CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A company with a tentative contract to take over West Virginia University's third-tier media rights is in talks with West Virginia Media Holdings as a potential partner on the lucrative deal, according to a university source familiar with the negotiations.
WVU Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne serves on West Virginia Media's board of directors and has a major stake in the Charleston-based media firm, according to Payne's financial disclosure statement with the state Ethics Commission.
WVU has a nonbinding agreement with IMG College for the media rights contract, which has an expected value of more than $110 million over 12 years.
WVU's athletic department is negotiating the contract directly with IMG. The WVU Board of Governors has not discussed the agreement and won't vote on it, a university spokeswoman said Wednesday.
"The university followed the state procurement process for this bid," spokeswoman Becky Lofstead said in an email to the Gazette. "It's separate from any Board of Governors business. They have no role, no vote."
Payne could not be reached for comment.
A West Virginia Media Holdings executive attended IMG's presentation to a university panel that reviewed nine proposals from companies bidding on the media rights contract, according to a source.
The "media rights evaluation panel" members were: Oliver Luck, WVU athletics director; Mike Parsons, deputy athletics director; Michael Szul, associate athletics director; Graham Peace, assistant dean for special projects; Robert Griffith, associate professor of medicinal chemistry; and Steve Kite, geology professor. Griffith is a member of the WVU Board of Governors, and Kite is a former WVU Faculty Senate chairman.
"They are not permitted to discuss the confidential process," Lofstead said of the panel members. "As a general rule, the Board [of Governors] delegates authority to the [WVU's] president to execute contracts, who then delegates authority within the administration to execute contracts within various parts of the university -- in this case athletics."
The annual third-tier media rights landed by IMG cover one nonconference football game, some lower-level basketball games, and nonrevenue events, as well as corresponding electronic coverage, signage, sponsorships, game-day magazine print rights and seatback sales.
WVU's deal with IMG would start July 1 and last for 12 years, according to a report in Sports Business Daily.
The university's request for bids specifies that the winning company may subcontract work to a smaller company, such as West Virginia Media.
Earlier this year, West Virginia Media requested information about the media rights contract, but never bid on it, according to published reports.
West Virginia Media owns four television stations and publishes the weekly State Journal.
The company already broadcasts weekly shows for WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen and men's basketball coach Bob Huggins. The company also televised the Gold-Blue football scrimmage in April.
The Gazette contacted West Virginia Media President Bray Cary Wednesday. Cary said he was in a meeting and would get back to a reporter later in the day, but he never did. Subsequent phone messages weren't returned.
In late December, Cary interviewed Payne and Luck on West Virginia Media's "Decision Makers" TV news show.
The new media rights contract ends the Mountaineer Sports Network, which was operated by the university.
WVU expects to make millions of dollars more each year under the IMG contract.
The Gazette requested a copy of IMG's bid proposal Wednesday. WVU officials said the documents would be made public after the school finalizes the deal with IMG.
Winston Salem, N.C.-based IMG College handles media rights for more than 80 major colleges.
The Big 12 Conference has the media rights to WVU's regionally and nationally broadcast basketball and football games.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.