November 25, 2008
PBA Commissioner Fred Schreyer Admits He Is Losing A Little Sleep Over Country's Growing Financial Problems And "Sports Sponsorship Climate," But He Remains Confident About The PBA's Future
By Dick Evans
Alarmed by an NBC national telecast that the slumping economy was having a negative impact on major sports organizations like the NFL, NBA and NASCAR, I decided to find out the financial outlook of the Professional Bowlers Association.
My concern became even more urgent Tuesday morning when I read a story about slumping General Motors ending its long association with super star Tiger Woods in order to save an estimated $7 million a year.
So I wrote the following Email to Fred Schreyer, Commissioner and CEO of the PBA, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season.
FRED: Until I watched an NBC news program Monday night about the economic plight of many sports organizations and reading a story about Tiger Woods, I had been thinking that bowling and the PBA may be immune to the economic depression because it demands a lot less money to play or watch the pros at play.
But then I thought that the three PBA owners may have been caught in the stock market nose dive and may be watching the tour figures more closely than ever.
Then I thought that league bowlers may not have as much extra spending money to enter PBA pro-am events each week.
And then I got worried that tournament attendance also could be down because of the money crunch.
So I am turning to you for answers to the following questions:
1. Is the PBA's pro-am entries and attendance off this season?
2. Is the PBA feeling a money crunch and if so, do your foresee an even leaner tour starting in January?
3. Are the three PBA owners worried that the PBA may lose money this season because of the economy?
4. Do you anticipate any new TV sponsors popping up this season?
5. What are the chances that the PBA could disappear after this season ends?
His encouraging answers follow:
“You spend a lot more time thinking and worrying about the impact of the economy on bowling than most people, but you’re also a heck of a lot smarter than most people.
“The questions you pose aren’t as easy to answer as it might seem but I will try to respond to you as truthfully as I can:
1. “ It’s still early in the season and hard to make assessments but at this point attendance is holding up very well as compared to last year (in fact in a few markets we did better than last year). On the pro-am side, it is a market by market situation, but in general pro-am entries are down and I think that is a reflection of the economy.
2. “We are not feeling a money crunch per se but we always need to be mindful of how we are performing against our budgets. We had a tremendous year last year (posting a small profit for the first time) but this year because of investments we made in the business (primarily the 50th Anniversary campaign and hiring Tom Clark) we projected a slight loss.
“We are managing the business as carefully as possible to make sure that a small loss doesn’t turn into a bigger loss and given the economy, that is a challenge. I do think that we’re up to it but I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t losing a little sleep over the sports sponsorship climate.
3. “Eighteen months ago the PBA owners made it clear that we were expected to become self sufficient and operate in a way to not only sustain but also to grow our operations. They provided us with a financial cushion to allow us to ride out the inevitable cycles that any business faces.
“In any given year, the owners expect us to post a profit yet they obviously are businessmen and understand that the market is tough right now. The key from their standpoint (and from mine as well) is managing the business to meet expectations.
4. “The sponsorship market is in a state of flux right now. The headlines are all about bailouts and the resulting cutbacks in marketing and spending. We still anticipate some new orders to begin with the second half of the season, but at the same time we have reduced the amount of new business we are projecting due to economic concerns.
“Unlike many sports properties, we don’t have any exposure to the automotive or financial sectors from a sponsorship standpoint so the implosion that is taking place in those industries today does not have a direct impact upon us. Longer term, however, that could leave an overhang in the marketplace but at this point it is far too early to project what impact any such potential result could have.
5. “There is no chance that the PBA will disappear after this season. We may not end up with as strong a season as we initially projected but we will manage the business in a way that guarantees its future.
“All things considered, we are holding up far better than most businesses. The difference, of course, is that we don’t have the reserves to withstand calamitous losses the way some businesses can. But, that has never been the case anyway.
“Well, Dick, there you go. We’re certainly not immune to or insulated from what is happening in the world around us, but at the same time we’re not sitting here operating in a doom and gloom environment.
“We look forward to moving into the meat of our schedule when we have our biggest impact on the sports landscape. We have a lot of exciting things planned for this season and we look forward to the reaction that our fans will have to these innovations. I am still confident that the 50th Anniversary Season will go down as one of the great seasons in PBA history.
As a veteran sports writer, I realize all too well that the success of the PBA in its remaining tournaments this season depends on many factors that the PBA cannot control.
But after reading Fred Schreyer’s answers to my five questions I am confident that the PBA is in good hands.
I am hopeful that the PBA will survive these difficult economy times to bring the great sport of professional bowling to live audiences, pro-am participants, TV viewers, sponsors and friends for another 50 years.
Fred Schreyer wrote his answers to my questions just before Thanksgiving and the Commissioner has given us all reason to be thankful in these trying times.