By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Despite a battle as intense and venomous as any in the Backyard Brawl, West Virginia University finally put together a deal for its Tier 3 rights with IMG College that will bring it approximately $86 million over the next 12 years.
The deal originally had been bid to IMG College for $110 million but was challenged in court by asphalt and media baron John Raese, forcing a review by the state’s attorney general Patrick Morrisey.
Raese’s West Virginia Radio Corp., which had a longtime arrangement with the university to run its statewide radio network including pre- and post-game shows, filed a lawsuit June 19 alleging director of athletics Oliver Luck, WVU Board of Governors chairman Drew Payne and West Virginia Media Holdings Chairman Bray Cary had colluded to rig the bidding.
The suit named 10 defendants in all, including WVU President Jim Clements, and while Morrisey did not agree that collusion had occurred, he ordered the bidding process be redone.
Clements appointed a new committee, without Luck, who with Cary had become the central figures in the controversy after Luck shared confidential bid information with Payne, who sat on the board of West Virgina Media Holdings, which had partnered with IMG.
The Raese suit remains active despite the announcement of a new deal, and the school expects it will have to defend it as Raese is not likely to drop it.
Luck hailed the new agreement with IMG College, the largest media broker in the nation, as a triumph for the school.
“It was time for WVU Athletics to grow our multimedia and sponsorship sales, especially with our recent move to the Big 12 Conference,” Luck said in a release. “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.”
On the surface the latest deal seemed to be disappointing, for the original contract gave WVU $110 million over 12 rather than the $86 million that comes in this package.
Luck, however, says that is deceiving.
“Beyond the guaranteed money, we kept a couple of things that I would call lucrative items,” Luck revealed. “We keep the (advertising sponsorship) deal with United Bank and with WVU Health Care. That money comes straight to us.”
Luck estimates that while $86 million over 12 years averages out to just over $7 million a year — WVU was grossing about $6 million a year in Tier 3 revenues before this contract, the additional rights they kept this time that were included in the first deal give the Mountaineers about a $9 to $9.5 million gross per year.
That puts it up near the top of most schools in dealing off its rights.
Luck admits that the delay caused by Raese’s challenge did cut back on some revenue this year as it pushed the completion of the deal into mid-July.
“To be fair we may have sacrificed a million or two because of the timing this year,” he said.
Luck believes that his school benefitted by being late in selling its Tier 3 rights, the Mountaineers being among the last major schools in the nation and the final one in the Big 12.
“I think we benefitted from being the last because we saw what others did,” Luck said.
This will change many things in the marketing of the Mountaineers as it now will be handled by IMG College rather than in-house.
“I think IMG will bring some new ideas to us and that’s important because no one wants to get stale and do the same old things over and over,” Luck said.
The radio network, which has been one of the Mountaineers strongest assets, now changes hands, and no one knows what to expect.
“It’s IMG’s responsibility,” Luck said. “We will work with them. I’m sure they’ll sit down with (Raese’s) Radio Corp. I told them, even though they are suing us, they still have good radio stations across the state. I’m sure one of the first things they’ll do is sit down with them.”
Luck said he expects to take the high road in this and work with them when necessary.
There has been questions about the future of Tony Caridi, who took over from Jack Fleming as the Voice of the Mountaineers.
“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.
WVU will have approval rights over who is named to the play-by-play job in football and basketball.
No decisions have been reached on pre- or post-game shows or on Hoppy Kercheval, Fred Persinger, Kyle Wiggs, Greg Hunter and Jeff Jenkins on football or Jay Jacobs on basketball.
WVU joins several other Big 12 schools which have partnerships with IMG College, including Baylor, Kansas, TCU and Texas. IMG currently represents more than 90 universities nationwide as well as the NCAA and its 88 championships.
Under the contract, IMG will identify a dedicated team to be based in Morgantown.
IMG College describes itself as “the nation’s leading collegiate multimedia, marketing and licensing/brand management company, representing more than 200 of the nation’s top collegiate properties, including the NCAA and its 89 championships, NCAA football, leading conferences and many of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country.
“Headquartered in Winston Salem, N.C., IMG College connects brands with the largest and most demographically attractive fan base in sports through partnership opportunities in multimedia rights, sponsorship sales, licensing, marketing, ticketing, seating, fundraising, premium events and hospitality, stadium and arena development, and consulting.
“IMG College produces nearly 31,000 hours of radio programming on the largest sports network in the country, manages nearly 5,000 hours of local television programming, is the leading publisher of college sports publications and is the largest manager of university athletic websites.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.