Mike Egan, General Manager of Mountaineer Sports Marketing/IMG, and his staff ran a 26-mile sprint during the first 12 months they were on the job managing West Virginia University’s media rights contract.
Now a year later, they are still running full-speed ahead.
Yes that’s right, IMG has been on the scene now for a full year and WVU and its fans are beginning to reap the benefits of this exciting, long-term partnership.
One of the biggest changes is going to take place this fall when Mountaineer football fans enter Milan Puskar Stadium. Work crews are in the process of installing new signage that will dress up the stadium and give WVU fans a much more enjoyable game-day experience.
Egan said the response so far for the new signage has been very positive among potential advertisers.
“We’ve definitely had success working with renderings right now and we will really see it spike when people walk in and see it because there is nothing that can replicate what it looks like when you first walk into the stadium,” Egan explained. “Once they see the signage they will get a much better understanding of what we’re doing with it.”
It’s because of IMG’s relationship with West Virginia University that major projects like this can be undertaken. Matt Wells, Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs, explains.
“We all know for years the gray walls have been a topic of conversation amongst our fans, so with the money that IMG is providing as part of our contract, we are now able to install a wrap and more LED signage to improve the fan experience and just dress up the inside of the stadium,” Wells said.
However, the new field-wrap signage will be much more than just another avenue to sell advertising.
“This will allow us to address some of the feedback we’ve received from our fans through our Fan Experience Committee like providing more out-of-town scores during games,” said Wells. “We are trying to utilize the new signage to improve the information that we are delivering.
“We will continue to provide game-relevant information such as scores and stats to help people follow exactly what is going on with the game and improve the overall experience at the games this year,” said Wells.
Improvements are on the way in many other areas as well, such as a new marquee to be constructed outside the WVU Coliseum to promote athletic and University events, signage inside the Coliseum, mobile applications for fans, free online audio streaming, digital football guides, podcasts, expanded radio and television coverage and an overall increased branding presence throughout the region.
A company the size and scope of IMG has the resources to make these things a reality for Mountaineer sports fans everywhere.
“That’s one of the primary benefits with the relationship with IMG because they can bring that revenue to the table up-front and allow us to go out and add these elements that we couldn’t have previously because of the difficulty in funding them,” Wells noted.
For Egan, an Oregon graduate whose sports marketing expertise includes stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Portland Trailblazers, coming to Morgantown to sell Mountaineer athletics has been a very rewarding experience so far.
“The affinity for the Mountaineers, in a scaled way, is very similar to the Steelers in Pittsburgh,” said Egan. “The Steelers are arguably one of the biggest brands in professional sports and certainly the affinity for the Steelers in Western Pennsylvania is huge. And I think it is the same thing for the Mountaineers in this region, without a doubt.”
Egan came from one sports-crazy market in Pittsburgh to work in another sports-crazy market in West Virginia.
“The worst thing you can have is the people don’t care because then you’ve got a completely different situation as you look at the value and the value that you are trying to convey for your assets,” explained Egan. “The people here in West Virginia care.”
In a year’s time IMG has been able to strengthen West Virginia’s existing relationships while bringing on several new sponsors such as Go-Mart, which recently signed a multi-year agreement to become the official convenience store for Mountaineer football.
“That is going to help build the brand out that much more throughout the region,” Egan said. “They are a fully integrated, multi-year partner and that’s obviously our goal for some of these major (sponsorship) categories.”
“It’s been a good mix of strong renewals from the existing sales base plus having some success on the new business side of things,” added Wells.
Which includes some national advertising that Mountaineer athletics has traditionally struggled to capitalize on in the past.
“We did not have the ability to go to a national advertiser and put together a comprehensive regional or national package in the past,” said Wells. “IMG can provide those platforms. If an advertiser is only looking to buy in a specific region IMG can say they have these particular schools in this region, or, if they are looking to buy across the board they can say, well, we have these 50, 60 or 70 schools to offer.”
The IMG relationship has also managed to strengthen some of West Virginia’s preexisting relationships such as its sponsorship with UPS, which has now become a much more significant advertiser for Mountaineer athletics.
IMG works closely with West Virginia’s existing athletic marketing and communications team to promote all aspects of Mountaineer athletics from radio and television to the Internet, game programs, schedule cards, team posters, promotions, event hospitality … you name it.
Wells said he couldn’t be happier with how seamless the transition has gone in such a short period of time from West Virginia University once internally managing all of its media rights assets to now having a third-party help manage them.
“Given the timing of the transition I think things came together really well and Mike and his staff did a great job of getting the partnership up and running,” said Wells. “They have been great to work with from the University side of things. Now that they’ve had a chance to get their feet on the ground I think you are really going to see them have a chance to be creative and bring in those impactful things that are going to benefit the University over the rest of the partnership.”