Bowling for ratings: Fox-PBA partnership a success so far

Whether it is graphics showing changes in oil patterns on the lanes or more emotion being shown on strikes, the sport of bowling has caught up with the times when it comes to putting a captivating show on television.

Fox Sports and the Professional Bowlers Association have made the most of their partnership, which is in its fourth year. Going into this weekend’s U.S. Open, which is the fifth and final major of the season, ratings on Fox and FS1 continue to hold steady at a time when other sports have experienced huge drops the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Open, which is in Reno, Nevada, will have its finals on Sunday air on FS1.

“We are bringing an upgraded viewing experience for every viewer at home. They’re able to understand this is not when you or I go to a birthday party and throw the ball right down the middle of the lane,” said PBA CEO Colie Edison. “They are able to be really engaged into the intricacies of the sport and view this not just as recreation.”

The PBA produces the events, but a lot of the technological evolutions have been in partnership with Fox. There is a StrikeTrack, which shows the ball speed, location and revolutions per minute (RPM) and other features. There are also graphics that track the change in oil patterns on the lane while the scorebox updates with the maximum score each bowler could get, which makes it easier to understand the flow of matches.

“Viewers can more easily understand the oil patterns, they can understand the strategy of the players as they spin the ball,” said Bill Wanger, who heads up Fox’s scheduling and programming. “Another thing that is quite appealing to people is if a bowler doesn’t get a strike, and he’s trying to pick up a spare, we have statistics on the screen that show the odds of picking it up.”

The bowlers themselves are also getting to show their own personality with pre-match introduction videos, so that viewers get to know them better.

Fox’s Rob Stone, who is a staple of their college football, basketball and soccer coverage, is also the network’s bowling announcer. Stone said doing the sport has ended up being a refreshing outlet for him to do something different.

“It’s a sport that I was thrust into that was not on my radar, but it’s now a part of my life that I couldn’t imagine not having on my resume,” he said. “It’s very much a happy place. For me when I get there and I see the faces and the athletes, it’s got kind of as homey feel for me that it’s just completely unexpected.”

Stone said he has had Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart ask him about the sport when they are working in the college football studio, which shows the ability it has to get new fans involved.

Even for those who can not watch the tournaments live, FS1 airs multiple replays, which Wanger adds have had good viewer numbers.

“It’s a real pleasant watch. I kind of call it comfort food. When you turn this on, you just feel comfortable,” Stone said. “The beauty of this sport is that even though live is better, it airs really well the second, third or fourth time, and I’m always amazed by that. I think the bowling community for some reason gravitates to seeing it more than once.”

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