Professional bowling is changing lanes: The Professional Bowlers Association will move its matches and games to Fox Sports, ending a decades-long alliance it has enjoyed with ESPN, and a shorter-term relationship it has with CBS Sports Network. In doing so, the PBA will establish a new presence for the sport on broadcast television.
“We were just looking for the best possible solution to reaching more fans and giving our brand the best opportunity to grow,” said Tom Clark, CEO and Commissioner of the Professional Bowlers Association, in an interview. Under terms of the deal, expected to last four years, Fox will sell advertising and sponsorships for the sport, Clark said.
Clark and Fox Sports declined to discuss the specific financial terms of the deal.
Under terms of the pact, Fox Sports in 2019 will televise four PBA Tour shows on its Fox broadcast network and 25 on Fox Spots 1 in a series of two-hour telecasts. All programs will also be streamed on Fox Sports G0. Locations, dates and on-air teams are set to be announced at a later date. Both parties plan to supplement the broadcast and cable coverage of the PBA Tour’s premier events with live-streaming of preliminary rounds by PBA’s Xtra Frame online bowling channe, as well as use of outlets like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
Longtime fans of the sport may recall watching bowling on Saturday afternoons on broadcasts that ran for many years on ABC, starting in 1962. The sport wandered for a little while in the late 1990s, Clark recalled, surviving on TV through buying time slots from TV networks. But new ownership added a boost of energy and PBA returned to more regular status on TV in 2000. ESPN has featured bowling on Sunday afternoons for 18 years, he said, while CBS Corp.’s CBS Sports Network has aired a few bowling matches as well.
The PBA has entertained new talks for its rights in recent months, said Clark, knowing that its current deals were slated to expire. “ESPN was definitely interested in continuing the relationship,a and they made their bid and had their opportunity, but it came down to really being an overwhelming easy decision because of the having more shows on broadcast television in the Fox deal,” said Clark. “There will be 29 original programs and 58 hours across the Fox platforms, opposed to what this year was about 17 shows and 30 hours on ESPN.”
“We wish them well,” ESPN said in a statement. PBA broadcasts are expected to continue until May 25.
Business dynamics may play a role in Fox’s strike on bowling. As part of a $52.4 billion deal to sell a good chunk of its operations to Walt Disney, 21st Century Fox will place more emphasis on the assets it plans to keep. Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting will stand as two of its biggest divisions. The company has said it intends to rely more heavily on sports broadcasts and other types of programming that command big, live audiences.