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Volume 23 No. 24
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Women’s bowling tour rolling after recent relaunch

Chad Murphy sees the gains made by the Professional Women’s Bowling Association for 2016 as being some of the latest steps toward a bigger, better and brighter future for the tour.

Murphy is co-commissioner of the PWBA and executive director of the U.S. Bowling Congress. The tour, which is jointly funded and overseen by the USBC and the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, opens its 2016 season on Friday, starting its second season after a 2015 relaunch that followed a 12-year hiatus.

Murphy: “We felt like it was important to make it very easy on our athletes to compete on this tour.”
The tour has added three stops to its schedule this year. It also will see 13 of its events carried by CBS Sports Network, up from three televised stops last year. On the partnership front, Smithfield returns as a prime sponsor, while Nationwide and Pepsi have signed on as new partners.

Those signings have added to the tour’s foundation, and the gains in turn are playing to a next generation of players: collegiate bowlers. With more than 60 schools now having NCAA-level bowling programs, the PWBA aims to give those players a place to continue their bowling pursuits.

Murphy spoke recently with editorial assistant Sarah Pitman.

On the tour’s structure: One of the things that we felt would be important [in relaunching the tour] was because we would be building to a bigger and better tour — prize funds, sponsorship dollars, manufacturers, players agreements and those types of things — we felt like we needed to make it very accessible for the ladies, so we built a model that is mostly conducted over a weekend. We did two things to do that. We guarantee 32 cash, with that 32nd place essentially paying for the week. So they could fly into a stop on a Thursday night, practice and qualify on Friday, then the finals take place Saturday or Sunday morning or afternoon, then they get back to work on Mondays.

Whether it was to get back to work or taking care of their families, we felt like it was important to make it very easy on our athletes to compete on this tour. It has been a nice thing. The ladies really point at this as a real marker for the early success for the tour as they can still have a career. We have nurses, teachers, moms and a little bit of everything.

On marketing opportunities through the tour: [The tour] is owned and operated by the governance structure of bowling. We have 4,000 centers and 1.3 million members to activate against, in addition to the tour. … You will see Nationwide agents at our stops with tables, talking to consumers, and doing what they do. It just helps the experience.

Maria Jose Rodriguez at the 2015 USBC Queens tournament. She is the 2014 USBC Queens champion.
On the college connection: We have 63 schools across the country now where the bowling program is now a part of the athletic department, so these athletes are playing at the highest level; no different than the NCAA March Madness. The NCAA championships [took] place in April [April 14-16]. It was just natural for these ladies to graduate from that program onto our tour. We saw that in a few cases last year, but it is also available for our club side of the sport that has 200 schools. Those ladies can compete as members too. There is a nice pipeline in place from an athlete perspective that we will see realized in the next decade, where these kids will come out of high school bowling, which is still growing.

On connecting with fans: Each stop will offer a pro-am experience. Thursday night or Sunday at each stop, amateurs will bowl in a small competition with PWBA players in their pairs. They get to bowl with our pros. They get to have conversations. Youth pro-ams are always fun because you get to see young girls spending time with our athletes. Then, usually before or after, there is a VIP fan experience that is offered. It literally is just social, where sponsors and fans get a better experience because they are just standing in the bowling center. The ladies will sign autographs and do those types of things. It really is that one-on-one interaction and conversations that are had that are the bigger things.

On challenges at hand: It is no different than any other sport: sponsorship dollars and exposure for our lady athletes into mainstream media would be the biggest hurdle to climb. These ladies are talented and special. I just see us continuing to grow.

We really fill a void that’s in the marketplace. Everything we read today just says there is a great atmosphere for women’s sports that maybe hasn’t been activated at the level that it needs to be. When Title IX came in, there was a huge rush. We saw it in our sport with our NCAA programs. Now our goal is simple: Put a solid product on the floor that engages bowling as a sport … and take it to the market. Build a brighter and bigger future for our tour and, even more important than that, our sport as a whole.