Legendary Dealmaker Barry Frank Dies at 87

He changed sports programming and marketing

Legendary sports-production executive Barry Frank, 87, died today. In a career of more than 55 years, he changed the nature of sports programming and marketing, playing key roles at CBS, ABC, and IMG. In 2009, he was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Barry Frank of IMG at the 2009 Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame ceremony.

At his induction, some of the industry’s biggest names weighed in on his impact.

“There probably will never be anybody in the industry who has worn as many hats as Barry has,” said Sean McManus, president, 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.”

The late Don Ohlymeyer said, “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.”

Barry is survived by his wife Elizabeth and five children. For details on the memorial service, please contact [email protected].

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard Business School, Frank began his career at CBS Production Operations but did not become involved with sports until he joined the marketing company J. Walter Thompson.

“Ford, at that time, was the largest buyer in sports in America,” he said in 2009. “So, working on the Ford account, I became very involved in sports.”

He soon moved on to ABC Sports, spending six years as VP of sports programming before joining IMG in 1970, where he rose to executive VP, IMG Media Sports Programming. He served a brief stint as president of CBS Sports, from 1976 to ’78, before returning to IMG. He considered those two years at CBS an invaluable learning experience.

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 today’s wilderness-based reality-TV series. All of Frank’s shows have stood the test of time.

His production experience proved its worth when he took a seat at the rights-negotiation table. Chief among such deals was the 1988 Olympic Games. Previously, the highest price paid for the broadcast rights to a Winter Olympics had been $91.5 million for the 1984 Sarajevo Games. With Frank at the table, however, broadcast rights to the Calgary Games sold for a staggering $309 million — an increase of more than 300%.

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% of each other.

When the negotiations 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 said. “That was the deal that put me on the map.”

His influence 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 was known for being a problem-solver, tough but fair.

Mark Shapiro, Endeavor, president, said in a statement: “If Roone Arledge established television sports as a major American pastime, then Barry gave it muscle and helped bring it into the 21st century. If Mark McCormack was the father of sports marketing, then Barry took Mark’s brainchild to heights unimagined. Barry worked for both men. He ranked them as geniuses. Executives who saw what no one else saw and followed their instincts. Visionaries with guts. Barry stood tall alongside them.”

To learn more about his career, please click here.

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