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Barry Frank talks passion

Because going to work is a part of a person’s everyday life, there’s nothing more important than finding a profession that fuels one’s passion, said visiting lecturer Barry Frank in the Campus Center auditorium last night.

“It’s important that you love what you do,” said Frank, the executive vice president of International Management Group (IMG) Media Sports Programming.  “There’s no substitute for it.”

At the Isenberg School of Management-sponsored lecture, Frank spoke about his more than 50 years worth of experience in negotiating sports television broadcasting contracts.

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Since he joined IMG in 1970, Frank has closed television deals with leagues such as the NFL, MLB, the BCS and the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games. In addition, Frank has represented TV sport personalities John Madden, Bob Costas, Jim Nantz, Kirk Herbstreit, Greg Gumbel and Mike Tirico among others.

After graduating from Harvard Business School, he landed a job at CBS working primarily with numbers and finances. However, it wasn’t until a year and a half later when he joined J. Walter Thompson that he became involved in the world of sports.

From there, he jumped to ABC, working alongside Roone Arledge who was the head of ABC Sports at the time.

To this day, Frank considers Arledge to be one of the most influential people to his success in the business. Frank remembers being blown away by Arledge’s ability to cover the Olympic games so effectively, knowing exactly what time to switch to a certain event.

After realizing Arledge’s job would not be open for years to come, he left for IMG, where he has spent a combined 40 years with the company, including the past 34.

“I saw the potential there to lead an incredible life,” said Frank.

Frank has overseen many expensive negotiations, with a memorable one coming in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary that ultimately reached a settlement for $309 million with ABC.

Frank described how IMG held a three-way bidding war between ABC, CBS and NBC in Switzerland, a place which Frank described as ideal because it took the corporations out of their comfort zones of New York and into his own – the home of the International Olympic Committee. The bidding consisted of eight rounds of deliberations with one simple rule: each bid was required to be a minimum of 10 percent higher than the previous high.

After ABC and NBC tied at $300 million, the two embarked on a “shootout” to break the tie, with ABC emerging victorious.

Other deals he has overseen include a $495 million contract between the BCS and ABC and ESPN and a $50 million deal between Wimbledon and NBC and ESPN.

Frank also hasn’t shied away from smaller leagues, such as the IndyCar Series, International Skating Union and the Professional Bull Riders.

Despite his success, there was a time when Frank considered other career paths besides business.

In fact, his early childhood passion was acting, which he studied while at Carnegie Mellon University. Frank auditioned for roles on Broadway among other plays.

He explained how he felt his the perfect fit for a young, prep school boy in the Broadway show, “Tea and Sympathy.” After being denied once again, he dropped his acting career in favor of business.

Frank believes that his poor luck early in his career taught him a valuable life lesson.

“You’re [going to] have disappointments but sometimes they’re for the best,” he said.

In 1976, Frank represented sports broadcaster Chris Schenkel, his first experience representing an individual. He was, at first, hesitant to represent other people, claiming it was “too personal for me.”

However, it was Frank who convinced John Madden to enter the broadcasting booth after retiring as coach of the Oakland Raiders in 1979. According to Frank, Madden was hesitant to the idea of broadcasting at first, telling Frank that he wanted to take a year off before making such a decision.

But Frank made a lasting point that eventually convinced Madden to call back days later with a change of heart.

“You [have to] realize that in a year, no one’s going to remember who John Madden is,” Frank told the former coach.

After Madden spent four years with CBS, FOX took over coverage of the NFL and had every intention of bringing Madden along with them.

With this, Frank rolled up his sleeves and went to work.

He rejected FOX’s initial offer of a $2 million contract in favor of $2.5 million offered by ABC’s Monday Night Football. However instead of signing the deal, Frank merely shook, leaving the door open for FOX to make one final call.

They did just that, as Rubert Murdoch insisted on having Madden for his broadcast. Frank and Murdoch ultimately reached a deal worth $8 million.

“That was the beginning of giant announcer contracts,” said Frank.

To add onto an already successful career, Frank has created numerous sport television programs such as “The Superstars,” “World’s Strongest Man” and “Survival of the Fittest.”

Frank also dubbed Mark McCormack – the namesake of the UMass Sports Management program – as one of his major influences in the business.

“He was the first person in our world to realize that sports was an international business,” said Frank, explaining how McCormack helped bring modern sports TV to countries such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

McCormack also taught Frank the value of establishing strong relationships in the business. Since most negotiating is done with the same people, Frank adapts this lesson to his business endeavors.

“You want to cherish those relationships,” he said. “They’re very important to you.”

Mark A. Fuller, dean of Isenberg School of Management, believes that students can learn more from the experiences of people like Frank as opposed to a textbook.

“One of the things we’re really trying to emphasize is getting executives and corporate leaders back into the classroom to really teach those hands-on applied lessons,” said Fuller. “It’s one thing to walk away from the material from the books. It’s another really to see that apply to the work place and so I think these sorts of activities are really helpful in educating the whole Isenberg School within any department.”

Frank – who’s a graduate of  Carnegie Mellon and the Harvard Business School – was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2009.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at sellner@student.umass.edu.

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