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Hamrick: MU media deal not 'underperforming'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall University's athletic director was taken aback by speculation that multimedia firm IMG College was overpaying West Virginia University on its impending deal in order to "squeeze" advertisers into subsidizing Thundering Herd programming.

Mike Hamrick said Monday he is further baffled by a characterization of MU as one of IMG's "underperforming" properties. He took issue with a MetroNews report Thursday on the subject.

"That is irresponsible reporting. That is wrong," Hamrick said. "Our number of clients that have worked with us in the last three years has significantly increased. We've been probably, from the first day IMG and us have been working together, one of their best properties."

The MetroNews report by Allan Taylor cited an anonymous "industry source" that said IMG College was not only bidding high to land the WVU contract, but willing to overpay with an eye toward subsidizing "underperforming" properties at the University of Pittsburgh and Marshall.

In turn, the source told MetroNews that could "squeeze" WVU sponsors into bundling ad packages to help out Pitt and MU.

"IMG could say, 'You want the Mountaineers? Then you're going to have to buy Marshall as well,' " the source was quoted as saying. "I promise you, IMG will hold some people hostage to get more money for Marshall."

That particular theory, and the quote, was repeated in Monday's Charleston Daily Mail, and it's being disputed by Marshall supporters, starting with Hamrick.

Two sources confirmed that two years ago, MU was the most profitable non-BCS school under the IMG umbrella. One source said the school even outperformed UCLA and Illinois at the time.

Essentially, the model is something like this: IMG and other like entities pay athletic departments a set fee in exchange for near-complete advertising, marketing and multimedia rights, and make their profit by exceeding those rights fees in marketing revenue.

IMG produces the radio network programming, including the weekly coaches' shows, and the coaches' television shows. Where possible, the company takes advantage of advertising opportunities on telecasts by Conference USA's partners, including CBS Sports and Comcast.

Also, IMG is responsible for attracting revenue from in-stadium signage, the school's official website and other avenues.

MU's relationship with IMG's predecessor, International Sports Properties, began in the mid-1990s, in ISP's infancy. In fact, Marshall was ISP's third client, after Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.

IMG, which purchased ISP in 2010, and Marshall reached a new 11-year deal beginning in 2010-11, which bumped up rights fees from $750,000 per year to $1.43 million per year. As part of the agreement, IMG and MU will split money that exceeds a higher, unspecified threshold.

As part of the deal, IMG bucked up for several improvements at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and the Cam Henderson Center, including new video boards, LED ribbon boards and improved speaker systems, among other things.

IMG serves more than 70 schools, and its website says it serves 67 of the 70 bowl participants from the 2012 season, plus the NCAA and its 89 championships, plus a few conferences in general. There are several competitors in the field, led by Learfield Sports.

West Virginia Radio Corporation, owner of the MetroNews network and a number of stations in Charleston, Morgantown and other state cities, has bid on WVU's contract and appears to be losing out. The company reportedly stands to lose considerable revenue, and has laid off several well-known personalities - long-time employee Rick Johnson and former sports director Frank Giardina have left the local airwaves, for example.

Also, Marshall switched its Charleston affiliation this academic year from West Virginia Radio's WKAZ-FM to Bristol Broadcasting's WVTS, 94.5-FM and 1240-AM.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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