Professional Bowlers Association & Bowlero Hope New Deal Is A Strike

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PBA Bowlero Acquisition
Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images for PBA

By acquiring the Professional Bowlers Association, the sanctioning body for the sport, Bowlero Corp. is hoping that bringing the recreational and professional sides of bowling more closely together will raise the overall sport in the process.

Bowlero Corp., which operates the bowling center brands Bowlero, Bowlmor Lanes, AMF Bowling Co., and Brunswick Zone, is the world’s largest owner and operator of bowling centers with more than 300 in the U.S. alone. The company says it serves more than 28 million guests each year.

The company was formed by a series of acquisitions of bowling center operators in the past decade. In 2017, private equity firm Atairos Group acquired the conglomerate from a group of investors for more than $1 billion, rebranding it in the process. Its acquisiton of the PBA was announced on September 10.

The PBA Tour, which celebrated its 60th year of nationally-televised competition in 2019, said its new media rights deal with Fox Sports reached more than 22 million viewers this past season.

Combining those two “highly engaged audiences” will “give the PBA the support and funding it deserves, and help move competitive bowling forward,” said Colie Edison, who will serve as the CEO of PBA. Edison was the chief customer officer of Bowlero Corp.

Tom Clark, who has served as the commissioner of the PBA, will continue in his role.

“There is an engaged community of bowlers and viewers alike that we think can further tap into the PBA,” she said. “We’re talking to an already engaged audience of open play and retail bowlers, or even people hosting parties at our centers, and we think this is an opportunity to further expose our other brands through the tour.”

That will come via Bowlers Corp.’s further push into content. The company launched a Facebook Live series called Live on the Lanes recently and has its Bowlero Elite Series, which is a pro-am competition, air on NBC Sports Network.

With each bowling center having thousands of screens, Edison said there is an opportunity to leverage that inventory and bring more PBA content to bowlers.

The Fox Sports partnership will also be crucial in that, Edison said. That began last year and saw five telecasts on FOX and 26 on FS1 during the 2019 season. In total, there were more than 60 hours of live coverage, which more than doubled the previous year’s total.

That led to a nearly 100% increase in viewership audience year-over-year, Edison said. With the PBA’s acquisition, the goal in the coming season will be to further integrate technology into the broadcast while providing more content and storytelling around the bowlers, she said.

In addition to the Fox Sports partnership, the PBA also broadcasts its content on CBS Sports Network and via its OTT platform Flo Bowling, which is produced in conjunction with FloSports.

READ MORE: How FloSports Quickly Became a Major Player in Live Sports

All of the PBA’s scheduled tournaments and programming will continue in the year ahead, Edison said. However, she didn’t rule out expanding that further in the year ahead.

However, she noted that one thing that will be changing is a larger emphasis on prize funds. “We’re focused on funding and supporting the PBA tour – we know to do that we need to make this the player’s only job,” Edison said.

While league bowling – historically the life-blood of a local bowling center, has waned since the sport’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s – Edison said that she believes enhancing the sport’s professional level will drive more interest in the competitive side of the game. Bowlero Corp. has more than 300,000 bowlers in its league system, and will look to develop new youth tournaments and other pro-am events around this new PBA relationship, Edison said. That may also include deeper connections with the more than 3,000 professional bowlers as well.

READ MORE: Why Go Bowling Turned to NASCAR to Help Grow Interest in the Sport

Some of that new investment will be fueled by an increase in sponsorship for the PBA, especially given the potential reach that a deal that includes Bowlero Corp.’s centers across the U.S. would provide a partner, Edison said. The vast majority of the PBA’s existing sponsors are endemic bowling brands. Edison said, “there is no reason why the PBA can’t have a sponsor in every major category.”

“We think there is a huge opportunity for brands and sponsors to get involved in this new opportunity,” she said. “While sponsorship this past decade waned, we are going to go after large consumer-facing sponsors in every category as we think the TV structure and the center audiences have real value.”