WVRC attorney: West Virginia Media vowed ‘influence’ in seeking IMG deal

RIPLEY, W.Va. — West Virginia Radio Corporation, seeking a summary judgment in its media-rights dispute with West Virginia University, says emails show West Virginia Media Holdings promised to influence school officials as it partnered with IMG College.

Judge Thomas Evans gave both parties two weeks to prepare arguments explaining why he should or should not void WVU’s contract with IMG College.

During oral arguments at the Jackson County Courthouse on May 23, WVRC attorney Morgan Hanson produced emails exchanged between West Virginia Media Holdings (WVMH) and IMG College during the initial bidding process.

In a September 2012 email, West Virginia Media CFO Charles Dusic wrote to IMG College’s Joe Weatherly “we have close relationships with WVU Officials (Jim Clements, Oliver Luck), the Board of Governors and the coaches.”

At the time of the original bidding, two West Virginia Media Holdings investors—defendants Dave Alvarez and Drew Payne—were members of the WVU Board of Governors, with Payne serving as chairman. After Payne and athletics director Luck were cited by the state attorney general for sharing confidential bidding information, WVU was forced to issue a second request for proposal, this time with Luck removed from the decision-making process.

In an internal IMG College email, Weatherly told colleagues he thought West Virginia Media sought 50 percent of the profits from the WVU property even though WVMH wanted to avoid any risks during the early years of the investment.  West Virginia Media also wanted to be made whole for its financial losses on the WVU coaches shows and wanted an even split despite the fact that it did not want to help fund the $5 million contract signing bonus due the university.

The contract signed by WVU with IMG last summer—after a second round of bidding—called for the signing bonus to be spread out over two years.*

Weatherly closed his email by asserting West Virginia Media was due somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of the deal since WVMH wanted to be “protected on the downside.”

Said Hanson: “They knew what they were buying. They were buying the influence West Virginia Media could bring.”

On the same day as Weatherly’s email, IMG College vice president of business development Janeen Lilik provided other IMG officials a list of what she thought West Virginia Media would do as their part of the partnership and her first item listed was to “use their influence to help win the WVU business.”

Heather Jones, lead attorney for IMG College, refuted the documents by telling the court: “This is America. Companies like IMG go after business and they do that in a way that is very competitive. Of course they wanted to try and get somebody with influence and have the best information about going into a university.”

West Virginia Radio Corporation filed the lawsuit last year after its protest lodged against the university’s procurement procedures was dismissed without a due process hearing.

WVU Board of Governors attorney Jeff Wakefield argued Evans should not grant West Virginia Radio with a summary judgment because none of the factors in the case have changed since the last hearing in August 2013, just days before the football season began. Wakefield contended WVU did not have to go through the procurement process because the deal with IMG College was a revenue-producing contract.

MetroNews is owned and operated by West Virginia Radio Corporation.

(*An earlier version of the story said the signing bonus was spread out over three years.)

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