CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite an extremely compressed startup timetable, officials at IMG College said their first football season as multimedia partners with West Virginia University athletics surpassed expectations.
In addition to meeting the challenge of building out a statewide radio affiliate network and an expanded slate of gameday programming in less than four weeks, IMG executives said they were able to surpass financial goals for the 2013 football season.
Rex Hough, vice president of business development at IMG, said that through mid-December, the company was projecting to beat its sales goal by 22 to 25 percent.
"At a startup property, that is off the charts," Hough said.
"In my opinion, with the timetable that was in front of us to get the operation up and running . . . our staff and the West Virginia University staff did an unbelievable job to get this thing off the ground for kickoff," Hough said.
On July 11, WVU announced it had entered a 12-year contract to allow North Carolina-based IMG College to manage the athletic department's multimedia rights.
The contract guarantees IMG will pay WVU at least $86.5 million through 2025 to manage the rights.
The deal had been idled for more than seven months after John Raese, owner of West Virginia Radio Corp., which had also bid for the school's multimedia rights, lodged complaints about the process.
Eventually, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey got involved and ordered the contract be rebid after finding the initial bid process tainted by "significant errors and sloppiness."
That meant instead of getting the WVU contract in January, IMG officials had to wait until July to begin the partnership.
"Certainly the timeline was not what the university had sought out to attempt, but it's where everyone ended up," said Joe Potter, senior vice president for media operations at IMG.
Instead of having nearly eight months before football season kicked off to hire staff, recruit sponsors and line up programming, IMG had to do it in a matter of weeks.
Officials said it took an "all-hands-on-deck" effort on the part of IMG's corporate staff in Winston-Salem, WVU staff in Morgantown and representatives working across the state to get WVU football on the air this year.
"Obviously the biggest challenge for us operationally was time," Potter said. It was a big concern of ours, and it was certainly something that we voiced internally.
"But in the end, we came down with the attitude that we would rather be working with West Virginia University in an extremely challenging situation than not working with West Virginia University at all."
One of the first things IMG had to take care of was hiring a local marketing staff in Morgantown.
While IMG has a half-dozen national sales representatives based in New York City, along with five groups of regional sales teams throughout the country, the Morgantown staff would need to deal directly with local sponsors, partners and WVU officials to manage day-to-day operations.
IMG was able to quickly recruit Pittsburgh Steelers marketing and corporate sales manager Mike Egan to be general manager for Mountaineer Sports Marketing.
Hough said Egan had the right blend of experience and regional connections to get IMG's Morgantown operations off the ground.
"Mike has NBA experience, Major League Baseball experience with the Pittsburgh Pirates, NFL experience with the Steelers," Hough said. "He is as well-rounded as you can get; his experience is vast . . . we're really banking on that making this property really successful."
IMG rounded out the staff with two people with close ties to WVU: Todd Knisley, a WVU graduate and former sports marketing intern who worked with IMG at TCU and Marshall, and Matt Allevato, a WVU business administration graduate who had been working with West Virginia Media's WV
Egan arrived in Morgantown in August. He said he and his team "hit the ground running" to start renewing advertising and sponsorship agreements and to begin the process of bringing new sponsors to the table.
"There was immediacy to making sure we were selling and executing deals," Egan said.
Hough said WVU athletic officials, specifically assistant athletic director for marketing and sales Matt Wells, helped ease the transition with existing sponsors.
"Matt Wells at the university really did a great job in fostering all the partnerships that were there and really had those in a good place for us," Hough said. "We got a lot of that business done quickly once we were awarded the (contract)."
Wells said the university's existing sponsors and partners were very understanding regarding the delays in the multimedia rights bidding process and remained supportive throughout the entire process.
"That really was probably the thing that most helped the relationship with IMG and WVU," Wells said. "Without the support and understanding of our existing sponsors, we would have had more trouble transitioning into this partnership.
"We — both the university and IMG — are very appreciative of their support during the transition," Wells said.
While sales staffers were busy recruiting and re-signing sponsors, IMG programming officials had to make sure there were broadcasts to sponsor.
With West Virginia Radio, which had provided the backbone to WVU's affiliate network for decades, continuing to challenge the WVU-IMG relationship in court, IMG had to completely rebuild WVU's radio broadcast network.
And it had to happen fast.
"We have a team here (at IMG) that usually has a six-month affiliate recruitment process," Potter said. "That had to be a two-to-four-week process."
Potter said recruiting affiliates isn't complicated; it just takes a concentrated effort at building relationships with radio owners and broadcasters.
He said officials began with concentrating along the Interstate 77 and 79 corridors and built out from there.
"It was a yeoman's effort," Potter said.
Chris Ferris, IMG's vice president for audio broadcasting, said the affiliates that jumped on board early on deserved a lot of credit, because IMG was still dealing with questions like who was going to be on the broadcasts and how they were going to be pulled off.