The United States Bowling Congress and the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America held a conference call for media members yesterday to address their recent announcement of an initiative to “re-launch” the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour, which dissolved in 2003 under financial strain. That story, released early in the evening on Friday, Oct. 10, stated that USBC and BPAA were entering a three-year commitment to fund nine PWBA Tour stops from midsummer through early fall, 2015.
The conference call included USBC President Andrew Cain; USBC Executive Director Chad Murphy; BPAA President Tom Martino; BPAA Executive Director Frank DeSocio; and pro bowler and member of the USBC Board of Directors, Kelly Kulick.
Murphy expressed hope that the re-launch of the PWBA would “help build top-of-mind awareness of our sport with the non-bowling public.” He further described his vision of the new PWBA as “a robust, exciting, professional tour that will support the growth of women’s bowling into the future.”
Murphy, who previously oversaw youth programs for both USBC and BPAA as Managing Director of Youth Development for the International Bowling Campus (IBC), repeatedly emphasized the new PWBA as an initiative capable of giving younger women bowlers in particular a pinnacle to which they may aspire.
“We are extremely excited about the possibilities this tour will bring us, especially in the area of woman bowlers, but also the youth that will be coming up through our system,” Murphy said.
Details revealed on the call disclosed that USBC/BPAA are committed to nine tour events tentatively scheduled to be held between July 10 and Sept. 7, 2015, with a guaranteed prize fund of $60,000 per event and a guaranteed minimum first-place prize of $10,000 per event.
Murphy added that each event will guarantee 24 cashing spots, with the 24th spot earning a guaranteed minimum of $1,200. He also added that the $60,000 prize fund per event potentially could grow depending on the amount of entries each tour stop generates. Should that occur, Murphy said “additional cash spots will be available at a one-in-three ratio.”
Murphy reiterated that USBC and BPAA would jointly be funding the PWBA for the next three years, with each organization contributing an equal amount of funds to the initiative, though he added that “no specific details as to the cost of that will be made available.”
“Discussing specific dollar amounts at this point would be a little bit irresponsible,” Murphy continued, saying that the new PWBA “is not being built as a profit center, only as a promotional tool for bowling in local markets throughout the U.S.”
Murphy directly addressed USBC members who have expressed reservations in social media about their USBC membership dollars being used to fund the re-launched PWBA, saying “The dollars used to support the PWBA will not come from USBC membership revenues.” He said those funds will derive from “existing sponsorship agreements that are already in place through our USBC Member Rewards platform.”
DeSocio said the BPAA’s portion of funding for the PWBA will come from partnerships BPAA has established through its Smart Buy program.
The first eight tournaments planned for the 2015 PWBA Tour season will culminate in a ninth and final event Murphy dubbed a “Tour Championship,” which will feature players invited to participate based on their performance in a yet-to-be-determined PWBA points system.
While no specific information about exact sites or dates for the 2015 PWBA are yet available, Murphy said he envisions the PWBA Tour’s itinerary “like a snake running through the U.S.,” emphasizing that the objective is to “get these local markets back involved in professional bowling, and we think this is a good way to start.”
He also suggested that “a significant amount of requests” already have come in from bowling centers throughout the country who are interested in hosting PWBA events.
Murphy said forthcoming information about the new PWBA will include PWBA membership dues, site selection, specific tour dates, entry fees, potential sponsors, and “additional media opportunities.”
The membership dues aspect of this initiative prompted a question about whether collegiate players will be allowed to bowl PWBA events. Murphy said that while PWBA Tour events will feature PWBA members, they also will be open to amateurs, but that the entry fee would be higher for amateurs than for paying members.
The call revealed that each tournament will feature a 24-game format from Friday through Saturday, with practice beginning Friday morning leading into qualifying, the cut, and then match play. Murphy said Pro-Ams would be conducted “after the qualifying for the finals on Saturday” and that the finals would be live-streamed on BowlTV on Saturday night. He allowed for the possibility that the championship round sometimes may occur on Sundays.
No plans appear to be underway to ink a Television deal for the re-launched PWBA Tour.
Murphy said the Friday-Sunday format “should allow the ladies to continue to work during the week prior to arriving at a stop Thursday night and begin competition on Friday morning,”
“Woman bowlers who want to chase their dreams will not have to quit their job to do it,” he said.
If that weekend-only format makes the tour an expensive proposition for those living near one coast and having to fly to tour events closer to the other, Murphy emphasized that the guaranteed $1,200 for the last cash spot (24th) should alleviate concerns about travel expenses.
Murphy also addressed expectations for entries, saying he expects “somewhere between 32-48 regulars,” and adding “I certainly hope we can grow that over time.”
DeSocio kept his remarks brief, saying “When you see the growth in high-school bowling, and when you see continued growth in women’s college bowling, this is just a natural. We’re grateful we’re in a place where we can make this happen.
“Are we going to have some hurdles ahead of us?” DeSocio continued. “Yeah, I think we will.”
But DeSocio emphasized the need for industry-wide cooperation—particularly between bowling proprietors and local bowling associations—“to make this work.”
Another point of emphasis for DeSocio was the three-year commitment BPAA and USBC are putting behind the initiative.
“This isn’t just a one-off,” DeSocio said. “We’re here for three years. We’re going to make this work.”
Murphy explained during the Q & A portion of the call that the U.S. Open and USBC Queens would be operated independently of the PWBA Tour schedule, though details for the U.S. Open on both the men’s and women’s sides still are yet to emerge. The U.S. Open was cancelled in 2014, and the 2015 event also briefly was cancelled before USBC and BPAA announced on May 9 a joint plan to conduct the event for three years beginning in 2015.
Asked if a tour on which top-tier players such as Kelly Kulick, Missy Parkin, Shannon Pluhowsky or Liz Johnson dominate week-to-week may depress entries over time, Murphy said “No, there’s no concern at all. The way they’re building this tour, it’s a financial model that’s built to last, and we believe by supporting the entire prize fund rather than just something at the top, it will support that.”
Murphy added that “It takes a new crop of bowlers a while to learn how to win on a tour like this, so while those top ladies certainly would be expected to continue to do that, it’s still a competitive environment. The cream will certainly come to the top, and we wouldn’t expect it any other way.”
Murphy also brushed aside fears that the new PWBA might struggle to attract the 32-48 entries anticipated for each event.
“The model isn’t built on entries,” he said. “It’s not a situation where we need a certain amount of entries to make it go.”
One ambiguity that has emerged amid details surrounding the PWBA announcement is why funds are available to support nine new tournaments in 2015, but no funds were available to prevent BPAA’s cancellation of both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens in 2014. But one thing Murphy seemed to make clear in the conference call is that USBC and BPAA’s efforts on behalf of the new PWBA will not involve partnering with the Professional Bowlers Association.
“We believe the business of women’s professional bowling should be independent,” Murphy said in response to a question about the possibility of any partnership between the IBC and the PBA. “Women’s bowling needs its own voice and leadership looking out for what’s in the best interests of women’s bowling.
“We applaud the efforts of the PBA and what happened with the Women’s Series,” Murphy added, alluding to the PBA Women’s Series events that saw women’s pro bowling return to television on ESPN from 2008-2010. “We really feel like this is an independent business that really celebrates women’s bowling. It’s not a men’s professional group that’s also running women’s bowling. This is independent of that organization, and we feel strongly that women’s bowling will be more successful within this model than it has been in the past.”
Tom Clark, PBA Tour Commissioner, told Bowlers Journal via Facebook message that the PBA “applauds the plan by BPAA and USBC to strengthen women's bowling.
“The PBA first opened doors to women 10 years ago, and since then some of the greatest moments in women’s bowling history—and bowling history in general—have happened in front of millions of PBA viewers on national TV,” Clark added. “Liz Johnson making a show; Kelly Kulick winning the Tournament of Champions; Clara Guerrero making a show; and Missy Parkin, Shannon O’Keefe, and Jodi Woessner winning PBA regionals.
“We’re proud of the work the PBA has done to put women on national television with the PBA Women’s Series; making Carolyn Dorin Ballard a manager in the PBA League; airing the World Bowling Tour Women’s Finals on ESPN for the past four years; and establishing the PBA Women’s Regional program to make it comfortable for woman pros to bowl PBA events close to home and earn points towards a World Series of Bowling entry, with the chance of bowling the PBA Champion’s Challenge show on ESPN.
“We wish the PWBA great success, and we are excited about the opportunities for women. We will continue to expand the PBA Women’s Regional program so a higher percentage of the 180 regionals we conduct all over the country and in Japan have a women’s component.”
Murphy characterized the new PWBA as “a continuation [of the old PWBA Tour]. Even though it will be structured a little differently, this is women’s professional bowling, so its history is rich.”
Toward that end, Murphy expressed an interest in merging statistical records from the old PWBA with statistics compiled on the new tour—including numbers of titles, scoring records, and other consequential stats, though he acknowledged that women’s bowling statistics have not been well-preserved over the years.
Kulick said “I am over the moon. I am ecstatic that this came about, and that USBC and BPAA support it wholly . . . With the rise of collegiate bowling and Junior Gold, and the numbers we’ve seen in the past with Queens entries and U.S. Open entries, women’s bowling is strong, it’s out there, and it wants to be seen and be put on a stage.”
Kulick echoed DeSocio’s remarks when she said the thing she found particularly exciting about this initiative “was the three-year commitment. It’s not just a one-and-done deal. We’re going to make it grow, we’re going to make it happen, and we’re going to see it through.”