Ian Frykberg is the most powerful sports rights agent in the country. With his sandy brown hair and intimidating physique, the former journalist, media executive and rugby front-row forward casts a large shadow over the sporting landscape — literally and figuratively.
When the NRL hammers out a $1 billion-plus deal to sell its TV rights next year he’ll be there representing Foxtel. Just like how he was in the thick of it when the AFL recently sold its TV rights for a record $1.25 billion (again on the side of Foxtel).
In fact, if you look at any major sports deal in the last decade-and-a-half you’ll find his fingerprints on it. As well as rugby union, rugby league and the AFL, Frykberg’s talents have seen him do deals involving soccer, cricket and the Olympics.
Why? Because he gets results. Sky TV New Zealand boss John Tellet describes the former rugby union front rower as one of the “smartest guys he has ever met” when it comes to sports rights. Tellet was on the other side of the table to big “Frykers” when he was negotiating for rugby union body SANZAR over their recent five-year $472 million broadcasting deal.
“He is the guy in the background but he is probably the most powerful guy in sport. He has contacts everywhere,” Tellet told the Sunday Star Times last year.
Frykberg’s eye for detail is one of the qualities for which he gets praised (“he can tell me what the Finnish pay TV company is paying for CNN,” says Tellet) and his wealth of knowledge is invaluable as a deal-maker.
But despite his stellar CV you won’t find Frykberg listed in Who’s Who. And don’t even bother checking Wikipedia; the quietly-spoken South African’s name was mentioned just seven times in the press last year according to Media Monitors.
So what does Frykberg actually do? In a nutshell, he’s paid to know the latest broadcasting trends inside and out, all the while maintaining a decent set of contacts including all the country’s top sports administrators.
He’s also there to figure out exactly what the broadcasters and sporting bodies want out of a deal (acting behind the scenes if necessary) and then work hard to get what his employer desires. For an appropriate price, of course.
As Frykberg tells The Power Index, sports rights agents are there to “bear the brunt of grievances” from both parties and “help to find a way through”. To grease the wheels, as they say.
“He is certainly one of the big influencers in sport,” says a rival sports rights agent. “And his influence comes from both acting for the broadcaster and for the sport.”
One of the contracts Frykberg recently advised on was the $1.25 billion AFL rights sell-off, the nation’s biggest ever sports media deal. Frykberg acted for Foxtel, who inked a $557 million five-year deal with the AFL and Channel Seven to show every match live.
There were a lot of late nights in the 10-month-long process, says Frykberg, and some tense moments, particularly when expectations weren’t realised “on both sides”: “The AFL negotiations were pretty heavy negotiations simply because the AFL is a very well-structured body, they know exactly what they want and they push hard for it.”
Frykberg and Foxtel had a big win by scoring that deal to show every game live, bargaining with Seven to allow them to simulcast the games they planned to broadcast. The deal marked a major progression for Australian broadcasting, further entrenching the move of major sports towards subscriber television.
But the TV dollars don’t stop at the AFL. Frykberg’s fans run far and wide, including internationally. His consultancy International Sports Rights Television was involved in the negotiations for the recent Sky Italia Serie A broadcasting deal, a contract worth a cool €1.8 billion.
Then there’s the NRL, a code which Frykberg has had a long dalliance with. As well as being a key man in the infamous Super League upheaval of the late ’90s, Frykberg has been a director of the NRL and executive director of sport at News Limited (which owns 50% of the league).