In the five months since the inception of the Professional Bowlers Association Network prior to last October's GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VI, the PBA has seen sharp year-over-year increases in television ratings and viewership numbers on ESPN, live-streaming subscription numbers on Xtra Frame, game play on the PBA Bowling Challenge mobile game, digital video views on its YouTube Channel and unique users of its PBA.com website.
For the past five PBA telecasts on ESPN — airing on consecutive Sundays, Feb. 1 through March 1 — ratings are up 66% from last year’s same period, and viewership is up 74%. Average viewership is more than 920,000 for those five shows, including the CP3 PBA Celebrity Invitational (at 1.1 million average viewers, the highest for a PBA telecast since 2012), the USBC Masters (up 62% over 2014), the 50th anniversary Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions, PBA Players Championship and Mark Roth/Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship.
“Our fans are connecting with the action in more ways than ever, and our media partners ESPN, Google, Concrete Software and NeuLion have all helped tremendously to drive larger audiences and interaction,” PBA Commissioner Tom Clark said. "Over the past five weeks, the PBA has been near the top of the list of most-watched sports programs airing on Sundays on cable TV, and our sponsors are reaping the benefits of this tremendous exposure.”
Clark said once fans have connected with the PBA, they are becoming riveted to the action.
“Our PBA players are providing compelling drama on the lanes as they always do, and our content producers and on-air talent, both on TV and online, are doing an expert job of storytelling, bringing the fans closer to the challenges players face and the history that’s on the line,” Clark said.
Across the PBA Network, the fan statistics are on an impressive rise:
• PBA on ESPN — Ratings for the 2014-15 season’s 12 telecasts, including the WSOB, are up 30%. This pace would mark the highest year-over-year percentage increases in ratings and viewership in PBA history.
• PBA on Xtra Frame — Subscription numbers to the PBA’s online live streaming video service have increased by 39% since September, exceeding 7,000 for the first time.
• PBA YouTube Channel — During the period from the WSOB VI in October to date, there have been more than 4 million views of PBA content, a dramatic increase over roughly 200,000 views during that time frame one year ago. The 2014 WSOB PBA World Championship finals, won by Mike Fagan and aired live on ESPN in January, had more than 150,000 views over the past few weeks.
• PBA Bowling Challenge mobile game — There have been more than 12 million downloads of the Concrete Software game, enhanced in recent months by real PBA Product Registered bowling balls and new interactive challenges for gamers.
• PBA.com web site — Since September, more than 1 million unique users have had almost 8 million page views on pba.com, the daily hub of activity, news and information pertaining to the PBA Network.
Among other things, Clark attributes much of the positive momentum to social media.
“When the CP3 PBA Celebrity Invitational aired on Super Bowl Sunday, Twitter activity spiked like never before, and viewership numbers in the coveted 18- to 49-year-old age group were the highest we’ve seen in five years,” Clark said. “Likewise, social media exploded and drove people to their TVs during the heated Pete Weber versus Jason Belmonte match on the USBC Masters telecast, and during Sean Rash’s perfect game at the Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions.”
Fanning the flames, the PBA’s official Facebook page and Twitter accounts have also increased in activity and followers by more than 20% since October, and the PBA has kept die-hard fans (more than 200,000 signed up to receive direct email notifications) informed of programming opportunities with regular communications.
On-site, the WSOB VI opened the new South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas with overflow crowds, and the CP3 PBA event in Torrance, Calif.; USBC Masters in Green Bay, Wis., and the 50th Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions in Indianapolis, were all sold out well in advance. The upcoming PBA Maine Event in late March, which includes the PBA League Elias Cup Playoffs and Maine Shootout at Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine, also is sold out for on-site attendance.
PBA highlights have aired on three of the past few weeks on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and a new “This Is SportCenter” ad airing across ESPN platforms features a bowler for the first time: PBA star Pete Weber.
Internationally, cooperative ventures with the World Bowling Tour and the creation of PBA Japan have resulted in increased fan interaction globally. Australian Jason Belmonte is the two-time PBA Player of the Year and winner of three straight USBC Masters and two straight PBA Tournament of Champions titles, resulting in more bowling coverage in Australia than ever before.
The PBA on ESPN continues Sunday, March 29, with quarterfinal round coverage in the PBA League Playoffs from Maine. The PBA League, featuring eight teams of PBA stars in pursuit of the third Elias Cup, airs four consecutive Sundays, ending April 19.
The next PBA singles national title also will be decided in Portland during the Xtra Frame Tour Maine Shootout, which will be covered from start to finish, March 30-31, including the championship match, exclusively on XtraFrame.TV.