Legends & Groundbreakers: Barry Frank

Barry Frank long ago gave up on predicting how high TV sports-rights deals could go.

“If you had asked me that in 1963, I would have said, ‘Boy, they’re really high and I doubt they can go much higher.’ So look how wrong I would have been,” says Frank, who has negotiated numerous major sports deals during his long career. “They just keep getting higher.

“All I can say is that if history teaches us anything it’s that they’ll keep going up, but how high I have no idea.”

IMG Media’s executive VP of sports programming helped set the sports rights explosion in motion when he scored a major payday for the organizers of the Calgary Games in the early 1980s; that $309 million bid was almost four times higher than the top previous bid for the Sarajevo Games.

Since then, the rights have continued to skyrocket, with ESPN’s $5.6 billion deal with Major League Baseball last month the latest jaw dropper.

Frank concedes that ESPN’s deal may look nuts until you consider the billions that the sports network brings parent company Disney from its deals with cable companies. The dealmaker, who worked for ABC Sports and CBS Sports earlier his career, points out that the appetite for sports programming has jumped along with the bidding prices over the years.

“Just look at the number of football games that have been added in the last 20 years,” Frank says. “First it was Sunday afternoon. Then Sunday night and Monday night. They just added more games to the NFL Network. I would guess there are twice as many games on now as there were 20 years ago.”

He brushes aside the notion that deals have become too big and complex to decide. “They seem too big and too complicated initially, but once you do a few, it becomes second nature,” he says.

“What we’re seeing is the natural progression of rights fees and the people that do them,” he adds. “When you look at it from the ground and deal with these numbers and compare with them the numbers from 20 years ago, they don’t make any sense. It’s because we lack the vantage point from 20,000 feet.”

Legends & Groundbreakers: Barry Frank
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