Given the year-end news that Brunswick Bowling had purchased the brands and intellectual property of Ebonite International, and the fact that pro staff contracts typically run on a calendar-year basis, it should have come as no surprise that there would be some “movement” among pro bowlers as 2019 drew to a close and 2020 began.
But perhaps the least-expected move was finalized on Sunday when 900 Global and Sean Rash signed a multi-year, incentive-laden contract. Rash had been a member of Brunswick’s pro staff for 15 years, and first joined the Brunswick team while attending Wichita State University.
It’s said that timing is everything in life, and timing certainly played a role in this deal. First, there was the Brunswick-Ebonite development that effectively merged seven ball brands and their pro staffs. Then there was the fact that Rash’s contract with Brunswick was coming to an end.
“Sean had a renaissance year in 2019,” noted Wes Pye, Vice President of Sales for 900 Global. “Given the fact that he made seven TV shows, and given the success of the PBA on FOX, we felt this was a great opportunity to let bowlers know that our company is serious and has products that can compete in the marketplace.”
Because of the FOX deal and the impressive ratings that the PBA garnered during its first season on FOX and FS1, Pye said there “is going to be more value on the premium players — those who can move the needle. [900 Global staff member] Chris Barnes represents the generation that goes back to the last of the ‘Pro Bowlers Tour’ days on ABC, and we think Sean serves as a great bridge between him and our younger staff players.”
Barnes — like Rash, a Wichita State alum — helped bring Rash and 900 Global together, Pye said.
“Chris reached out to Sean when we knew Sean was becoming a free agent,” Pye said. “But the timing had to be right. We had to make sure it was good for him, for his family and for us. That time is now, and this multi-year deal makes it possible for him to be a part of the 900 Global family for a long time. I think Sean is looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity.”
He is. In an interview with BJI, Rash acknowledged that, “I did believe I’d be [with] Brunswick for life. They had been a big part of my junior, college and pro bowling careers. But there have been a lot of changes in the industry over the last decade, and this just seemed like the right time to start fresh.”
Rash said that having a wife and two daughters has helped him mature. It also motivates him to make decisions with their welfare at the forefront.
“There are a lot of wives who hold down the fort while their husbands go out and bowl for a living,” Rash said. “I’ve been gone more than 200 days per year most years. It takes a special kind of woman to make that work, and I’m lucky to have one of them.”
Rash said the decision to make the move to 900 Global was a family decision.
“We had been talking about it a lot over the past year,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that I was injured for most of 2018 with a lower-back problem, so that made my 2019 season really special. But you come to places in your life where you have to make decisions, and we came to the conclusion that this was the best decision for our family moving forward.”
Rash said he will continue to travel globally, not only bowling in tournaments but also conducting clinics and making appearances on behalf of “both the 900 Global brand and the Sean Rash brand.”
For Rash, growing his own brand, primarily through clinics and social media, is part of an overall goal to grow the sport.
“When the sport grows and we have more people participating, the companies sell more balls and the industry as a whole is healthier,” he said. “There’s a reason I host my own tournament, and there’s a reason I host a free clinic at that tournament. It’s about getting more people excited about bowling.”
The PBA’s 2020 season begins just two weeks after Rash signed with 900 Global. Is he concerned that he has a very small window of time to get accustomed to the new equipment from 900 Global that he’ll now be throwing exclusively?
“No,” he said. “The reality is I would have had about the same amount of time to get accustomed to the new equipment that Brunswick is rolling out for the new year.”
Rash added that the 17 years he spent with Brunswick had been “amazing, and I truly appreciate everyone who works there and what they did for my family. It’s a small industry, and I hope those relationships continue. We all need to be working toward growing the sport.”
As he makes the transition to 900 Global, Rash said his goals remain unchanged.
“It’s always about making cuts, making shows, winning matches on shows and hopefully holding up the trophy at the end of the week,” he said. “I’d also like to leave fewer pocket 7-10s in key situations, but that’s kind of tough to control. If I had rolled a few of those last year, both here and overseas, I could have had four or five more titles. But you can’t dwell on those; you just have to move on.”
Pye said he believes Rash may be the last piece in the puzzle that elevates 900 Global on the international bowling stage,
“We now have a full sales force worldwide to serve distributors and pro shops,” Pye said. “The FOX deal provides great exposure for the ball brands. Having Sean on our team gives us an opportunity to be seen more often. We think it’s a great deal for us and for him.”
900 Global has scheduled a Facebook Live presentation at 2 p.m. Central on Saturday to formally introduce Rash. The event will take place at Plano Super Bowl in Plano, Texas.