DEVILLE:
End of an era
Cover_2722
Editor
Posted Dec 15, 2004


Where were you 11 years ago?

Think back to the year 1993. In terms of the LSU sports world, think of all that has happened in the past 10-plus years.

LSU has hired and fired two football coaches, suffered through losing gridiron campaigns in 1993, ’94, ’98 and ’99, has seen the end of two legendary coaching eras on the hardwood, and the LSU basketball program has shouldered almost debilitating NCAA sanctions.

 

On the flip side of those negative occurrences, Tiger football has enjoyed eight winning seasons, eight postseason bowl games – including four straight New Year’s Day bowl games, two SEC titles, a BCS National Championship and the most successful five year stretch in the history of the program. The basketball team has won an SEC title, overcame scholarship limitations and NCAA probation while the Lady Tigers are currently enjoying a No. 1 ranking, the first in over 25 years.

 

The baseball and softball teams rose to national prominence with baseball maintaining its elite status in college baseball winning national titles in 1993, ’96, ’97 and 2000. Softball continues its meteoric rise to the top of collegiate softball capping off last season with the program’s most successful year making it to the national semifinals of the Women’s College World Series.

 

Since 1993, LSU has welcomed a new athletic director, swapped chancellors twice and seen even the LSU system’s president’s chair change occupants.

 

The Tigers have witnessed the construction of a new administration building, major renovation projects to Tiger and Alex Box Stadium, a new softball complex and a number of other upgrades around the Ole War Skule.

 

Just one year ago, Tiger athletics enjoyed its most successful year ever with LSU capturing three national titles (football and track), the women’s basketball team reached the Final Four, the baseball and softball teams each made trips to their respective college world series’ and gymnastics finished seventh overall in the NCAA.

 

With that being said, throughout all of the above mentioned, there has been one constant – that being Louisiana Network.

 

For 11 years, Louisiana Network has been the rights holder for the LSU Sports Network, as well as Gameday Programs. For more than a decade, LN has become synonymous with Louisiana State University. CEO Bill Rigell has grown into one of the most familiar faces around the LSU campus as his partnership with the university has flourished over the years.

 

However, that partnership has come to an end.

 

Last week, LSU announced it would enter into a 10-year contract with Viacom Outdoor Sports Marketing Inc. It was decided after a lengthy and competitive bid process, Viacom could better serve LSU than Louisiana Network, which has dutifully and diligently catered to the university for over a decade, through good times and bad.

 

The reasoning being that Viacom, a national outfit, had more to offer and outbid the smaller corporation - LN – and that this was a step that needed to be taken. As LSU grows into a national power in the world of collegiate athletics, the powers-that-be felt the university’s athletic department had outgrown its local “partner” LN and instead, chose big business.

 

While Viacom has promised glamorous upgrades in terms of multimedia equipment, LSU seems to have been blinded by the glitz of corporate America. While Viacom is a household name, this is the first full-blown rights agreement ever obtained by VOSM. In the past, it had only owned pieces of deals at other schools.

 

For the past 11 years, LN has held the rights for radio, television, and print. This new multi-media rights agreement included all those components plus corporate sponsorships, signage, scoreboard, electronic billboards, internet, logo rights, etc. LN planned to use Louisiana companies for support in those new areas which would have brought about a trickle down effect with a Louisiana based business winning the bid.

 

So the money must have been the case right? That had to be it. LN, a local corporation, couldn’t possibly compete with the big bucks of a national firm such as Viacom. However, when the bids came in, LN did come up $950,000 short of Viacom’s proposal. But when you take into consideration Louisiana Network bid $74 million to retain the rights to the LSU Sports Network, $95,000 a year over a 10 year period doesn’t seem like such a large figure at all.

 

When it appeared the bids were going to be close, Baton Rouge Mayor-Elect Kip Holden penned a letter to LSU chancellor William Jenkins and the rest of the administration urging LSU to keep the rights in-state – to keep the business local.

 

They did just the opposite.

 

LSU chose big business over what would be best for Baton Rouge, the state of Louisiana and possibly in the long run – LSU itself.

 

After reviewing the Viacom Bid, at first glance it has some dazzle and excitement but at the end of the day, when removing the intangibles, what really matters is the guaranteed monetary bid. LN bid $74 million to Viacom's $74.95 million.  That is another contract given to an out of state company for a mere $95,000 per year.

 

Let’s hope LSU’s dabbling with another national outfit pans out a bit better than its previous endeavor - remember the new logo and the fiasco surrounding its unveiling? The last time LSU was feeling good about itself – in the wake of the 2001 SEC football title – the higher-ups on campus felt as if the Tigers’ logo needed to be spruced up a bit. And $55,000 later, the traditional, but plain, LSU Tigers logo was upgraded to what now looks like “Toonces The Driving Cat” from NBC’s Saturday Night Live peering over a snazzy new-look LSU Tigers font.

 

Oh, by the way, the new “Toonces” logo was such a success that gift shops around the Baton Rouge area hardly stock shirts or caps featuring the new-age likeness because fans spurned the design so badly.

 

At any rate, I digress.

 

While anyone at LSU can describe the move to Viacom as a business decision, a decision for the betterment of the university, please explain why, after 11 years of service to the institution, Bill Rigell did not even receive the courtesy of a telephone call from a single administrator informing him of the decision. Instead, Rigell logged onto his computer on Tuesday morning of Nov. 30 and was notified via e-mail. That’s right, E-MAIL!

 

Just to push this point home, the following is a copy of the e-mail Rigell received:

 

 

Attn:    Mr. William H. Rigell, President & CEO

Re:       LSU Proposal No. B5RMW0131 – LSU Athletics Multi-Media Rights

 

Dear Mr. Rigell:

 

This letter is to inform you that Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College intends to enter into negotiations with the firm Viacom Outdoor Sports Marketing, Inc. for the referenced proposal.  Their proposal has been determined to be the most responsive to the needs of the University, taking into consideration payment to the University and other evaluation factors set forth in the RFP.

 

We thank you for your proposal and the time and effort involved in its preparation.  We also thank you for your interest in the University.

 

Yours very truly,

 

Rose Mary Wilhelm, CPPB

Executive Director of Procurement Services

and Property Management

 

 

So much for partnership! Nice huh? And the last sentence containing the phrase “thank you for your interest in the university,” that has a nice ring to it as well. A sincere, heartfelt footnote to 11 years of loyal service to the institution.

 

Let’s hope Viacom’s partnership with LSU grows into the type of prosperous relationship that the university had with Bill Rigell and LN. Eleven years ago, when LSU asked Rigell and his operation to buy into a “partnership” with the university, Rigell did so – and went the extra mile as well.

 

Aside from his relationship with the LSU athletic department, Rigell is a member of the Tiger Athletic Foundation, is a Top 100 Tiger and is an active member of the LSU Alumni Association. Louisiana Network has given in excess of $100,000 to the LSU Foundation, is a Star Partner and earned the President's Awards for Lifetime Support.

 

It will be interesting to see if Viacom can maintain THAT level of commitment to the university for the next decade.

 

With that said, what is next for LN?

 

While Rigell will lose 20-percent of his assets with the loss of the rights to the LSU Sports Network, Louisiana Network will move forward. Like it has for the past 30 years, LN will again strive to maintain the highest level of success in statewide news and radio having enjoyed five consecutive record years on the news side.

 

Since 1974, LN has served the state of Louisiana. Although the event’s of last week left an indelible mark, Rigell assures not one employee at LN will be lost. Let’s hope those currently employed by the LSU Sports Network can say the same once “big business” converges on Tigertown.

 

---

 

Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag Magazine. He can be reached by e-mail at matt@tigerrag.com.



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