New space at Rupp Arena will merge sports and academics

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Leveraging the community’s and student body’s near obsession with collegiate athletics and partnerships with the private sector for academic and professional success is the idea behind a new project led by the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information


What You Need To Know

  • The 20,000-square-foot space will have many uses
  • Focal point is sports production and classroom integration
  • Will be located at newly renovated Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center in downtown Lexington
  • Expected to be complete by spring of 2024

A 20,000-square-foot studio and production center will serve as a learning and research laboratory in Rupp Arena at the Central Bank Center in downtown Lexington. The facility — a partnership with the college, UK Athletics and JMI Sports — will create a high-tech collaborative space where students can learn alongside media production, sports marketing and communication professionals, said Jennifer Greer, dean of UK’s College of Communication and Information.

“We’ve been training students in broadcasting and media production for more than 70 years in various spaces across the campus,” Greer said. “This space represents a significant step forward in providing a collaborative place where our educational programs can be taken to the next level through an innovative partnership with athletics and the university’s media-rights partner, JMI Sports.”

The college has established a sport communication path within its Department of Communication and recently launched a sport track within the School of Journalism and Media. The space in Rupp Arena will provide opportunities for training and instruction in those areas along with opportunities for faculty and graduate students to conduct research, Greer said.

“There’s two things that are new,” she said. “The first is the space to actually put a full-on production facility at Rupp Arena, which will help us with our production for ESPN and the SEC Network and the outside partners who love Kentucky basketball and want to come and broadcast. This will give a full-on production facility there, as opposed to right now our major production facilities and athletics are at Kroger Field and at the baseball stadium. Those are the two kinds of state-of-the-art facilities we have. This one puts one in the heart of downtown, and that’s pretty exciting. The second part that is new is working with an academic college and athletics sharing the facility, like how medical students work at a hospital in a real-world environment to learn how to be great doctors. This is the same thing we would have our students doing as part of their classes by working side-by-side with professionals.”

All three partners envision the facility as a truly collaborative space, allowing students, faculty and staff across the campus to work with UK’s media production and marketing teams. UK has growing sports opportunities in many colleges, including business, education, health sciences and arts and sciences. In addition, it should attract area production companies and sports industry firms to working alongside UK’s students, media professionals and researchers in the space, Greer said. 

Under an expansion of the mutually beneficial Right of Use Agreement between Central Bank Center, UK and JMI Sports, the first floor of the Pavilion will house the laboratory, as well as expanding opportunities for partners and sponsors under the agreement.

The new studio in Rupp Arena will allow the college to replace the roughly 6,000 square feet of studio space it has used for decades in the Taylor Education Building. That space will now be repurposed for other uses.

Greer said currently UK’s broadcast “command center” is at Kentucky Proud Park. She said any school involved in the SEC Network has specific demands on what athletic departments need to provide to broadcast SEC games through the SEC Network. She said when the SEC Network came online in 2014, schools were “kind of forced” to do what was needed to get up to speed. 

“The University of Kentucky had to get its athletic production up to the SEC network standards in 2014 when that network went online, but this is kind of realizing the dream of making the athletic production part of our curriculum, so that we’re training the next next year of sports broadcasters and producers and media specialists in sports, in conjunction with athletics,” Greer said. 

Greer mentioned the original “command center” the University of Louisville had in the KFC Yum! Center and how it makes sense for it to be there. As part of its move to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), UofL built an on-campus broadcast center that helps broadcast not only basketball games, but all sports at UofL. It no longer utilizes the control room at the Yum! Center. Greer said there is a connection between UofL’s original broadcast facility and the UK studios.

“One of the people who was instrumental in getting the Yum! Center built is one of our greatest supporters, Jim Host,” she said. “He had this idea for us working in partnership and he’s honestly been one of the driving forces.”

Megan Sizemore, chief of staff for the UK College of Communication and Information, said the original plan was a new building for the college with a state-of-the-art broadcast studio. That plan, however, lacked the partnership with UK Athletics and required space that was not available on campus. 

“We couldn’t really do it at Kentucky Proud Park or Kroger Field because we don’t have the studio space,” she said. “We’re trying to put this all in one place. They’ll still keep the stuff over at Kentucky Proud park because it’s amazing, but it’s just control rooms. This new project is going to build out a whole second facility and basically double what they’ve got now at Kentucky Proud Park. It’s expanding what athletics can deliver to ESPN and SEC Network.” 

The biggest benefit, Sizemore said, is putting students and classes into this facility, which she said sets the bar and “puts UK on the map at a national level for integrating the curriculum with a partnership with athletics and JMI.” 

“Lots of schools have studios embedded into their premier stadiums, but what’s different for us is the curriculum piece, a teaching model and a partnership between athletics and academics,” she said. “That’s the part that’s missing from most of these facilities is it’s not an equal partnership with the media production and teaching areas. There are whole other aspects and components to how we’re going to use that space, and it’s not just sports.”

Greer said that during a recent conversation with the deans from other UK colleges they discussed the different opportunities for the space, such as acting students in the College of Fine Arts. Sizemore also mentioned UK’s current partnership with the Sanders-Brown Project. 

“We very much see, as this project unfolds, the ability to build partnerships, not just within UK, but across the community and beyond,” Sizemore said. “In our current facilities, we work with the Sanders-Brown Institute on Aging and they come in, bring their set and use our space to record videos for folks with Alzheimer’s and share those as resources for people and families through their clinics. We’ve had folks approach us from medicine, with ophthalmology, wanting to use our spaces to create video content, so we see this being as a hub for not only our partners at UK, but within the community of Lexington by hosting events and providing different opportunities for people to use that space.” 

Greer said the college expects to begin using the studio in the spring of 2024.

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