Any magazine that endeavors to anoint a “Person of the Year” battles the public’s presumption that any such initiative amounts to little more than a popularity contest. It is, for any publication that is doing it right, much more a measure of impact and influence than it is a certificate of congeniality.
To be sure, much of what this year’s BJI Person of the Year, Bowlero Chief Customer Officer and PBA CEO Colie Edison, said and did throughout 2019 indeed was popular with important swathes of the bowling industry — specifically, those with any personal or professional interest in competitive bowling, chief among them PBA Tour players.
But Edison also delivered some tough talk to an industry that needed to hear it, then went a step further when, in her positions as President of the Bowlero Elite Series and PBA CEO, she played an integral role in actions that yielded measurable results in the lives of bowlers and, more broadly, to the future of the bowling industry.
In 2019, Edison was the face of two of the year’s most consequential stories. When Bowlero announced it would award an unprecedented $270,000 to the winner of its inaugural Bowlero Elite Series in April, Edison was the one driving home the significance of that historic prize and the reasons Bowlero saw fit to award it. When Bowlero purchased the PBA, it was Edison whose interview with BJI about the bombshell transaction became the second most-listened-to episode of The Bowlers Journal Podcast, with 2,033 plays as this issue went to print.
More important, the substance of what she said as those two stories broke reverberated throughout the industry with a message that it was time for the status quo to be set aside in favor of the kind of disruptive change capable of thrusting the sport into the 2020s with vigor and vision.
“We know that nobody’s ever bowled for this kind of money, but this is the kind of money these bowlers should be bowling for. It’s never felt like they’ve gotten the recognition they deserve,” Edison said when details about Bowlero’s plans for its Elite Series were announced. “To get bowling into the Olympics, these are the things that are going to elevate the sport. Like the USBC says, ‘a future for the sport.’ I think that relies on us making bowling relevant.”
In a world in which relevance and money often go hand-in-hand, Edison strived passionately throughout 2019 to achieve both for the sport. After amateur bowler Luis Gonzalez bagged $270,000 for winning the first of the year’s three Bowlero Elite Series events, he said he would use the funds to buy a house and put his son Logan through school. He was doing that with a tremendous paycheck he earned rolling a bowling ball, and he did it in the national spotlight provided by NBC Sports network — a platform that likely got younger viewers dreaming of what might be possible for them too on the lanes in the years ahead.
The importance of the sport’s ability to reach young people is not lost on Edison.
“We need the next generation of bowlers to get out on the lanes and start practicing and pursue their careers because the future of the sport is about youth bowlers,” she told BJI in September, then went so far as to suggest that the PBA even might consider a tier of membership exclusive to youth bowlers. Once again: bold vision, bolstered by a record of equally bold action.
In that same interview, Edison doubled down on another aspect of the vision for the sport she previously had shared with us — that something in the system through which amateurs transition into pros needs to change.
“PBA membership as a whole can be re-evaluated so that we can bring more people into the fold, and we can create tiers of membership so that more people can have these opportunities ... But I think we also need to look at the guys and women who are on tour already, and how do we make that journey easier for them, too.”
All of which gets to the “popularity” aspect of this year’s choice for BJI Person of the Year. To whom among the PBA Tour’s ranks would those words not ring like the sweetest music? No one with even a passing interest in professional bowling needs to be told that the pros would like to make more money doing what they love. Which gets to yet another impact of Edison’s ascendancy in the bowling industry in 2019.
Not even two months after Bowlero’s announcement that it had acquired the PBA and Edison’s historic rise to the position of CEO, making her the first woman ever to serve the organization in that capacity, news broke that prize funds for the 2020 PBA Tour season would be receiving a $400,000 boost, with extra money injected into every event and two majors, the Tournament of Champions and the PBA Players Championship, each paying out a six-figure top prize. Edison is not someone who is content to pay lip service to the concerns of PBA Tour competitors; she takes action, and swiftly.
For the breath of fresh air Edison embodied in the industry in 2019, and for the willingness she has demonstrated to act on the vision she communicates in ways that bring tangible change to the lives of bowlers trying to make a living doing what they love, Colie Edison is BJI’s choice for 2019 Person of the Year.
HONORABLE MENTION: COREY DYKSTRA
In a year marked by stories of seismic impact to the bowling industry, including Bowlero’s acquisition of the PBA amid the paradigm shift represented by the beginning of the PBA’s new era with FOX Sports, it seemed fitting that 2019 would end with arguably the biggest bombshell news of the year: Brunswick’s acquisition of the assets of Ebonite International in November.
As was the case when former Brunswick Corp. CEO Dustan McCoy was named BJI Person of the Year for 2014 after spearheading the decision to divest the corporation of its bowling arm, here again a Brunswick executive was behind an industry-shaking development: Brunswick Bowling Products CEO Corey Dykstra. As BJI’s Person of the Year picks always highlight figures who have been dominant or influential presences in a given year’s bowling news, our 2019 Person of the Year feature would be incomplete without recognizing Dykstra for the needed reality check his company’s bold move to acquire EBI’s assets symbolized.
As Dykstra says in this issue’s report on the transaction, “I’ve said many times, was ripe for consolidation.” Dykstra attributed that conviction in part to “the decline in league bowling over the past 20 years,” which “certainly has made it a challenging business.”
The move may have come as a shock to followers of the industry or people who themselves work within bowling, but Dykstra’s clear-eyed analysis of a situation in which two major manufacturing plants both were operating beneath capacity — EBI’s in Hopkinsville, Ky., and Brunswick’s in Reynosa, Mexico — coupled with his courageous decision to act on that analysis in a way that undoubtedly shook up the industry, made him one of the year’s most influential figures.
All-Time BJI Persons of the Year
1987 - Pete McCordic
1988 - Jack Reichert
1989 - Ted Clarkson
1990 - Jim Bennett Jr.
1991 - Del Ballard Jr.
1992 - Mike Connor
1993 - St. Anthony’s Women’s League
1994 - John Falzone
1995 - National Bowling Stadium
1996 - Bill Goodwin
1997 - Doug Stanard
1998 - Asian Economic Crisis
1999 - Don Harris
2000 - Mark Gerberich
2001 - Carolyn Dorin-Ballard
2002 - Pete Weber
2003 - Madeline Dotta and Frank Britt
2004 - Therese Abair
2005 - Tom Clark
2006 - Kelly Kulick
2007 - Jeff Bojé
2008 - John Berglund, Jeff Bojé, Mike Carroll, Joe Schumacker, Jim Sturm
2009 - Jason Belmonte
2010 - Kelly Kulcik
2011 - Kevin Dornberger
2012 - Joe Kelley
2013 - Chris Hardwick
2014 - Dustan McCoy
2015 - PWBA
2016 - Chris Chartrand
2017 - Trevor Kling
2018 - Tom Clark
2019 – Colie Edison
This story appears in the January issue of Bowlers Journal International. To subscribe now for much more of the industry's best coverage of bowling news and incisive instructional tips and analysis, go here: http://www.bowlersjournal.com/bowlers-journal-subscriptions/