College athletics is quickly becoming an arms race (not that it wasn’t one already). It’s common place for fans to argue with rival fans about who has the best stadium, weight room, indoor practice facility, or even biggest Jumbotron (people who argue about this cheer for teams that usually suck). Nonetheless it is an important recruiting pitch for coaching staffs at all levels of competition to boast about to potential recruits, after all who wants to spend their college years playing and practicing in a run down dump? Of course it takes money to build these nice things and evidently it is something that the Kentucky athletic department is lacking at the current juncture. We need to renovate Commonwealth Stadium, renovate/replace Cliff Hagan, and make Rupp a more modern arena (that’s more the city of Lexington’s problem, though). Given the University’s current problem of not being able to initiate bonding projects of their own it makes it rather difficult to build/complete such ambitious projects. This is where our athletic department needs to become more creative in finding new and untapped revenue streams to fund these projects. One solution to this problem could be the in one of the world’s rising economic powers, China.
Basketball is booming in China, according to USA Today an estimated 600,000 new courts are being built to meet the demand of the people. Basketball is becoming so popular that it has evidently surpassed ping-pong as the most popular sport (yes, ping-pong). What sparked the Chinese interest all of the sudden? Of course it’s Yao Ming (that was just my weak attempt to build suspense). In fact, Ming is so popular in China that his former teammates on the Houston Rockets were all given shoe deals by a Chinese apparel company. But it’s not just Ming who is popular in China. While touring China during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Kevin Johnson of USA TODAY, traveled around the country to numerous playgrounds and found that it wasn’t exclusively Yao Ming jerseys being worn; many people were wearing jerseys of various NBA superstars like Nowitzki, Iverson, Anthony, and Bryant. As surprising this was to me when doing my research I found later that this shouldn’t be such a shock. Basketball’s popularity in China has been steadily growing since China Central Television (CCTV) picked up he rights to broadcast the NBA in the early 1990’s. Of course this begs the question; what does this have to do with Kentucky, a university 7,000 miles away?
It’s no secret that Kentucky has been fielding some pretty strong basketball teams as of late and are led by a polarizing figure in John Calipari who is no stranger to China himself. In 2009 Coach Cal was invited to China to give a clinic to around 100 Chinese coaches. During the clinic he even gave advice on how to run the famed “Dribble Drive Motion Offense.” As a part of the clinic a select few Chinese coaches were granted the privilege of coming to America and receive private tutoring from Cal himself. Again, how does this benefit the University of Kentucky financially? It’s pretty simple really, one way the University makes money off of athletics is merchandise sales, and an elite player from China on Kentucky’s roster would sell hundreds of thousands of jerseys, bringing in a sizable amount of money to fund these renovations. But just how are the Chinese people going to see their future NBA star play when he is not on CCTV? This is where the SEC and a major broadcasting network come in.
Football is king in America and looks to remain top dog for the foreseeable future. If you have been paying attention to the Collegiate sporting landscape the past few years you’d know that many Universities are changing conference allegiances for more TV money, and this money comes almost exclusively from football revenue. Since Kentucky isn’t exactly known for it’s football prowess we could be of great benefit to the SEC in generating basketball revenue from China. The Chinese aren’t what you would call passionate football fans but given basketball’s popularity boom there is some serious money to be made here. If the SEC were to work with ESPN and CCTV in broadcasting SEC basketball games a massive TV contract could be worked out bringing in potentially tens of millions of dollars to all of the respective league teams. This would be the main source of revenue in the new Chinese deal, allowing for Kentucky to finally complete all the projects that need to be completed to compete for SEC and national supremacy.
These ideas may seem far fetched, but they are currently coming to fruition in another conference. At the moment the Pac 12 is in the midst of a 3 billion dollar TV deal with ESPN and Fox for broadcasting rights to their games. This deal also includes eventual plans to show their games on European and Asian TV Networks. So this is something that Mike Slive and the SEC Commissioners need to jump into sooner rather than later to prevent the Pac 12 from taking the market. There is a potential goldmine in SEC basketball, while America may not care for basketball like they do football there are one billion sets of Chinese eyes that are enamored with it and willing to pay top dollar for it.
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