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WVU to be thorough in its search to land media rights partner

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- On Sunday, West Virginia University did its part to expand the geographic footprint of the Big 12 Conference, officially joining the 10-team league after accepting an invitation in late October.

The next day, the Mountaineers did more important work by doing their part to expand the school's digital footprint.

The companies interested in bidding for WVU's sponsorship and multimedia rights (Tier 3 rights) had to submit a pre-qualification statement by 4 p.m. Monday.

WVU will spend the next two weeks assessing the statements and must respond to the submissions by July 17.

One individual who works in the media rights business told the Daily Mail the pre-qualification "is not always done but at least one other school recently followed this same course. It's not a bad thing." In truth, it's prudent and pretty smart.

The Mountaineers built in ample time to deal with this endeavor and don't plan on using the winning bidder until the 2013-14 athletic year.

In the meantime, they can afford to fine-tooth comb through submissions and ideas, separate contenders from pretenders, pick potential partners and deal with those select few later down the line.

And that process would also include picking whom WVU could not partner with in this new frontier.

Read through the Request for Proposals (RFP) posted last month, or just trust what follows, and understand WVU has a rather specific list of demands. It requires experience, and proof of that experience, in a number of multimedia tasks, as well as an ability to prove the financial resources are available to do what WVU wants.

The interpretation is that a bidding company is only qualified if it has done everything WVU desires and can prove it's financially fit to do what WVU asks.

Now that's logical. You want to pick a partner that has the best background in what you envision and you definitely want someone who can fund it over a long term - and the most common estimate bandied about at this stage is somewhere between $2 and $5 million a year with $3 million seeming like a suitable landing spot.

It's not common, but it's not unprecedented that an entity like an athletic department, a conference or a professional franchise enters into a contract with a company and then discovers the company wasn't stable enough to fund the plan.

The deal falls apart and the athletic department, conference or professional franchise then has to scramble to find a new partner and usually has to sacrifice certain elements for the sake of just having a partner.

WVU also withholds the ability to terminate the contract with (and without) cause because of reasons that will be negotiated into the final draft. Figure some of that language will deal with WVU's dissatisfaction.

Again, though, that's not something WVU wants to endure and it further explains and justifies the pre-qualification. It's the school's duty to discover if the potential bidders have done everything required and can fund everything it promises. If not, those potential bidders will be notified they are not qualified to proceed.

And that brings us back home to West Virginia and the two in-state companies that may bid. West Virginia Media Holdings and West Virginia Radio Corp. both participated in a conference call with WVU last month and then huddled. It's easily conceivable neither has done everything WVU specifies and it's at least fair to wonder if they can afford to do everything - and let's not pretend they haven't had the same thoughts.

If one or both submitted a pre-qualification statement and isn't up to WVU's level of expectation, WVU is able and obligated to say one or both will not going to be a part of the process as it proceeds. And one or both would have to understand.

Perhaps hidden, and no doubt important, is that this is procedural and thus not political. The Mountaineers have spelled out what they want and if one or both of the Mountain State's companies aren't invited to continue, there's nothing a legislator can do about it - and if you don't think that would be a possibility under other circumstances, I've got a bridge in Star City to sell you.

It's also possible the effects go deeper.

There is a list of state sponsors that have done business with West Virginia Radio Corp. and West Virginia Media Holdings and even WVU for years and years. Figure those are, shall we say, friendly relationships and there are cushy deals in place. For the purpose of this conversation only, United Bank is the official bank of WVU and has been "United with the Mountaineers" for a long time. Long enough to defy market value? We may find out.

WVU asked the potential bidders to submit references for selling sponsorships in local and/or national markets. An impressive resume figures to stand out since WVU says it will evaluate proposals based on experience and expertise, as well as the financial offer, the adequacy of financial resources and the plan for strategy, operations and staffing.

Those metrics will be weighted, but a strong list of sponsor partnerships will boost a bidder because, after all, this is about money. An outside company may come in and try to bring its familiar names in some capacity, but will surely want to do business with West Virginia businesses. But at what cost? Some of the old deals and asking prices may be refreshed.

While some of those state businesses will want to remain, or to become, partners with WVU and whoever manages the Tier 3 rights, especially in this new venture, the money that will go there will come from somewhere. The Mountaineers will benefit, but many others in the state who rely on willing and able advertisers may be affected, too.

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


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