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WVU's changes and proposed changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The saga of WVU's athletic media rights is almost over.

There has been no official announcement, but on Jan. 3 in this space word was reported IMG had landed the deal. The saga began back in early May. The headline then? Will RFP spell RIP for MSN?

As expected, WVU's RFP (request for proposal) to the marketplace has indeed ended the Mountaineer Sports Network, which was operated by the school. There have been reports the deal is between $75 and $120 million over 12 years. (Which is a very wide range.)

Anyway, if you follow this column, you know the third-tier rights landed by IMG 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.

The school is basically exchanging the ability to make more money off the above for the annual guaranteed revenue. IMG will try to make more for its profit.

All WVU fans will notice, however, are subtle changes, like advertisements at the football stadium. Most fans at most schools don't understand or care to understand which firm is handling their teams. It's just the way it is.

In time, however, what fans will see is a response to their changing culture.

This coming week, WVU athletic director Oliver Luck will travel to Dallas for Big 12 meetings. As always, the expansion committee will report. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby will update the group of schools on his recent meetings.

But a report has surfaced that says college football might have peaked. Average FBS attendance this past season was the game's lowest in nine years.

Luck said those in charge of the Big 12 are taking note.

"We'll spend a lot of time on the issue of expanding the game-day experience," said the athletic director. "We're worried. People have HDTV and advanced technology. We're worried they'll start staying home more and more."

Students certainly are. It's been a problem in Morgantown, but also at other schools. So Luck's goal is to make the game experience more attractive.

"We want to work on video board stuff and all that, but also wi-fi so students can stay hooked in," said the athletic director. "It's easy to just say 'drop prices,' but we've looked around to those that have [dropped prices] and it's not the answer."

Improving the cell service at Milan Puskar Stadium would be a good start.

"It is a problem," Luck said. "But I've been to lots of pro and college stadiums and it's almost always a problem. We're working on that, but I've also asked for a quote on Wi-Fi services inside the stadium.

"I'd like for people to be able to download highlights, whathaveyou. But it's also a matter of the facility having the backbone to tolerate it. We have a hospital right beside [the stadium]."

Luck pointed to Brooklyn's Barclays Center, which housed WVU's recent basketball game with Michigan. In that arena fans are treated to Cisco's Connected Sports and Entertainment program, including Wi-Fi. There is a mobile app to serve fans. There's also a digital video system that delivers highlights and content like, say, a special on popcorn.

More and more venues are becoming wired.

"It's about students, but it goes beyond that," Luck said. "Kids want to text, watch highlights and hold their phones for three hours. As this generation grows up, that's the way it will be.

"We're trying to enhance the game-day experience for all. That's why we started selling beer. We want to sell great food, drink, the whole experience.

"I don't want to give the impression all this is imminent but it's what we're looking at."

Something all will notice.

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


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