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Will RFP spell RIP for MSN?

LAST THURSDAY, I asked West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck where his school was getting the money for all its recent moves. In the past, those within the athletic department cried the blues over finances.

Luck said it was a good question and outlined steps to cover the expenses of moving to the Big 12. Later, he called back to say he's also putting forth an RFP (request for proposal) to companies interested in securing some of the program's media rights.

"We're sending [the RFP] to the marketplace," he said, "and asking it to look at our third-tier [media] rights."

It's not a new idea. Most schools farm out those rights. And the idea of WVU doing so was a red-hot topic during the legal divorce between the school and former football coach Rich Rodriguez.

Mike Parsons, the WVU deputy athletic director, was criticized in Rodriguez-WVU lawsuit depositions for holding on tight to the Mountaineer Sports Network rather than selling rights to a multi-media corporation. There were claims WVU could make more money by ditching MSN. Those claims were bolstered when Florida sold its third-tier rights to Sun Sports for $80 million over 10 years - back in 2008.

Both ex-WVU A.D. Ed Pastilong and Parsons backed MSN. The former said his department was "100 percent pleased" with the setup and the latter claimed the school was bringing in $5-6 million annually because of it.

Still, there were grumbles. Critics said the arrangement was better for the individuals involved rather than the school. WVU's Board of Governors caught wind of the controversy and asked Pastilong and Parsons for a presentation at the end of 2008.

In April of 2009, that presentation was made, the Board seemed satisfied and the issue was put to bed.

Now, though, Luck is waking up the issue.

"You have to go through a formal RFP process," Luck said this week. "We'll have one out before the end of the month."

It's a move that should have been executed years ago. Even those who could be affected agree.

"They have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize their opportunities," said Dale Miller, president of West Virginia Radio Corp.

Understand that MetroNews and W.Va. Radio Corp. are not Mountaineer Sports Network, which currently controls the third-tier media rights. MSN is run by WVU.

Yes, the businesses are very closely tied - both, for instance, pay radio voice Tony Caridi - but MSN sells and controls. The radio network pays for the Bob Huggins and Dana Holgorsen radio shows. Otherwise, Miller calls it an "in-kind" arrangement to produce radio broadcasts, etc.

"We provide as much service to our affiliates as they do," Miller said. WVU owns and sells network-wide commercial spots; Miller's stations, as well as others, sell local spots.

Third-tier rights, however, go beyond radio. Basically, first-tier rights cover the broadcast rights of premier football and basketball games. Second-tier rights are for football and basketball games not selected by the first-tier rights holder. (WVU's first- and second-tier rights are being signed over to the Big 12, which is signing them over to ESPN and Fox.)

Third-tier rights cover a lower-level football game, some lower-level basketball games, non-revenue events, as well as corresponding electronic coverage, signage, sponsorships, game-day magazine print rights, seatback sales, etc.

Most schools sell the all-inclusive package with a sublicensing arrangement to companies like Learfield and IMG College.

"Michigan State, Illinois and West Virginia are the only three that take it in-house," Miller said.

So WVU will ask for bids and examine any proposals.

"We'll put it out there and see," Luck said. "After that, we'll decide if we should do the same thing, some things differently or all things differently."

What will it mean to Mountaineer fans? Probably not much. It's hard to imagine, for instance, a company shoving aside a popular personality like Caridi. ("I'm optimistic not much will change," Miller said.)

Sure, WVU might lose some programming control. But if it can earn, say, a couple million more dollars a year, a deal is the way to go.

If nothing else, it's time WVU woke up, rubbed the sand out of its eyes and looked around.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 

 


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