Closing Shot: A Perfect Game For PBA?
The Professional Bowlers Association’s 2020 season began last week in Arlington, Texas, with the Hall of Fame Classic, an homage to the sport’s past. But much of the rest of the season will focus on transformation under the new leadership of CEO Colie Edison.
The former MTV “The Real World” star is the lone female CEO of a male sports league or tour in the U.S., a role she took on in September 2019 after Bowlero Corp. completed its purchase of the PBA. Bowlero is the world’s largest operator of bowling centers and has undertaken a steady revamp of its roughly 300 American bowling alleys, investing hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Edison, to modernize decor and improve food and drink offerings.
“We’ve kept the core the same, but we’ve changed the wrapper so that it’s something you want to experience,” said Edison. “You no longer have to suffer warm beer and cold food. It’s a place that you want to go.”
Bowlero wants to bring that same transformation to the PBA, which was already making positive changes prior to its sale. A 2018 multiyear broadcasting deal with Fox gave the PBA its most broadcast hours in decades, Edison said, and it has an additional 30 hours of coverage from streaming partner FloSports.
Edison said Bowlero is looking for five or six “aspirational brands” to become official partners, which would make them an official provider in a particular category to the PBA and provide advertising access to all of Bowlero’s bowling centers. Bowlero is working with CSM Sports and Entertainment on its new sponsorship offerings and went to market with the new plan at the start of 2020.
Five of the PBA’s 2020 events will air on Fox’s broadcast channel, while 25 other tour events will air on FS1. Fox has debuted several novel broadcast elements, namely StrikeTrack graphics that follow bowlers’ balls down the lane and provide real-time stats. Edison said more emphasis will be placed on telling the players’ stories — the flamboyant and stylish Kyle Troup, for example. The television audience is key because live audiences at PBA events rarely top a few hundred people.
Luring new fans to the PBA is a core part of Edison’s mission. The tour’s fan base has long skewed toward older white males, but most Americans are familiar with bowling, whether from birthday parties, office gatherings or league play. Edison hopes that a new PBA video game and enhanced social media muscle can engage more young fans with the tour.
There have been gripes from bowling traditionalists about Bowlero’s acquisition of the PBA, stemming in part from opposition to Bowlero’s changes in their local bowling alleys. But it’s undeniable that Bowlero’s acquisition of the PBA puts the tour in a safe financial position.
“In the past, it was just trying to stay afloat and they definitely were deprived of cash. Now, you have the backing of a $700 million business,” said Edison. “Not only the money, but just the infrastructure. We have an entire corporate entity that’s backing this property. So, it’s taking it to a whole new level.”