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Likely WVU media partner denies subsidy claim

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West Virginia University will make a guaranteed $4.1 million in royalties during the first year of its new multimedia contract with IMG College for intercollegiate sports. The school stands to make at least $86 million over the course of the 12-year contract.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The apparent winner of West Virginia University's so-called Tier 3 multimedia rights says it does not intend to pressure WVU advertisers into subsidizing Marshall University sports programming.

Last week, multiple sources confirmed to the Daily Mail that WVU and media firm IMG College had agreed to a 12-year contract that could carry an overall value of $110 million for the firm to manage its Tier 3 multimedia rights, which include radio sports broadcasting and some televised football and basketball games.

WVU was one of a few schools to still manage its Tier 3 broadcasting and marketing in-house, mainly through its Mountaineer Sports Network.

The new arrangement is designed to make WVU athletics more attractive to regional advertising. The university is expected to net an additional $5 million a year through the new contract.

IMG currently manages some multimedia rights for both Marshall University and University of Pittsburgh athletics.

When news of the agreement with WVU broke last week, speculation mounted over how IMG would incorporate WVU marketing with Marshall and University of Pittsburgh sports.

It has been known for some time that WVU's selling off of its Tier 3 rights will cause relationships with current advertisers to be reevaluated.

On Thursday, MetroNews - owned by West Virginia Radio Corp., which also had sought WVU's Tier 3 broadcasting rights - cited an anonymous source who said IMG was likely overpaying for WVU's rights in order to subsidize its underperforming Pitt and Marshall properties.

The source speculated that IMG would attempt to "squeeze" WVU sponsors into buying bundled advertising packages with Marshall sports.

"I promise you, IMG will hold some people hostage to get more money for Marshall," the MetroNews source said.

Representatives from WVU and IMG have declined to officially comment on the new deal, since it is still not finalized.

However, an IMG spokesman said the claim that the company was trying to shore up Marshall advertising was not true.

"IMG College has a longstanding and highly productive 15-year relationship with Marshall, which continues to perform well," said Andrew Giangola, vice president for strategic communications.

"Any assertion of any school subsidizing Marshall is completely incorrect and unfair to the school," Giangola said.

IMG currently represents about 80 schools nationwide. Many of those schools are in the same regional media market.

Having multiple schools in one regional market can boost opportunities where some did not exist before.

While an individual school may not have a particularly large drawing power, when pooled together with other schools, it boosts the audience number that sees or hears ads. That, in turn, can help entice advertisers who might not have invested before.

"In many states, IMG College represents multiple properties - five in Florida, for example," Giangola said. "This benefits every one of the schools, particularly in attracting new regional dollars.  

"For their part, sponsors committing to cross-property deals enjoy an expanded footprint with the most passionate fans in sports," he said. "A true win-win."

In addition to the five Florida universities - Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF and USF - other geographically close universities that have media rights owned by IMG include Auburn, Alabama, UAB and Troy; California and UCLA; Duke and Wake Forest; Arizona and Arizona State; and South Carolina and Clemson.

While West Virginia Radio Corp. did not win the Tier 3 bidding, sources indicate the radio company will likely play a role in future Mountaineer radio broadcasting.

"West Virginia Radio has the best network in the state, obviously, to get (radio) out there," one source said. "The contract isn't going to be the same, but I'd be shocked if they weren't involved.

While the 12-year contract with WVU is not set to begin until July 1, IMG is also beginning the process of hiring a general manger to ensure a smooth transition.

There has also been talk that the company might open a regional office in Charleston to serve as a hub for local advertising sales.

Giangola could not confirm this, however. Because the arrangement with WVU has yet to be completed, he said any comments about office openings in the region are premature.

Sportswriter Mike Casazza contributed to this report.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. 


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