New Legends contract limits WREK broadcasting

WREK Radio’s new studio in the John R. Lewis Student Center creates a dedicated modern space for students to gain hands-on experience in live broadcasting at Tech. // Photo by Joey D’Adamio Student Publications

With more than 500 registered student organizations at the Institute, students have a myriad of opportunities to get involved on campus to pursue their individual interests. One such student organization is WREK Radio: Georgia Tech’s student managed, operated and engineered radio station. Rooted in a history of student involvement, WREK Radio has been in operation since 1968 and broadcasts 24/7 on 91.1 FM from its new studio in the John Lewis Student Center in the heart of campus. 

WREK Radio has a decades’ long history with the Georgia Tech Athletic Association (GTAA) — students from the WREK have been involved in sports broadcasting and have built an extensive listenership with their live coverage of sports. 

In June of 2020, the GTAA discontinued its multimedia collaboration with Learfield/IMG College and signed a contract with Legends, another sports media corporation. The contract between WREK Radio and Learfield/IMG officially ended Spring 2021. According to an article published in Sports Media in December 2021, the new deal with Legends “incorporates opportunities across multimedia rights, premium seating, ticketing, annual fundraising, corporate hospitality, data analytics, business intelligence, and ecommerce, essentially bringing all of the Yellow Jackets’ revenue streams under one umbrella.” 

Under the GTAA’s long-term agreement and contract with Learfield/IMG College, WREK Radio was funded for the live broadcast of baseball, women’s basketball and volleyball. 

Since student announcers and board operators were needed for these games, some of the contractual funds from Learfield/IMG College were used to compensate students for their time. 

However, the agreement between Learfield/ IMG College, WREK Radio and the GTAA did not translate over once Legends took over multimedia operations for the GTAA. 

Since the termination of the Learfield/IMG College contract with GTAA, WREK Radio has continued to broadcast baseball, women’s basketball and volleyball and funds from the previous agreement, slated for the station’s transition to their new studios, were used to compensate student operations. 

According to Mike Flynn, the Associate Athletics Director/Media Relations for the GTAA, “Legends was not able to continue the same contractual agreement that Learfield/IMG had with WREK. For additional context, Learfield/IMG terminated the agreement with WREK in May 2021. When Legends took over as GT Athletics’ multimedia rights holder in July 2021, Learfield/IMG did not provide Legends or GT Athletics with copies of any of the contracts that it had terminated. Therefore, Legends was not even aware of the previous contract between Learfield/IMG and WREK until September 2021.” 

However, Flynn said that, “Legends met with WREK in September 2021 and explained that it did not have the ability to continue the same contractual arrangement that Learfield/IMG had with WREK and that it did not intend to continue to maintain over-the-air broadcasts for volleyball, women’s basketball and baseball broadcasts, but instead move to a streaming-only platform, as is becoming commonplace in college athletics.”  

He also said that, “WREK expressed a desire to continue to carry those broadcasts on the station during the 2021-22 academic year, but there was no contractual agreement and no funds exchanged hands.” 

According to records of communication between Legends, the GTAA and the Office of Student Media, multiple efforts have been made by those representing WREK Radio to work with Legends representatives and the GTAA to come to an agreement about WREK’s involvement in sports broadcasting and the associated compensation necessary to run such operations. Many of those efforts were conducted in 2022, after the initial meeting mentioned by Flynn in September 2021. Legends did not respond for comment by the time of publication when contacted by the Technique. 

For students involved in WREK Radio, the news that Legends has no intention of maintaining over-the-air broadcasts is one that causes great concern for one of the Institute’s most popular and long-standing student groups. 

Lydia Wiederholt, fourth-year PUBP, the general manager of WREK Radio, reflected on what this decision will mean for the stations and students involved.

“The Athletic Association has relied on WREK and our student operators for decades. Making this change and omitting WREK in the process creates last-minute consequences for the station as we depend on our sports contract for visibility and financial reasons,” Wiederholt said.

Wiederholt also said that, “The agreement helps us maintain high listenership rates as many sports fans expect to turn to 91.1FM to listen to games. Losing money affects our ability to maintain a high level of station operation and put on significant community events such as Wrektacular, our annual music festival.”

“Cutting WREK out of the new broadcasting deal stifles student involvement with sports and at our station.”

The Business Manager of WREK Radio, Elizabeth Cowan, third-year CHBE, elaborated on the decision.

“Dropping WREK from broadcasting operations disrupts a 40 year history of cooperation between Georgia Tech Athletics and Student Media. Many people in the Atlanta area, Georgia Tech community and alumni network rely on WREK for reliable, accessible and quality broadcasting of volleyball, women’s basketball and baseball games. Moving to commercial radio not only shows a complete disregard for the longstanding history of WREK sports, but it also represents a selling out on the part of the Athletic Association and Legends,” Cowan said.

When asked about how the GTAA was going to support the students of WREK and preserve student broadcasting, Flynn said, “Georgia Tech Athletics is fully committed and enthusiastic about supporting students that wish to pursue careers in sports broadcasting.” 

He also said that “outside of WREK, there are many opportunities for students to become involved with sports media through GT Athletics, as we employ dozens of students in our ACC Network broadcast operations, [social media] operations, ideation, communications and marketing.” 

However, for students like Josh Idowu, fourth-year IE, the student-run and managed aspect of WREK Radio was the biggest pull towards pursuing sports broadcasting. 

This decision impacts students who are specifically involved with sports broadcasting at WREK Radio. 

Speaking of his experience as the Sports Director, Idowu said that, “For me, losing sports means losing the opportunity to grow in a field I can see myself working in one day. Tech doesn’t offer any specific sports industry related majors and also doesn’t really have job opportunities or seminars or the proper mediums for students to connect to opportunities in the sports industry. Working in sports is my dream so I have invested a lot of my extracurricular time at Tech gaining as much experience in sports as there is available to me.” 

Idowu also mentioned WREK Radio’s sports audience. 

“We also have established a long standing legacy with the announcers and the dedicated listeners, who I have personally talked to, that listen to these games every time they are on. Some are so dedicated that they have made a personal connection to the announcer and send us emails during the game to let us know they are listening and answer our trivia questions,” Idowu said. “When the broadcast is even a minute late, some are calling wondering when the show will start.”  

Without a signed legal agreement between Legends, GTAA and WREK regarding the station’s involvement in Georgia Tech sports, the future of student-led sports broadcasting at the Institute is uncertain at best.