WREK loses athletics deal

The Athletic Association (AA) and International Sports Properties (ISP), agreed to a new 10-year partnership that will pay Tech nearly $50 million but cuts in half the revenue WREK receives from ISP for athletic event broadcasts.

As part of the renewed deal, ISP will continue to receive the broadcasting rights to Tech sports. However, it has decided to drop WREK radio as its carrier for evening broadcasts of football and men’s basketball. As a consequence, WREK will lose around $30,000 in yearly revenue, about 30 percent of its annual budget.

According to Owen Shull, ISP vice president and general manager for Tech-related operations, four years ago ISP asked WREK to broadcast some of their night games, while informing WREK that ISP would keep looking for a traditional commercial FM station. Broadcasting on a college radio station, ISP would not be able to raise revenue for the AA through on-air ads.

Starting at the beginning of this summer, WYAY (106.7) will replace WREK and become the sole FM carrier for all of Tech’s men’s basketball, football games and coaches’ shows.

“WREK has been a wonderful relationship for us, and one that will continue, as women’s basketball and baseball have been on WREK [for a long time],” Shull said. “Obviously we are a big financial part of their operation, and I think it was a good, positive relation….It will change, but I think it will continue to be a good relationship.”

However, for Tech’s college radio station, this change in the status quo took them by surprise. Trey Rhodes, general manager for WREK, stated that they had no indication that ISP was looking for a new FM carrier. As a student organization, WREK is only able to negotiate one-year broadcasting contracts with ISP and could not secure longer term deals.

“We always knew that it wasn’t impossible for [our relationship] to change….[However] no one on the current staff was under the impression that [broadcasting these games] was a temporary situation. We were looking forward to expanding the relationship [with ISP],” Rhodes said.

WREK’s current budget comes in around $90,000, with one-third of the funding coming from the SGA and the last two-thirds coming from ISP. They also receive a smaller amount of revenue from underwriting and fundraising efforts. Rhodes claimed that the $30,000 lost from not having the men’s basketball and football contract would be impossible to make up through their current funding sources.

According to members of the SGA, they are considering funding at least some of the revenue WREK expected to receive from ISP and are currently trying to work out a deal to have the AA help the radio station transition out of their current situation.

“We reached out…to let [WREK] know that this [new deal] was forthcoming. In some ways, we’re saying that there is a six-month lead window before anything changes,” said director of Athletics Dan Radakovich. “We as an athletic association invested $25,000 a year ago in updating the new antenna….They asked us for that, and we said sure. I look at our relationship with WREK as a positive.”

According to emails obtained by the Technique, Radakovich sent a message to William Schafer, vice president for Student Affairs, last Monday about the AA’s new deal with ISP. On Tuesday, Mac Pitts, director of Student Media, was notified about the contents of the email, and he soon contacted WREK explaining the impact it would have on their organization.

“It was troubling to learn that ISP Sports and the AA had moved toward another FM station in the area when WREK…had been providing sports coverage for them for the past several years,” Pitts said. “As an advocate for student media, it’s easy for me to feel that little or no warning of this relationship being dissolved was afforded the students who depend upon the ISP Sports contract dollars to operate the station. While it is a tough blow for WREK, I can understand how the athletic program needs to make certain all of their obligations are being met as well.”

When asked if WREK radio could have been contacted more directly, Radakovich said that in his position, it would be difficult to know the correct individual to contact as members of student organizations change every year. He said that in his email, he asked Schafer to contact the appropriate parties.

According to Rhodes, WREK radio has direct connections with both ISP and the AA, and yet, they were not contacted directly. “The whole situation struck us as odd and backhanded,” he said.

Jason Boral, sports director for WREK, said that last year, ISP had allowed the radio station to broadcast all of Tech’s ACC games, instead of just the evening games that they usually covered. Boral indicated that he thought this move by ISP was a step to a more permanent partnership.

The items in WREK’s budget include personnel costs, the costs for broadcasting material, equipment maintenance, FCC requirements and electronic equipment.

The $50 million that Tech is receiving through its new deal with ISP will come through a revenue-sharing model that will see Tech’s yearly royalty grow from just under $4 million to more than $5.5 million at the end of the tenth year. Tech’s previous deal with ISP was in its last years, and over that period of time it paid out around $22 million, according to Radakovich.