The Times West Virginian

July 14, 2013

WVU’s new media deal: Money there; great quality must be prime concern

Times West Virginian

— It was far from a smooth process.

The financial aspects of West Virginia University’s partnership with IMG College for WVU’s Tier 3 media rights in athletics, though, are impressive. The deal, announced Thursday, will bring WVU approximately $86 million over the next 12 years.

The agreement, which includes revenue-sharing opportunities over the length of the partnership, includes management of local game broadcasts and coaches’ shows for radio and television, publications such as media guides and schedules, digital platforms including social media and websites, corporate sponsorships, at-event promotions and game day hospitality, stadium and venue signage including scoreboards and ribbon boards, and advertising in university-owned and leased athletic facilities.

IMG will partner with West Virginia Media Holdings to develop the TV programming, WVU said.

WVU retains some existing sponsorships with corporate entities such as athletic apparel and footwear, health care, financial services and pouring rights.  

“It was time for WVU athletics to grow our multimedia and sponsorship sales, especially with our recent move to the Big 12 Conference,” said director of athletics Oliver Luck. “With the resources, services and proven track record that IMG College brings, WVU now has the opportunity to expand its revenue base by engaging new national sponsors while building our athletic and university brand. I’m extremely pleased with this move.”

Luck stressed the guaranteed money is only part of the story.

“Beyond the guaranteed money, we kept a couple of things that I would call lucrative items,” Luck said. “We keep the (advertising sponsorship) deal with United Bank and with WVU Health Care. That money comes straight to us.”

WVU was grossing about $6 million a year in Tier 3 revenues before this contract, Luck now expects about $9 to $9.5 million gross per year.

WVU’s broadcast rights were handled by the university-operated Mountaineer Sports Network, which worked closely with West Virginia Radio Corp., owned by Morgantown businessman John Raese.

The deal had been bid to IMG College for $110 million earlier in the year but was challenged by Raese, forcing a review by the state’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey.

Morrissey reviewed allegations of misconduct and concluded that WVU Board of Governors members Drew Payne and David Alvarez shouldn’t have participated in reviewing the original proposals.

The attorney general’s office found “significant errors and sloppiness” in how the first deal was bid but “no evidence of intentional wrongdoing.”

Morrisey’s investigation concluded that Luck improperly provided confidential details of the proposed contract with IMG to Payne, whose subsequent comments about the financial terms of the deal were also improper. WVU suspended talks with IMG after reports that both Payne and Alvarez had ties to West Virginia Media.

To rebid the contract, WVU created a new evaluation committee, and appointed a new procurement liaison and an external legal adviser from the attorney general’s office.

West Virginia Radio Corp.’s lawsuit over the media-rights contract is continuing.

While the legal process plays out, the important part for the fans is that IMG builds on the quality of broadcasts they have received over decades.

Many followed WVU through “Voice of the Mountaineers” Jack Fleming, who left the booth for health reasons after the season-opening win at Pitt in 1996. Since then, Tony Caridi has handled the play-by-play.

Pre- and post-game shows and other programming have greatly expanded over the years.

IMG, by contract, will identify a dedicated team to be based in Morgantown.

Caridi — who has never referred to himself as “Voice of the Mountaineers” out of respect for Fleming, who died in January 2001 — hopes to continue as the WVU play-by-play man.

“Oliver and I have spoken about the future. Oliver expressed an interest in my continuing doing the games, and I expressed an interest in doing that. The details have not yet been finalized,” Caridi said.

With less that two months until football is in full swing, there’s plenty of work to do in a short time.

The money is there. Quality must follow.