SBJ/20101129/This Week's Issue

Van Wagner gathers bowling rights to sell


The Pro Bowlers Association is among the properties
represented in the integrated package.

Van Wagner Sports is adding bowling to its roster of media and sponsorship properties it sells with a consortium of bowling industry commercial concerns.

The agency will bring together the Pro Bowlers Association and its 21-window schedule on ESPN, which began its latest season of 1 p.m. Sunday telecasts on Nov. 28. It also gains Strike Ten Entertainment’s network of 2,100 bowling locations, the U.S. Bowling Congress grassroots sanctioning organization and the Bowling Proprietors Association of America.

The various components of the bowling industry have been sold in tandem before, most recently by Strategic, which was then Strategic Sports Group. However, more recently, Winnercomm sold PBA rights, while Amplify sold for Strike Ten. Under Van Wagner, the rights are united and the leading proponents of bowling in the U.S. maintain that never have they offered a package with this level of value and integration.

“We’re working under one operating agreement and it is a deeper, more defined relationship in terms of delivering sponsorship activation,” said PBA Chief Executive Officer Fred Schreyer. “We’re controlling our assets better, so we can deliver more.”

New to the PBA season this year is a bigger focus on the major tournaments, as well as bowling’s version of the Sprint Cup, a playoff over the final four weekends that is being billed as the PBA’s “first postseason.” Van Wagner is hopeful of selling the final four weekends to a title sponsor, along the lines of FedEx for the PGA Tour. The season also opens slightly later, leaving it a few less Sundays with head-to-head competition against the NFL in the PBA’s time slot.


The number of people watching ESPN’s PBA
broadcasts has declined nearly 15 percent since
the 2007-08 season.

Incumbent corporate supporters include tour title sponsor Lumber Liquidators, Geico, Bayer, Barbasol and Pepsi. Categories being pursued include beer, home/hardware and garden centers, auto aftermarket and snack food.

“We are trying to move bowling to the next level. It is a hot sport among celebrities and athletes,” insisted Scott Epstein, executive vice president of sponsorship and media sales at Van Wagner Sports.

Other properties represented by Van Wagner include UFC, the U.S. Figure Skating Association, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and Moto GP.

Strike Ten President Frank DeSocio said more than 70 million Americans made unique visits to bowling alleys last year, with an attractive average time of 2 1/2 hours. League bowling, the equivalent of season-ticket holders, is down about 3 percent, but overall the bowling business was up 0.5 percent last year. “Our business is solid, especially in these economic times,” DeSocio said.

With Van Wagner’s legacy in signage, President Cliff Kaplan said elements like adding a network of static or video signage at bowling centers or events could be considered for new inventory.

Former Strike Ten President Steve Ryan said that while the centralization made bowling an easier buy, the sport’s biggest challenge is relevance. “Bowling still attracts good traffic, especially in the Midwest,” said Ryan, now an independent consultant. “You would look at it against something like X Games in terms of cost and ratings and it compares, but it just doesn’t have a lot of buzz.”

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