Univ. of Kentucky: No student newspapers at football stadium, parking lots

School cites marketing contract; Students will distribute anyway

KENTUCKY -- Despite a University of Kentucky distribution ban, the independent student newspaper will continue to hand out papers at this weekend's homecoming football game.

UK officials contend that the policy -- which bans the distribution of all materials at Commonwealth Stadium before football games due to a private contract with IMG College marketing firm -- has always applied to both the stadium and the stadium parking lots.

"We push everyone wishing to distribute any material to the public sidewalks in the public areas of campus," Jason Schlafer of the UK Athletic marketing department said.

Sarah Geegan of the Kentucky Kernel's advertising department said the paper has always distributed in the parking lots.

"For the past 10 years we have all met up and just walked around and handed them 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 any way our paper is interfering with what IMG is trying to do or IMG making profit."

Kernel editor Matt Murray said the Kernel normally distributes 2,000 papers before the game.

UK officials said the Sept. 11 Western Kentucky game -- the first home game of the season -- was the first time they noticed the practice.

"Athletics has told me that they were not aware that the Kernel was distributing at the stadium in the past, and had they been aware then they would have enforced the prohibition," UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.

Geegan said the advertising staff was riding around an RV lot when officials told them they could not distribute in the unmarked golf cart. They were later told they had no right to distribute due to the IMG contract. At the following 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, in fact, they have the ability, should they choose, to be in venues right by the stadium," Blanton said. "The sidewalks are close by. There are restrictions and guidelines on where they can be distributed, and this is simply one of those guidelines."

According to Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte, extending the distribution restriction from the stadium itself to the parking lot may reach too far.

"The law says a public university has to allow a speaker a reasonable opportunity to reach their targeted audience," LoMonte said. "You can certainly see where being kept out of the stadium and the parking lot doesn't provide reasonable access to the people you want to reach."

Murray said the parking lot is the main tailgating area on campus, and the issue is one of principle.

"We have to draw our line in the sand at some point because what's going to stop them... from extending our boundaries of where we can distribute from there," Murray said. "We figure, even though this is the first infraction in our eyes, it is just something we wanted to attack and settle as soon as possible before 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 to distribute at an athletics facility, that is a business arrangement they would have to carve out with IMG, which holds the exclusive media rights," Blanton said.

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 another speaker."

IMG College and its UK subsidiary, Big Blue Sports, could not be reached for comment. According to an article published in the Kernel, UK's deal with IMG is worth $80 million.

In that same article, Geegan told the Kernel the advertising staff contacted UK Athletics, Marketing, Promotions and Licensing for permission to distribute but did not receive a response. UK officials disagree.

"Someone from the Kentucky Kernel was on the phone with a colleague of mine and I happened to be in the office at the same time, so I know there was discussion 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," Murray said. "It will be interesting to see, because it is election season, to see if people 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."

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