One of the concerns I had about moving to Connecticut this August, as a UK fan, was not being able to watch Big Blue Sports Network basketball games. I knew that once the season gets into full-swing, all the significant games are on national TV, but I did not expect to be able to watch exhibition and early season games. I knew there would be an online stream to watch, but I don’t particularly like watching games on my computer. I was surprised and delighted to see last week that Kentucky’s exhibition game against Northwood was available live on Fox Sports Atlantic to all that live on the Northeast coast. A friend of mine informed me that he was even able to watch the game in Texas. This got me thinking…is there another program in college sports with more exposure than Kentucky basketball?
There is clearly no other basketball program that is getting anywhere close to the exposure Kentucky is receiving. At one time, Duke was the “glamour program” of college basketball. We complained about it then, and now others are complaining about UK. This sometimes goes in cycles between UK, Duke, UNC, and a select few others, but there’s no doubt Kentucky is THE program right now in college hoops. In football, the program that is most scrutinized for excessive coverage, deserved or undeserved, is Notre Dame football. Yes, Texas has the Longhorn Network, but not many people outside of Texas have the network. Every television set in this country has NBC. What about Alabama, you ask? The Tide have dominated on the field, but in terms of television exposure and playing on big stage neutral sites, Notre Dame is king of college football and serves as the best comparison to UK basketball.
Alabama football, as big as it is, does not get on national TV for games against Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, and Western Carolina. With Notre Dame’s NBC deal, every game they play is on national television on a major network.
Let’s crunch the numbers and compare Notre Dame’s exposure to Kentucky’s:
Notre Dame Football:
Nationally Televised Games in 2013-13: 12 plus likely BCS bowl game (majority of games on NBC, and other major networks pick up the rest)
Big Stage Games: The Irish have recently played Army at Yankee Stadium, Navy in both Ireland and the Meadowlands, hosted the Shamrock Series at Soldier Field vs. Miami (FL), and have future games scheduled in Cowboys Stadium vs. Arizona State and the Meadowlands vs. Syracuse, and a likely upcoming BCS bowl game. Plus, the regular home-and-home vs. USC is about as big as it gets.
Other Programming: “Onward Notre Dame” on the NBC Sports Network
Twitter: Brian Kelly has 68,097 followers, Jimmy Clausen has 44,020, Brady Quinn has 41,023, Manti Te’o has 57,859
Nationally Televised Games in 2012-13: 22 games on CBS/ESPN family of networks in addition to SEC/NCAA tournament
*impressively, games against Portland (ESPN), Marshall (ESPN2), and E. Michigan (ESPNU) are nationally televised this year.
*every other game, such as the exhibition vs. Northwood, are basically shown everywhere in at least the Eastern half of the United States
Big Stage Games: The Cats have recently played in back-to-back Final Fours, played UConn and Kansas at Madison Square Garden, will play Maryland in the Barclays Center, Duke at the Georgia Dome, Michigan State at the United Center, and Baylor in Cowboys Stadium. The Louisville game is one of the sport’s biggest rivalries and UNC game will continue next season.
Other Programming: All-Access Kentucky on ESPN (only 3 episodes, but replayed many times); a strong argument also can be made that NBA Draft night is basically a Kentucky infomercial each year
Twitter: John Calipari has 1,212,280 followers, John Wall has 610,895, Anthony Davis has 256,155, Nerlens Noel has 63,751
The Final Verdict?
National Television: This is hard to compare because Kentucky plays more games, but Notre Dame has much higher ratings for each game. Notre Dame is the only college sports team in the country with their own TV deal with a major, national network, but Kentucky is on CBS or an ESPN channel 22 times in just the regular season compared to Notre Dame’s 12 nationally televised games, and even Kentucky’s “regional” broadcasts (fox sports) are picked up in many regions and can be seen about everywhere. Football ratings are ultimately much higher than basketball, but Kentucky basketball can be seen nationally up to 30 times a year including the postseason…Advantage: Even
Big Stage Games: Kentucky has the advantage in the postseason, coming off two-straight Final Fours and a National Championship, but Notre Dame will likely play in a BCS Bowl this year and maybe for the National Championship. After opening up in Ireland this year, you may have to give the edge to Notre Dame in the regular season, but it’s closer than you may think. Both teams have played big games in New York, both will or have played in Chicago, and both will play future games at Cowboys Stadium. As far as home-and-home rivalries, UK-UL is one of the best, but the importance that Notre Dame-USC often has in the BCS picture makes it a bigger rivalry on a national level…Advantage: Notre Dame
Other Programming: “Onward Notre Dame” is the “hard knocks” version of Notre Dame football on the NBC Sports Network and it is produced by the folks at NFL Films. I am not sure how many episodes they have taped, but I think Kentucky has the edge with ESPN’s “All-Access Kentucky”. There may have only been 3 episodes, but they’ve been replayed about 30 times combined on ESPN’s family of networks and ESPN has also used clips from the show on other programming across multiple platforms. When you include Coach Cal’s visits to ESPN and unofficial UK programming such as NBA Draft Night, it’s a simple choice here…Advantage: Kentucky
Twitter: Social media is now an easy way to measure just how popular coaches and athletes really are at a local and national level. Kentucky basketball dominates the twitter-sphere unlike any other college team, and holds a huge advantage over Notre Dame football. John Calipari has over 17x the amount of followers as Brian Kelly does. Former Irish stars and high-round NFL draft picks come nowhere close to the number of followers as John Wall and Anthony Davis. Nerlens Noel already has more followers before playing a regular-season game at Kentucky than current All-American LB Manti Te’o and even a pair of former Irish QB’s now in the NFL…Advantage: Kentucky
Overall, Kentucky basketball is “the” team in college sports right now, arguably receiving more exposure than Notre Dame football in a season when the Irish are unbeaten, have a strong Heisman contender, and have high BCS hopes.
College football, as a whole, gets more publicity and exposure than college basketball does. John Calipari at Kentucky, however, is not just shining in college basketball’s spotlight. Calipari’s Kentucky program is sharing the spotlight with Notre Dame football, Alabama football, the NBA, and the NFL. Not since John Wooden’s UCLA days has any college basketball program been as glamorous as Kentucky currently is.