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Radio stations bid for NDSU athletics rights

NDSU radio offers

FARGO -- The horse race to win the radio rights to North Dakota State athletics is heading down the homestretch and there appears to be a new leader.

Great Plains Integrated Marketing, which is comprised of four stations including AM-1100 The Flag in Fargo, submitted a bid that is most beneficial financially to NDSU in terms of air charges per game. That's a major factor that will determine who gets the three-year contract, said Jeremy Jorgenson, NDSU's director of broadcasting.

For instance, Great Plains would charge NDSU $600 per football game while bids by Radio Fargo Moorhead ($800), which owns AM-740 The Fan, and Forum Communications ($1,000), which owns AM-970 WDAY, are higher.

But the bid specifications also include other factors like promotional sponsorships, equipment charges and talent fees - and that's where the process gets gray.

Forum Communications has hosted the radio rights 43 of the last 46 years with the exception of 1979-82 when KQWB-AM held them. NDSU took the rights in-house the last two years, changing the concept of the bid since, in general, the athletic department now does the advertising work and the radio station charges NDSU for air time.

Jorgenson said a committee working on the project comprised of himself, athletic director Gene Taylor, women's athletic director Lynn Dorn, associate athletic director Troy Goergen, sports information director Jeff Schwartz and university director of purchasing Stacey Winter is hoping to finalize a deal early next month. Jorgenson said in addition to the financial package, the committee is looking at other items like signal coverage, the number of signals and ratings.

"It's not something that happens overnight," he said.

That's because the three companies in the fray differ in key areas. Radio Fargo Moorhead, for instance, will charge NDSU an estimated $22,974 for equipment while Great Plains and Forum Communications will charge nothing.

But Radio Fargo Moorhead is also touting its higher ratings. It says it will put the Bison on its 740-AM The Fan station.

"Take the key demographic of adults 25 to 54 or men 25 to 54 and we have a way better audience than they have," said Joel Heitkamp, station manager. "We have two to three times the audience that they have."

Forum Communications, meanwhile, says its promotional package that includes The Forum newspaper, WDAY-TV and company Web sites is something Radio Fargo Moorhead doesn't offer. Forum Communications was the only entity to include a talent fee, in this case $27,000 paid to NDSU to help pay the salary for Bison play-by-play announcer Scott Miller. WDAY radio general manager Kevin Weaver says he also questions the value Great Plains puts on its promotional material.

"We put in fair prices," Weaver said.

Great Plains in its bid valued a three-hour tailgating remote at $1,000 for each game, naming rights to its studio in downtown Fargo at $12,000 and use of its television studio to produce web content at $2,400 per week.

Jorgenson said promotional values are something his committee is working on.

"We have to do market research on value with things like that and come up with a number," he said. "That takes a lot of homework."

But Great Plains company president Scott Hennen said that kind of creativity is part of the station's presentation. Hennen said the fact Great Plains has the best monetary bid "speaks for itself."

But going against Forum Communications - his former employer - is the biggest challenge, Hennen said, because of the longevity Forum Communications has had with NDSU.

"But that's why you have a bid and that's why we were aggressive on the compensation to them," he said, "because we knew we would be up against that."

Hennen said if Great Plains gets the bid, he doesn't anticipate a change in the broadcast talent, specifically Miller. Heitkamp said those determinations would be made at a later date.

NDSU initially went a different direction than Forum Communications the last time the rights were up for bid in 2006. But negotiations with Clear Channel Radio Fargo, which then owned KFGO, fell apart and the contract later went back to Forum Communications.

"NDSU athletics in this marketplace is the marquee sports program so obviously if we can match what we consider to be a flagship radio station with a flagship athletic program like NDSU, it's a good match," Hennen said.