Raese group questions tie between WVU board, media company
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Morgantown businessman and former U.S. Senate candidate John Raese's business is concerned about the ties between the chairman of the West Virginia University board of governors and another company that does business with WVU.
The head of WVU's board, Drew Payne, is an investor in West Virginia Media. The company airs WVU athletic shows and is reportedly seeking to get a piece of lucrative new contract to broadcast more WVU sports programming.
"I think that is sort of alarming to me," said Robert Gwynne, the executive vice president of Raese's holding company, Greer Industries. "You have him as the chairman of the board of governors, and that's something that should be looked into."
Raese is not a disinterested party. He owns West Virginia Radio Corp.
The radio network has for years controlled the rights to air WVU sports. Those broadcasts are part of the bread and butter of Raese's radio empire.
But now Raese's company could lose out because WVU and North Carolina-based media firm IMG College are working on a 12-year deal to manage the university's so-called Tier 3 media rights, which includes radio. That deal could carry an overall value of $110 million for the firm.
Another media mogul, Bray Cary, is reportedly seeking a piece of that deal. Cary runs West Virginia Media, which could become an IMG subcontractor.
Payne is an investor in Cary's West Virginia Media.
Now, Raese plans to send a letter that raises a number of concerns about the pending deal, Gwynne said.
"We are closely watching this process," Gwynne said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Obviously over a long period of time, basically 73 years except for two seasons, we have managed those rights for the West Virginia athletic department."
Raese's letter is expected to go to WVU President Jim Clements, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and David Raese, who is John Raese's brother and business partner and the publisher of the Morgantown Dominion Post.
Payne dismissed the whole thing.
"John Raese has proved his ass over the years and this is nothing new," Payne said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Raese - a Republican who has run unsuccessfully a handful of times for elected office - has made sometimes-controversial remarks on the campaign trail. Last year, when he was running for U.S. Senate, Raese compared anti-smoking signs in Monongalia County to a key part of the Holocaust.
Payne, for his part, said he and the board have "stayed completely away" from the new sports rights contract.
"John Raese has had a very lucrative deal up there with West Virginia Radio and he is trying to protect it," Payne said.
Payne said the contract that is being negotiated between WVU and IMG would net the university $5 million more a year than the university's current contract with Raese's company.
"He is sitting there trying to destroy me for something I have nothing to do with that the university is making $5 million more a year on," Payne said.
But Payne did appear to have some knowledge of the relationship among West Virginia Media, WVU and IMG.
For instance, Payne said Raese's radio network could still end up involved in the IMG deal - if only because Raese happens to own a bunch of radio stations across the state.
"You've got to have radio involved and they've got all the radio stations," Payne said, referring to Raese's company. "I don't know why they'd jump my ass for something."
Payne said West Virginia Media decided not to bid on the whole package because they were going to try to partner for a piece of the larger contract with whoever won it - in this case, the winner is likely to be IMG.
Asked why he did not dump his interest in the privately held company to avoid the appearance of a conflict, Payne said, "I don't have anybody to sell it to."
Payne said he welcomed any examination of the deal.
"Hell, they can take Booth Goodwin up there," Payne said, referring to the federal prosecutor in the southern part of the state. "They can put people under oath as far as I'm concerned."
Cary did not reply to an email seeking comment.