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WVU announces 12-year agreement with IMG College

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - For the second time this year, West Virginia University has picked North Carolina-based IMG College to manage the athletic department's multimedia rights.

WVU is guaranteed to make more than $80 million over the course of the 12-year deal, which begins with the upcoming fall sports season, and will also benefit from additional revenue-sharing opportunities, according to a press release detailing the plan.

The deal, announced Thursday, follows a bitter seven-month public feud between school officials and West Virginia Radio Corp. owner John Raese over an initial selection process tainted by what state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called "significant errors and sloppiness."

The decision to sell off these so-called Tier 3 rights, which include radio sports broadcasting and some televised football and basketball games, was seen by school officials as a way to raise a significant amount of revenue and boost the school's marketing profile.

The deal awards IMG control over a slew of university-related properties, including: management of local radio and television game broadcasts and coaches' shows; publications like media guides and schedules; digital platforms, including social media and websites; corporate sponsorships; at-event promotions and game day hospitality; stadium and venue signage; and advertising in university-owned and leased athletic facilities.

Related: Mike Casazza column: WVU did not 'lose' in Teir 3 deal

WVU Athletics Director Oliver Luck said in a statement Thursday he was "extremely pleased" with the deal.

"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.

"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," he said.

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

For decades, West Virginia Radio officials worked hand-in-hand with Mountaineer Sports Network to produce radio broadcasts of WVU football and basketball events.

Last year, the university began soliciting proposals to bid out these rights.

Raese's company was one of several to submit bids, but once IMG became the apparent winner, he cried foul.

His complaints centered on the potential partnership between IMG College and Bray Cary's West Virginia Media Holdings, which produces basketball and football coach talk shows and has aired WVU spring football games in recent years.

WVU Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne and board member David Alvarez have financial ties to West Virginia Media Holdings, and Raese said both stood to benefit from IMG being awarded the contract.

WVU eventually suspended the initial bid process in February after Raese sent multiple letters to the university, state officials and the media airing his complaints.

WVU later asked Morrisey to step in and look into the process. In April, Morrisey released a report saying the number of errors warranted a rebid.

Though acknowledging mistakes were made, Morrisey said his office found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing by university officials.

"We didn't think that there was any intent to steer something inappropriately," Morrisey said. "What we saw here was that there was a lot of errors and there was sloppiness, but we didn't see any intent to pre-cook a result."

Following Morrisey's advice, WVU canceled its initial bid process and began the rebid process in May. The new process was led by WVU Chief Procurement Officer Brenda Mowen and included a new bid evaluation committee and an external legal adviser from the Attorney General's Office.

A spokeswoman for Morrisey's office declined to comment about the new deal following the announcement Thursday.

Though Raese had said West Virginia Radio would not participate in the new bidding process, the company filed a lawsuit in Monongalia Circuit Court last month 

The 206-page lawsuit asked the court to bar IMG or West Virginia Media from participating in the new rebidding process and sought punitive damages from Payne, Clements, Luck and others "for their outrageous and scandalous behavior."

The lawsuit is still pending in court.

When asked about the deal announced Thursday, Raese attorney Bob Gwynne said, "This is an issue we will address in litigation."

While legal matters will play out in court for some time, IMG is moving forward with setting up radio, television and marketing contracts for the 2013-2014 school year.

"West Virginia athletics under the direction of Oliver Luck has done a great job building its corporate partner program, and we're thrilled to add our resources to expand on these efforts," IMG president Ben Sutton said in a statement. 

The company is currently working to build a WVU-dedicated staff, which will be based in Morgantown.

As expected, IMG announced Thursday it will partner with West Virginia Media Holdings to develop an inventory of WVU television programs, including coaches shows and other ancillary TV programming that has yet to be determined.

Radio game broadcasts once managed by the Mountaineer Sports Network in partnership with West Virginia Radio will be moved to IMG Audio, the company's independent sports radio network, for the upcoming season.

IMG Audio currently has 2,200 radio affiliates nationwide, and company spokesman Andrew Giangola said IMG officials will now work in earnest to secure more affiliate stations in West Virginia.

"Now that the contract has been signed, we are now off to the races," Giangola said.

"We'll now have discussions about game broadcast specifics and the WVU network, including speaking with potential partner stations," he said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

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