Bowlero Corp. announced today its acquisition of the Professional Bowlers Association for an undisclosed sum, marking the latter organization’s third change of ownership since its founding by Eddie Elias in 1958 and lowering the curtain on former Microsoft executive Mike Slade’s run as owner, which began with his 2000 purchase with fellow Microsoft alums Chris Peters and Rob Glaser.
Peters and Glaser withdrew from their interests in the PBA in 2010 and 2018, respectively, leaving Slade the PBA's sole owner.
“Bowlero has always been a supporter of the PBA,” said Bowlero’s Chief Customer Officer, Colie Edison, about why Bowlero was interested in buying the PBA. “We have always been about advancing the sport of bowling, whether that’s been for entertainment in our centers for our customers or for further enhancing the experience of the professional players. So for us, when the opportunity came to pursue the acquisition, it was without a question something that we wanted to do.
“Bowlero has always been a multifaceted company,” Edison added, turning her attention to the PBA’s FOX deal, which began with its 2019 season. “We are not only an experience and a bowling center business, we’re also an e-commerce and a marketing business and we have great financial minds here, but we’ve also been pursuing media very heavily … For us as a media business, this was a perfect opportunity to partner with FOX, partner with the PBA, and further establish ourselves as a media entity.”
The transaction makes Edison the incoming CEO of the PBA and the first woman in the organization’s history to fulfill that role. Tom Clark will return to the sole capacity of Commissioner that he assumed in 2011 with the appointment of Geoff Reiss as CEO. Reiss’s exit from the position of PBA CEO in September 2013 propelled Clark from Commissioner to CEO at that time. Clark’s earlier roles with the PBA, for which he began working in 2008, included Vice President and COO.
Edison stressed that the transaction has no impact on the PBA’s 2020 schedule as it’s currently comprised, and that it also has no impact on the PBA’s FOX deal. Bowlero, which has been hosting its Bowlero Elite Series on NBCSN, a competing network, will honor that contract with NBCSN for this year. There will be two more BES shows airing on NBCSN and NBC, but Edison said Bowlero "will probably not know where the future of BES goes until we are a little bit further along with our ownership of the PBA."
Edison also stressed that Bowlero's ownership of the PBA in no way means PBA Tour events only will be held in Bowlero centers.
"We're not going to move all of the tour events to Bowlero centers," she said. "That is not our plan."
Bowlero’s acquisition of the PBA puts the resources of a company with more than 9,000 employees and $600 million in annual revenue behind an organization in the PBA that has long sought the kind of financial sustainability such a backing would seem to promise.
In the March 2016 edition of his monthly column in Bowlers Journal International, Luby Publishing President Keith Hamilton credited former PBA Commissioner Mark Gerberich and Peters for saving the PBA in the aftermath of ABC-TV’s decision to end its 35-year run with that network — Gerberich for having “persuaded Peters to purchase the organization at a financially dire time for the PBA,” and Peters for infusing the PBA with much-needed cash. Peters was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 2015, followed by Gerberich in 2017.
More recently, the flow of that cash had tightened. Lyle Zikes reported in the August 2017 edition of his monthly “Pro Bowling Insider” column for BJI that, “After years of substantial investment without getting much bang for the buck, PBA ownership ultimately told its chief executive to make the company operate within its means. Through cost saving and continuous improvising, the PBA has survived and continues to be ‘the face of bowling’ to much of the public … Yet the process of keeping the organization solvent seemed to put PBA operations in permanent crisis mode, and even Clark has called current tournament prize funds ‘sub-scale.’”
The 2019 season, however, saw the scale of the PBA's enterprise expand in two significant ways — the awarding of its first six-figure check since 2011, when Kris Prather earned $100,000 for winning the PBA Playoffs, and its new partnership with FOX, which garnered a 100 percent ratings increase over 2018, attracting more than 22 million viewers across FOX, FS1 and FS2, including re-airs. Edison said the PBA’s new dawn with FOX provided just the incentive needed for Bowlero to pull the trigger on an acquisition it had attempted twice previously, in 2016 and again in 2017.
“There’s always moving parts with these deals,” Edison said. “There were complications where we couldn’t get it done previously. Right now, the PBA is ripe for growth. The partnership with FOX has created tremendous momentum that we want to get behind. It’s the right time for both parties, the PBA and Bowlero, to make this deal.”
For much more on the details of this transaction, listen to The Bowlers Journal Podcast featuring BJI Editor Gianmarc Manzione’s interview with incoming PBA CEO Colie Edison here: https://soundcloud.com/user-658733792/podcast-new-pba-ceo-colie-edison-on-bowleros-acquisition-of-the-pba
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