In sports television, few individuals are lucky enough to make a
name for themselves in a single profession. Barry Frank has made his
name in three, forever changing the business in the process.
“There probably will never be anybody in the industry who has worn
as many hats as Barry has,” says Sean McManus, president of CBS News
and Sports. “He is probably the most prominent negotiator for sports
rights in history, he is a prolific creator of events, and he has
represented some of the biggest names in the industry. He has been so
influential in so many areas, I don’t think that’s going to be
duplicated ever again.”
Legendary producer/director Don Ohlmeyer concurs: “Barry has been
involved with an enormous number of things that have pushed this
industry forward. Unlike a lot of people in the business, he is not a
one-trick pony. He has been successful at every place he’s been.”
In more than 50 years in the business, Frank has been to many
places. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and the
Harvard Business School, he began his career at CBS Production
Operations, but he did not become involved with sports until he
joined J. Walter Thompson.
“Ford at that time was the largest buyer in sports in America,” he
says. “So working on the Ford account, I became very involved in
He soon moved on to ABC Sports, where he spent six years as vice
president of sports programming before joining IMG in 1970. Currently
executive vice president of IMG Media Sports Programming, he has been with the
company ever since, except for a two-year stint from 1976 to ’78, when
he returned to CBS as president of CBS Sports. Although Frank did not
love the top job at CBS, those two years proved an invaluable learning
“The fact that he was the head of a network sports division helped
him greatly,” says veteran production executive Jim Bukata. “He
understands not only the rights end of the business; he understands
That grasp of production helped Frank develop nearly a dozen successful television shows, from American Gladiators to Survival of the Fittest,
an outdoor competition show that set the stage for the wilderness-based
reality TV series of today. All of Frank’s shows stood the test of time.
“Barry was involved in three shows that were on a network for more than 20 years: The Skins Game, Superstars, and World’s Strongest Man,”
Bukata adds. “I defy almost anyone to say that they’ve had a show on
the air for more than 20 years, let alone three of them.”
Frank’s production experience proved its worth when he took a seat at the rights-negotiation table.
“Barry understands the value of where his client’s content will be
seen, time periods, lead-in programming, and competitive programming,”
says ESPN President George Bodenheimer. “Barry does more than just
analyze the monetary value of a deal.”
Adds ABC Sports producer Dennis Lewin, “There aren’t a whole lot of
people that have that expertise from both sides of the table. That has
given him the ability to make some unique deals.”
Chief among such deals was the 1988 Olympic Games. Prior to 1988,
the highest price paid for the broadcast rights to a Winter Olympics
was $91.5 million, for the 1984 Sarajevo Games. With Frank at the
table, however, the broadcast rights to the Calgary Games sold for a
staggering $309 million — an increase of more than 300%.
“That’s an unbelievable jump,” Bukata explains, “and Barry did it
with maybe the most unique strategy for bidding that there ever was.”
Before bidding began, Frank required each of the three networks at
the table to sign an identical broadcast contract, with the dollar amount as the only open item, so that there
could be no negotiation after the fact. He then held several rounds of bidding, opening up a new round as long as the top two bids were within 10 percent of one another.
When the negotiation reached $300 million and ABC and NBC were tied, straws were drawn to see who would bid first. Once ABC tendered $309 million, NBC left the table.
“That was probably the first major breakthrough in the
Olympic-rights world,” Frank says. “That was the deal that put me on
His influence has since spread all over the map, from rights deals
for six more Olympic Games to representation of MLB, NBA, NHL, the BCS, and the
ACC, and even a deal alongside Pete Rozelle that helped the NFL gain
exposure worldwide. A consummate salesman, Frank is known for being a
problem solver, tough but fair.
“Barry understands better than anyone that, if the deal is only good
for one party, it’s probably not going to last very long and it’s not
going to be a deal that he’s very proud of,” McManus says. “He has
always tried to be fair and represent his clients in an honorable way.
I think his reputation is proof of that.”
Frank’s clients include individuals as well as leagues and
associations. A top talent agent, he continues to represent many of the
most highly regarded sports broadcasters in the industry, nurturing the
careers of the likes of Jim Nantz, Greg Gumbel, Bob Costas, and Mike Tirico.
Colleagues attest that Frank’s work ethic has not changed in his 50-plus years in the business, and the talented
negotiator/agent/creative developer has no plans to retire any time
“I do not see myself ever retiring,” he says. “What else could I do that would be as much fun as this?”
As the past five decades have shown, the sports industry is a better place when Barry Frank is having fun.-- Carolyn Braff