complex near softball and soccer facilities, both built in the past couple of years. The athletic department last year committed $65 million toward a $100 million Academic Science Building on campus.

“We wanted to make sure that we were not in competition but rather in coordination with the university,” Barnhart said, “and we’re excited that that was a part of this process.”

The AD added the radio deal is separate from the pending August launch of the ESPN-owned SEC Network that will broadcast all 14 league teams’ sports.

The partnership includes coaches’ endorsements and signage for Kentucky home events other than those at Rupp Arena, the city-owned home of the Wildcats men’s basketball team. Lexington mayor Jim Gray last week suspended plans for the proposed renovation of the 38-year-old arena after failing to land financial support from the state and the university.

Founded in 2006 by Judson and former San Diego Padres owner John Moores, JMI Sports’ college sports client list includes the Southeastern Conference, Alabama, North Carolina and Duke. However, company officials foresee huge returns with Kentucky because of its wide appeal.

“It fits a model where we don’t have a lot of schools,” said JMI president Tom Stultz, a Kentucky native involved in past multimedia negotiations. “We want to be different and handle the elite schools and give the white-glove treatment instead of the cookie-cutter approach.”

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