PBA May Lose $6million This Season,
RENO, Nev. February 3, 2003
Steve Miller, president and CEO of the new Professional Bowlers Association, painted a bleak picture of the past but a rosy picture of the future during an interview at the National Bowling Stadium and then a phone call to PBA headquarters in Seattle.
Among things Miller revealed:
1. The PBA will lose about six million dollars this season, which runs from April 2002 through March 2003. That will bring the investment of the three former Microsoft executives who purchased the PBA in 2000 to about $26 million...and that's a lot of red ink.
2. With a little luck, the PBA will break even or even make money during the 2003-2004 season. Breaking even is almost essential for Chris Peters, Mike Slade and Rob Glaser to keep the PBA afloat.
3. TV ratings are up and there is a good chance that ESPN will expand the live shows from 90 minutes to two hours and may ask the PBA to stage more than the 20 events televised the past two seasons. This was reflected in the press release that the PBA sent out Jan. 28 that stated: "ESPN's telecast of the ABC Masters from Reno Jan. 19 averaged 1,288,936 household impressions 1.48 rating, making it the network's most-viewed PBA telecast since 1990 (when the network began tracking audience through Nielsen) and the highest-rated since 1994. "ESPN's Professional Bowlers Association coverage is averaging 687,921 impressions and a 0.79 rating through 13 telecasts, an increase of 10 percent in audience (vs. 625,944 impressions) and eight percent in rating (vs. 0.73) over last season."
4. Sponsors seem happy with their association with the PBA and may be looking for added involvement.
5. Sports commissions in cities like Seattle, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Kansas City are expressing interest in pumping money into the PBA in order to lure a tour stop.
6. Jimmy Kimmel, late night host on the ABC network, and HBO will give the PBA and bowling some good shots starting in February.
7. More Asians and Europeans are starting to hone in to PBA events through webcasting and the total number of viewers could reach 100,000 in a few years.
Coming Up Sevens and Elevens
In other words, the PBA behind Miller's direction seems to be rolling nothing but sevens and elevens on the crap table that separates the pretenders from contenders in the sports business world.
After having said all that, I am just going to turn on the tape and let you read what Miller had to say about the PBA past, present and future.
Asked how the PBA was doing financially, Miller said: "Everything is relative, but we will lose less this calendar year (April 2002 through March 2002) than we have lost in the past. But more important we are getting closer. We're going to end up with about a six million deficit this year in terms of revenue verses expenses. We're going to have about 12½ million dollars of revenues, which will be about a 40 percent increase over revenues from a year ago. And we think next year it's very possible, and certainly we're budgeting for a break-even year, or even a profitable year in terms of revenues verses expenses.
"We think we're just scratching the surface as it relates to sponsorship, and sponsorship is where the revenue opportunity comes from, or at least where major revenue comes from in all next leagues and federations. Sponsorships are fundamental to their success."
Then I pointed out a colorful little pocketsize schedule of PBA events that showed12 sponsored tournaments and Miller retorted:
"Actually we have 13 sponsors because we never have counted ABC (American Bowling Congress) as a sponsor and frankly we should. I have always talked about everybody having abandoned us in the beginning and I was really wrong about that. The truth is hat the ABC has stayed with us from the beginning. Roger Dalkin (executive director) and ABC leadership made a deal with Ian Hamilton and myself two-and- a half years ago to do this tournament (The Masters) and they gave us $350,000 in prize money, which I think we all agree should be considered a sponsorship. So contrary to me saying the that the ABC has stayed bowling industry abandoned us in earlier statements maybe a better comment would have been that the retail side of the industry abandoned us and the ABC did not abandon us."
"So we really have 13 current sponsors and we have a few more in the pipeline that we will be announcing shortly. We are assured the same amount of money next year that we have this year because most of those deals are three-year deals and a lot of them are accelerating three-year deals. But it's just the tip of the iceberg. We need to do at least a 100 percent better next year, in other words double what we have this year. And I believe we can and maybe even more and that would bring us to a great position financially."
"Fortunately, most of our sponsors are very happy. We have already had discussions with some of our sponsors about renewals, ConAgra, which owns Banquet, is so pleased they are talking about expanding their sponsorship. They are so pleased, that it looks like we are going to a different level with them next year."
"I think we have over delivered, which is what you have to do," and then Miller added another, "which is what you have to do. The ConAgra give away of bowling games went so well the first go-around where they gave out 100 million free games that they decided to give away another 50 million games a few months later. So they upped their involvement significantly without any discussion."
When this writer suggested that in past years most proprietors only wanted to give away a game if the person had to pay for two other games, Miller replied: "We're not talking about the old days, we're talking about today. What we're saying is this, the key to success in these kinds of situations are to get a person into a bowling center, to have them have a good time, to feel good about what they're doing and then to have them bowl more games that day and hopefully bring them back as full-time customers. So it's a great incentive to get people into bowling centers. Proprietors know it's a good promotion and some have told us it's their best promotion ever."
"Two years ago we were struggling to find people to host events, now we have people calling us asking when can we get events? We even have Sports Commissions in Seattle, Arizona, Indianapolis, Atlanta calling us and asking if we can come to their city.
"So it's going beyond just bowling centers, we're getting to the place where we need to be tied in to the cities where the tour goes. That's an absolute. We're in negotiations with Seattle, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Kansas City for possible money from sports commissions."
Next on the table was discussion about the ESPN telecasts and other TV involvement.
"Right now after 12 shows, we're ahead of last year's ratings, especially with the 18-34 age demographic. We quadrupled our ratings, our demographics in that key male age group has gone through the roof. We're very happy, very, very please. We're always making adjustments because we can always get better."
Thing got a lot better two days later when the PBA's telecast of the ABC Masters rolled nothing but sevens and elevens while going head to head with the NFL's National Conference championship game between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
"We brought in a big-time rating of 1.48 for that January 20th telecast," Miller said by phone from Seattle on Jan. 27. We got a much higher rating than even the NBA game. That's why ESPN has asked us to possibly consider going to a two-hour live telecast next season and maybe adding events.
"The past two years people have asked why we were willing to go up against the NFL. Last year we had to bowl through commercials in order to finish on time but we still had good ratings. This year, part of our agreement with ESPN was that we were willing to go up against the NFL but ESPN had to give us extra airtime if our shows went long. Every ESPN show behind the PBA telecast this year has been taped, not live. And that has been a blessing to us since ESPN stayed with us to the end of the shows even when they ran overtime.
"There are a lot of reasons we took that time slot and I think ESPN is thrilled with our ratings. And the fact our ratings have consistently been going up is the reason more sponsors are approaching us."
Then the conversation turned to other sports on TV networks.
"HBO came out here to the Masters and did some taping for a Feb. 11 segment of Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel. They interviewed four or five players like Pete Weber and Robert Smith and Chris Peters and myself. I think it will be good for bowling because anything good for PBA is also good for bowling.
"And Jimmy Kimmel, who is now the host of ABC's late night talk show, and his producers seem to like bowling. They had a film crew here several days and they are talking about doing a weekly piece about the PBA of some kind and they expressed an interest in Jimmy adopting Rudy (Kasimakis). There is nothing finalized but it looks PRETTY GOOD."
Matter of fact, everything about the new PBA looks pretty darn good these days.