KENTUCKY — Despite a University of Kentucky distribution ban,the independent student newspaper will continue to hand out papers at thisweekend’s homecoming football game.
UK officials contend that the policy — which bans the distribution ofall materials at Commonwealth Stadium before football games due to a privatecontract with IMG College marketing firm — has always applied to both thestadium and the stadium parking lots.
“We push everyone wishing to distribute any material to the publicsidewalks in the public areas of campus,” Jason Schlafer of the UK Athleticmarketing department said.
Sarah Geegan of the Kentucky Kernel‘s advertising department saidthe paper has always distributed in the parking lots.
“For the past 10 years we have all met up and just walked around and handedthem out to the tailgaters that are just standing around the streets on campus,”Geegan said. “We have done it for years and years and years and I don’t see anyway our paper is interfering with what IMG is trying to do or IMG makingprofit.”
Kernel editor Matt Murray said the Kernel normallydistributes 2,000 papers before the game.
UK officials said the Sept. 11 Western Kentucky game — the first homegame of the season — was the first time they noticed the practice.
“Athletics has told me that they were not aware that the Kernel wasdistributing at the stadium in the past, and had they been aware then they wouldhave enforced the prohibition,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.
Geegan said the advertising staff was riding around an RV lot whenofficials told them they could not distribute in the unmarked golf cart. Theywere later told they had no right to distribute due to the IMG contract. At thefollowing game, the Kernel distributed only in the public sidewalk area.
“It is not a limit on their ability to publish the paper at all and, infact, they have the ability, should they choose, to be in venues right by thestadium,” Blanton said. “The sidewalks are close by. There are restrictions andguidelines on where they can be distributed, and this is simply one of thoseguidelines.”
According to Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte, extending thedistribution restriction from the stadium itself to the parking lot may reachtoo far.
“The law says a public university has to allow a speaker areasonable opportunity to reach their targeted audience,” LoMonte said. “You cancertainly see where being kept out of the stadium and the parking lot doesn’tprovide reasonable access to the people you want to reach.”
Murray said the parking lot is the main tailgating area on campus, and theissue is one of principle.
“We have to draw our line in the sand at some point because what’s going tostop them… from extending our boundaries of where we can distribute fromthere,” Murray said. “We figure, even though this is the first infraction in oureyes, it is just something we wanted to attack and settle as soon as possiblebefore we got pushed back even further.”
Blanton contended it is a commercial issue.
“They are a commercial newspaper and if they wanted to be able todistribute at an athletics facility, that is a business arrangement they wouldhave to carve out with IMG, which holds the exclusive media rights,” Blantonsaid.
LoMonte said that argument may not hold water.
“There may be an issue with the exclusivity arrangement,” LoMonte said.”They (UK) need to justify why one speaker gets preferred access over anotherspeaker.”
IMG College and its UK subsidiary, Big Blue Sports, could not be reachedfor comment. According to an article published in the Kernel, UK’s dealwith IMG is worth $80 million.
In that same article, Geegan told the Kernel the advertising staffcontacted UK Athletics, Marketing, Promotions and Licensing for permission todistribute but did not receive a response. UK officials disagree.
“Someone from the Kentucky Kernel was on the phone with a colleagueof mine and I happened to be in the office at the same time, so I know there wasdiscussion and permission was not granted,” Schlafer said.
Murray said he is interested to see what happens this weekend.
“We plan on trying to distribute on Commonwealth ground tomorrow,” Murraysaid. “It will be interesting to see, because it is election season, to see ifpeople are passing out flyers for certain candidates and things of that nature,because obviously that would be along the exact same lines of what we do.”