Bowlero Corp Buys The PBA - Craig Spencer

Almost like the story about the boy who cried wolf, I received a text for the 3rd time about a rumor that the PBA was being purchased by Bowlero corp. I felt the same way for the third time, interested in the thought and strategy behind the purchase. Now that it has finally been announced and is official, I figured it was time to try and connect the dots and make sense of the acquisition, and maybe form an opinion on it? I wasn't able to connect the dots on my own, so I started seeking out articles or anything that could help me put the pieces together. Here are those resources. 

The most valuable of the 3, an interview with the new CEO of the PBA Colie Edison done by Bowler's Journal Internatioal: https://soundcloud.com/user-658733792/podcast-new-pba-ceo-colie-edison-on-bowleros-acquisition-of-the-pba

2nd Most useful, a quick video with Jason Belmonte and Colie: https://www.facebook.com/belmofanpage/videos/1367968050022739/

Lastly, the press release from the PBA: https://www.pba.com/articles/Bowlero-Corp-Announces-Purchase-of-the-Professional-Bowlers-Association?fbclid=IwAR1WVHtvAscnfXjvRsmGhSmIjbCB2Rrfb037mpzgQKevtQkRN6OxYbl31Xw

The interesting take aways in my opinion are: 

  1. Colie was and will remain the Chief Customer Officer of Bowlero Corp while also shouldering the position of CEO of the PBA.
  2. Colie was a reality TV star on the real world. She has a deep passion for televison and hopes to use that to develop the telecasts further with Fox. 
  3. Tom Clark will remain the commissioner of the PBA. 
  4. According to Colie, they plan on operating the PBA as a separate entity with it's own strategy needed to be successful. 
  5. She specifically mentioned wanting to create more value in the PBA membership and giving the full time players more to bowl for. 
  6. She also mentions that they made a mistake in pushing out some leagues, and that Bowlero is about trying new things, seeing what sticks and being honest about when some ideas are bad ones.

I think what many of us, including myself, struggle with, is that Bowlero has made bowling in their centers feel very different then it has in the past for the competitive demographic. We are used to well lit, well maintained centers that are open 12 hours a day. We are used to center manager's that have a background in bowling or heck, even bowl in a league in their center. Quite frankly, we were used to feeling like there was nothing more important than us and our fellow league bowlers. That has changed, and like most change it's difficult to digest and make sense of. However, here is my attempt to play's devil's advocate to that gut wrenching feeling many league bowlers are feeling with this announcement. 

  1. The approach to league bowling that we were used to was still experiencing a strong decline. Before Bowlmor took over the bowling world, things weren't looking great. 
  2. We all remember how great Brunswick centers were at that time, at taking care of their leagues. They epitomized the model that we grew up on and still prefer. What does them selling to Bowlero tell us about their belief in that model? Hard to believe that they believed in it, if they are willing to sell.  
  3. Right now, we see Geico, Duracell batteries, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Helzberg Diamonds as seperate companies, but the truth is, they are all owned by Berkshire Hathaway. When one entity owns multiple other companies like this, it's called a conglomerate. Right now, when we think of Bowlero Corp, we just think of Bowlmor centers, but the truth is, they are becoming a bowling conglomerate. Our perception of them just hasn't caught up with what they are doing. I don't anticipate cosmic PBA events; in the same way we don't expect free ice cream and batteries when we buy a ring at Helzberg.
  4. It has been evident that Bowlero has acknowledged a mistake in pushing out some leagues, which is paramount. While some feel like they haven't rectified that action yet, it at least shows they have the ability to admit mistakes.
  5. You can't continue to acquire more and more business unless you are running a successful one to begin with. We may not like our place in their model, but it's very clear their model is a successful one.  

I think our best option as league bowlers and competitive players is to first embrace the idea that the era we are missing wasn't a great era for bowling either. It was dying still, we were just made to feel a lot more comfortable while it died. We have to decide if we love the sport of bowling no matter what, or if we only love the sport when we can experience it the way we want to. For those of you, like myself, that decide you love the sport no matter what, here is why I am optimistic about this announcement. 

  1. It's clear that for bowling to grow again, we need to be doing something different. We need to be thinking different. We need to think in a disruptive way. I believe Bowlero does this. It makes me feel uncomfortable, but they aren't afraid to be different and disrupt. 
  2. There are nearly 9000 jobs depending on Bowlero's success. It is in their interest to find a way to grow the PBA and it's appeal to the masses. We may not like what they come up with, especially if it looks different from what we are used to, but no one has any more interest in making the PBA succeed then Bowlero at this point. 
  3. There is no question that the PBA will now have tremendous resources they didn't have before.   

Right now, I believe they are saying all of the right things. It will take time to see if the actions follow the words, but it's clear to me that Bowlero is putting all of its chips on bowling. There is a long journey from buying your first ball to becoming a PBA champion. In the past the PBA could only control a segment of that journey. They couldn't control anything prior to the bowler becoming a PBA member or bowling as a non-member in their first event. Now the PBA will have access to have an influence in that entire journey because of having influence in how the centers are operated and support those types of clients. They now have a self-interest to support and take into consideration competitive bowling. If you don't believe that, then you have to believe they bought the PBA just to let it die and burn to the ground and they don't have a history of buying companies and losing money or failing. I may not always agree with what will be done, and I may not like changes that don't benefit me directly, but I will never stop being optimistic about bowling and it's future.