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Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia)

The firm that helped advise West Virginia University's Athletic Department on how to best contract out its multimedia rights issued an interesting press release last month - one that highlighted the new trend of keeping those rights in-house.

Rockbridge Sports Group, which helped WVU in the process of awarding its rights to IMG College last year, announced last month it intended to hire new general managers in Alabama, Colorado, Michigan and Texas to help support its "new model in collegiate and high school multimedia rights management."

"The landscape in sports multimedia rights management is beginning to undergo a fundamental shift," the company's press release began.

"The predominant model in the industry - where institutions fully outsource their rights in exchange for lump sum payments - is coming under question with regards to long-term viability," it said.

"A market opportunity is emerging to serve institutions that are moving to reclaim control over their brands and recast the long-term relationships they maintain with their media and corporate partners."

Wait - what? Anyone reading those last three paragraphs out of context would have assumed they were written by someone like West Virginia Radio Corp. owner John Raese, not the company that helped WVU sell off its rights.

Right now, Rockbridge has signed partnerships with Western Athletic Conference, Troy and Houston Baptist universities. (Not exactly cash cows of NCAA sports.)

WVU was one of three Bowl Championship Series conference schools - including Ole Miss and Rutgers - to bid out their rights last year. All three awarded their rights to IMG.

"These partnerships are significant when you consider how rare it is for multimedia rights to be open in the BCS," Ben Sutton, president of IMG College said last July. "You could say these schools are 'The last of the Mohicans' in available BCS-level partners."

While most nationwide industry consultants don't believe the rights landscape will change anytime soon, Rockbridge appears to be betting the other way.

After WVU awarded its rights to IMG (for the second time) last July, sports business insiders began wondering if Michigan State - the last BCS school to keep its rights in-house - would finally outsource its rights.

In a July story on Sports Business Daily concerning the Michigan State question, Rockbridge co-founder Rich Klein said schools might eventually go in-house, but not anytime soon.

"At some point, there's going to be a big watershed moment when somebody takes their rights back," Klein said.

"Taking it back in-house would be a lot of work," he said. "If somebody could give you the road map and a way to compensate sales employees, it could be done. But as of right now, the answer for most athletic departments is still no."

One industry insider said the financial realities at most major universities should preserve the outsourcing model for some time.

"Universities are averse to risk, but they need to drive revenue," the person said. "The guaranteed revenue provided by rights holders is just that - guaranteed. It's guaranteed regardless of team performance (a guarantee is paid even in the event of a winless season). It's guaranteed regardless of the economy."

 

February 13, 2014

 

 
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