PBA about to take off under Fred Schreyer's guidance By Dick Evans

    06/11/09

    Column

    PBA's Fred Schreyer (right) talks with Dick Evans (left) about red ink, ratings and expanding future on ESPN, popularity of pro tour around the world, next season's sensational possibilities and the 50th Anniversary Gala's impact.

    ColumnistDickEvans.jpg2005PBAFredSchreyer.jpgWhat a difference one year can make and what an impact one man can make on a business -- in this case the Professional Bowlers Association.

    Last year during the International Bowl Expo week in Orlando, the PBA was being jabbed by critics at almost every turn and emotions were running high.

    The man who defused the situation and is responsible for an amazing resurgence of interest and highlights last season with even more glory on the horizon next season is Fred Schreyer, a lawyer who has a long and successful career in the sports industry including a stint with Nike.

    Right now in bowling's history, lawyers are key players in the industry with John Berglund leading the BPAA and Kevin Dornberger the USBC.

    But both Berglund and Dornberger had a bowling background while Schreyer was new to the bowling industry when he was hired by the PBA in 2002 and named chief operating officer and general counsel.

    Three years later the affable Schreyer was named PBA Commissioner and CEO. After reading his answers to my questions below I think many people will agree with my belief that Fred Schreyer may be the best thing to happen to the PBA since the late Eddie Elias founded it in 1958.

    Fred Schreyer has had to make some tough decisions to prevent the three men who owned the PBA from pulling the plug on a business that was leaking money every year.

    He made what was a gutsy decision last year to hire Tom Clark away from the USBC. I personally was not surprised by Clark's accomplishments after his successful career as a writer with USA Today.

    They came up with the idea of the Gala dinner to celebrate the PBA's 50th anniversary season and it was a gathering of legends that no one will forget. Maybe more important, the January dinner signaled for the first time that cooler heads had resolved differences that were rampant in Orlando.

    To me, having the Bowling Foundation supporting the dinner made the dinner even more special.

    And then there were the bowling shows that were held at the Kegel Training Center this summer, the first time in my memory that a PBA event had been held during prime-time television. You will be amazed at what Fred has to say about the series in an answer below.

    And he has more astute things to say about opening the PBA tour to international bowlers next season and how it is going to pay off with European coverage.

    I keep up with PBA news releases and knew the PBA tour was going to undergo drastic changes next season but I never put all the pieces together until I edited all of Fred Schreyer's answers.

    Next season the PBA is indeed going to think outside the box...maybe even outside the cargo ship.

    Good things are going to be happening to the PBA and that in turn will mean good things will be happening for the bowling industry overall.

    What a difference a year makes, what a different environment I expect when I arrive at the Mandalay Bay for International Bowl Expo. I bet the PBA booth is going to be more popular than ever because of Fred Schreyer's fearless leadership.

    My questions and his informative answers follow:

    Dick Evans: "Did the PBA finally make a profit during the 2008-09 season and if so, are the three PBA owners encouraged about the PB's next 50 years?"

    Fred Schreyer: "The 2008-09 season was easily the PBA's best year since the change in ownership in April 2000. We created more story lines and generated more coverage by the mainstream media than we ever received in the past.

    "We budgeted for a small loss based on authorization of increased marketing expenses primarily related to our 50th Anniversary celebration and that did occur. But even in the face of the economic meltdown that we all began experiencing in the fourth quarter of 2008, the PBA ended the year ahead of our projections.

    "The owners share my optimism for the PBA and the industry in general. While many in the industry are going through a difficult time right now, there are a lot of positive developments taking place and while I'm not smart enough to project where we'll be 50 years from now I certainly feel that our business will continue to get stronger over the next five years."

    Dick Evans: "What were the key factors in order that you think made possible for the PBA to enjoy its best-ever season under the new ownership?"

    Fred Schreyer: "Several factors contributed to our continued growth. While I don't want to place them in any specific order, I certainly can identify the following: ongoing improvement in the manner in which we manage our business; continued addition of special events such as King of Bowling and Summer Series; support of key sponsors such as Lumber Liquidators and GEICO; improving working relationships within the industry (particularly USBC and Strike Ten); strong corps of host centers that are loyal to the Tour; growing interest in the PBA outside the United States."

    Dick Evans: " What kind of ESPN TV ratings did the PBA finish with for the 2008-09 season and did you attract more viewers than last season?"

    Fred Schreyer: "Our television ratings were up modestly this past season in total households and average rating. I am encouraged that our total audience is growing each season. The key statistic from this year is the addition of 15 hours of PBA programming through the introduction of the King of Bowling series."

    Dick Evans: "What kind of ratings did the PBA compile your first venture into prime-time TV on ESPN2 and were you elated or discouraged?"

    Fred Schreyer: "We were advised by ESPN that our ratings for the initial airings of the King of Bowling series on ESPN2 on Wednesdays at 9:00 PM ET were significantly better than what it typically receives for other programming in that time slot. People don't realize that when you move to weekdays in primetime you go up against shows such as American Idol (which we did for 4 of the 5 weeks).

    "What was really exciting about the King of Bowling shows is that the ratings we received for the re-airs of our shows in our normal Sunday 1:00 PM ET time slot were almost double what the ratings were for the original airing.

    "I think this demonstrates that bowling fans have come to expect to watch the PBA on Sundays.

    Dick Evans: "How much money does the PBA expect to save in the upcoming season by taping eight tournaments in the World Series of bowling in the Detroit area?"

    Fred Schreyer: "While we can talk about the savings that we will realize by staging the World Series of Bowling in Detroit in August, which savings will be substantial, I prefer to speak to the benefits that we will receive from this dramatic shift in how we organize our season.

    "The promotional opportunities from our schedule will be tremendous – the build up to the live finals of the World Championship and the opportunity to promote the participants in the weeks leading up to that live broadcast; the addition of both a Senior and Women's World Championship and the commitment to televise those final matches; and simply the ability week-to-week in taped shows to be able to promote the players who will be appearing on the telecasts is something that we have never really been able to do before.

    "Couple those benefits with the still uncertain sponsorship and advertising environment that we all are facing and I feel it is quite fortuitous that we made this change when we did. It certainly better positions us to ride out any prolonged slowdown in the economy."

    Dick Evans: "Do you fear that using basically the same bowling center for several tournaments could in the Detroit area could produce what they call a "home court advantage" for three or four players?"

    Fred Schreyer: "The "home court advantage" you allude to is certainly something that we were aware of and discussed both internally and with our players before making the commitment to the World Series of Bowling.

    Fortunately, we just staged Tour Trials in the same house and what we experienced pleased us a great deal. Essentially, all the patterns played as intended and no one style or type of game was favored. Different players bowled well on different patterns – as you would hope and expect – and a very strong group of newly exempt players emerged from the Trials. We believe this bodes well for the World Series."

    Dick Evans: "What kind of response have you gotten from the exempt players about them saving money by bowling in the Detroit series and then being idle until January?"

    Fred Schreyer: "Overall, the response from the players to the shift to the World Series of Bowling has been positive. It obviously is different and will lead to many players rescheduling how they spend their off-season but most players see the reduced travel and expense as well as increased family time as a major benefit. Additionally, players trying to gain entry to our exempt field events through the Tour Qualifying Round will be able to do so in a far less expensive manner so the non-exempt players will benefit as well.

    "Also, we will be bowling in Wichita at Northrock Lanes in December (live finals of the World Championship as well as the Red, White and Blue Championship Presented by USBC, so there will be some bowling in the fall and early winter. Plus, we're looking at scheduling several super-regionals during this down period to give players the opportunity to stay sharp competitively."

    Dick Evans: "Do you think the victory by Australia's Jason Belmonte will inspire more international bowling stars to join the PBA since you are going to increase the fields?"

    Fred Schreyer: "We have already seen the impact of Jason Belmonte's win and his commitment to bowl the Tour. International participation was up dramatically at Tour Trials and two international players (Stuart Williams from England and George Lambert from Canada) earned their exemptions for the 2009-10 season.

    We had several Korean players participate in Tour Trials and one, Tae Hwa Jeong, was granted one of the three international exemptions to the World Series of Bowling.

    "We formalized a relationship with the European Bowling Tour and as a result Osku Paleerma also will be granted an exemption in the World Series. We also anticipate several of the top European players to come over in August and participate in the many events that comprise the World Series.

    "Finally, on top of all of this Eurosport has picked up our TV shows for distribution in Europe for the coming year, which is a major coup. As should be apparent, we see international as a major growth opportunity for us over the next 5-10 years."

    Dick Evans: "Do you think the women's series is growing in popularity on the PBA Tour?"

    Fred Schreyer: "The PBA Women's Series was successful again this year. I think that its audience is solidifying. The Women's Series Showdown also was a tremendous success and will return this year. Given continued support from the USBC, I expect the opportunities for women in and on the PBA Tour to continue to grow over the next few years."

    "Dick Evans: "What is your outlook for the upcoming season and how did you entice the ESPN Network to expand coverage next season?"

    Fred Schreyer: "We are very excited about our 2009-10 schedule. The introduction of the World Series coupled with a very strong second half promises our fans lots of great bowling in the coming season.

    "We have moved the U.S. Open up to a late February time slot to maximize its viewership on ESPN and to more closely couple three of our four major championships (Tournament of Champions, USBC Masters and U.S. Open).

    "We are returning with our Versatility and Extreme Swings and also expect to have our West Coast Swing sponsored again by H&R Block. We also added the PBA Experience Showdown presented by bowl.com to go along with our PBA Women's Series Showdown presented by bowl.com.

    'Both of these events will be conducted at the new USBC Training Center scheduled to open on the International Bowling Campus early next year and that promises to make those events special as well.

    As for our relationship with ESPN, I believe we have proven that we can deliver a reliable audience when we are given the opportunity to promote our shows. Data supports that we are the sixth highest rated regular series on ESPN. In general, so long as we have the sponsorship to support our shows financially I don't think we will have problem adding programming slots on ESPN."

    Dick Evans: "On a scale of one to 10, tell me how big of an influence has Tom Clark had on PBA changes since he moved over from the USBC last year?"

    Fred Schreyer: "Tom has played a leading role in all of the changes that you have witnessed at the PBA over the last year. He is passionate about the sport and is very creative when it comes to staging PBA events to maximize interest and exposure. I think the opportunity to make an imprint was what attracted Tom to the PBA and I certainly looked to Tom to serve as a catalyst for change when I approached him about joining us.

    "Having said that, everything we do at the PBA is the result of a group effort and others such as Kirk von Krueger have played a big part in the changes we have introduced as well."

    Dick Evans: "When will the PBA join most other major sports and introduce a random drug testing program for its touring players?"

    Fred Schreyer: "Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA have brought a lot of attention to drug testing in sports but I don't think drug testing is as wide spread in other sports as your question suggests.

    NASCAR has only recently begun drug testing and the PGA is discussing it but most other sports to which we are comparable do not engage in drug testing. In addition, I don't think the use of performance enhancing drugs is an issue in bowling.

    "However, drug testing is on our radar screen and is something we could see in the future but at this point it is not a top priority. I expect we may do something in this area in the next few years assuming things progress as they have."

    Dick Evans: "Do you think the general viewing public, not the bowling public, understood all the different formats you used this year since no other sport on TV changes formats so frequently."

    Fred Schreyer: "I think the casual viewer of PBA bowling recognizes that the player who wins any match moves on and the player who loses is eliminated. While we did employ a variety of formats over the course of the season, the fact is that the television shows were almost exclusively one game matches with the winner either moving on or earning the title regardless of the format for the week."

    Dick Evans: "How great of an impact do you think the 50th Anniversary Gala in Las Vegas have on the new PBA's image with the stars of yesterday?"

    Fred Schreyer: "We universally heard great things about the 50th Anniversary Gala from players from each generation. I think a lot of former PBA stars appreciated the recognition that the 50th Anniversary Gala afforded them and I know that the current crop of PBA stars appreciated being around the sport's former greats. All in all it was a great night for everyone in bowling and certainly everyone associated with the PBA.

    "I personally felt privileged to be a part of the festivities."

    Dick Evans: "Have you gotten much feed back about the 50 Greatest PBA Players book that the Luby Publishing Company printed for the Gala and does Keith Hamilton seem happy?"

    "Fred Schreyer: "We heard very positive things about the 50 Greatest book published by Luby Publishing and I certainly know that its distribution was one of the highlights of the Gala Weekend. I think we were all pleasantly surprised by how quickly the supply of books on site sold out and it was very gratifying to see people (including players and family members) lined up with their books seeking autographs from the Game's greatest. It quickly became a collector's item. As for Keith's level of happiness, I think we all know he is a tough guy to please but I thought I saw him at Red Rock with a smile on his face at least once or twice that evening!"

    Email address: Evans121@aol.com