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WVU could have media partner by September

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- If things go as planned for West Virginia University, a process to outsource the athletic department's media rights that has been discussed for at least five years could be finished by September.

Athletic Director Oliver Luck said Tuesday the school will post a request for proposal by the end of the month for its third-tier multimedia rights.

The consultant group contracted for assistance in September said WVU could have its partner by the end of the summer and then have about one year to prepare for the debut in the 2013-14 season.

"The overall goal in a perfect world is that you'd like to have a partner selected right around the time the football season is starting and then you've got plenty of time for starting up the following years," said David Johnston, a co-founder of Rockbridge Sports Group, which is advising WVU.

"We've started the process early enough where the university doesn't have to rush any phase of it - and the university should never be rushed in this process."

Johnston and co-founder Rich Klein worked most recently for CBS Collegiate Sports Properties and for eight years were part of a four-person senior management team that acquired, initiated and operated numerous multimedia arrangements WVU may seek to enter.

Johnston and Klein also worked closely with multimedia rights deals for LSU, Virginia, Maryland and Utah.

While they seek to do the same work with Rockbridge, they are prohibited from doing so with WVU because of the contract work.

"We initially provided the university, and specifically Oliver, a third-party evaluation of all of their rights - the marketing rights and the media rights - to give him a sense of how they're operating today," Johnston said.

"Oliver wanted an external evaluation not only to see how business is conducted today, but to determine if there could be another way of working with other firms or not. Now the university has decided to explore outside firms and outsourcing parts or all of their rights."

Rockbridge now will help WVU craft the RFP and then filter through the responses.

WVU, Michigan State and Illinois are the only schools in the six Bowl Championship Series conferences that manage their own rights, though Illinois is close to a deal to remove itself from that group.

The idea has been bandied about at WVU for longer than just nine months, though. In 2009, WVU's Board of Governors asked for a presentation from the athletic department to explain the Mountaineer Sports Network, which handles the third-tier rights now.

Two years earlier, then-university President Mike Garrison's administration asked the athletic department to work up a similar RFP. The university wasn't convinced at the time that outsourcing was the way to go, but was nevertheless intrigued by what it believed would be a large payoff.

At the 2009 BOG meeting, Deputy Director of Athletics Mike Parsons said WVU made about $2.8 million annually off MSN and that MSN needed about $750,000 to operate. In March, Learfield Sports, one of the premier multimedia firms, signed a 10-year deal with North Carolina State for $49 million.

Johnston wouldn't speculate on the numbers or divulge the specifics of the RFP, but said the Mountaineers have plenty to offer to the outside firm, most notably the interest generated from the move to the Big 12 Conference July 1 and WVU's position as the easternmost school in the league.

"Each firm is going to have to create their own evaluation and I don't think there's any question (the Big 12) means more opportunities," Christian said. "Anyone in this business or not realizes there is another level of excitement across the entire platform and for all the programs.

"No disrespect to all the teams that have come to Morgantown before, but people are excited about the Longhorns and Cowboys coming to town and I'm a firm believer that creates a greater opportunity for a group coming in."

MSN is WVU's local broadcasting body and produces many sports programs. MSN lets the university's sports marketing department handle advertising and marketing and lets the West Virginia Radio Corp. produce radio broadcasts. West Virginia Metro News, which is a West Virginia Radio Corp. subsidy, produces those broadcasts and then distributes them to MSN's affiliates.

WVU could choose to outsource some of those items or bundles them all together, and the larger firms are equipped to handle the whole package.

Only a few football or basketball games would go unclaimed by the first- and second-tier rights and be available for television options over the life of the contract. The Mountaineers do have plenty to offer from other sports and the full radio rights would command significant attention.

There are added options for advertising signage and placements on scoreboards, seatbacks, promotional items, game day programs and anything else that affords sponsorship opportunities, as well as digital and mobile rights for a website and associated content.

"Obviously it was determined that it was worth going out and seeing what might be out there from other firms," Johnston said. "We've tried to make the process one that gives the university the best opportunity to pick a partner that can clearly add value and is in the best interest of the university."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/com.


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