As the sports world slowly reopens amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Professional Bowlers Association joins the resumption parade on June 6, with the inaugural PBA Strike Derby. The event is one of several PBA events taking place over the summer – all aired on Fox or FS1.
Kyle Troup is one of the new generation of PBA Tour bowlers charged with re-energizing bowling, which is trying to regain its popularity from the 1960s through the 1980s. (Image: Bob Levey/Getty)
The Strike Derby pits eight players, Tommy Jones, Kyle Troup, Sean Rash, EJ Tackett, Kris Prather, Shawn Maldonado, Anthony Simonsen, and Bill O’Neill, against each other in an elimination-bracket. The goal: bowl more strikes in two minutes than your opponent. It’s strike-and-advance.
Naturally in these pandemic times, the Strike Derby will take place behind closed doors at the Bowlero Jupiter in Florida. Players, PBA officials, and the TV production crew are the only ones allowed inside with social distancing protocols followed.
Trying to Re-Create Saturday’s With Schenkel and Burton
Given these elements, this would seem to be a good time for the PBA to leverage some newfound popularity. During the sport’s glory days in the 1970s and 1980s, the PBA on ABC would often outdraw college football. The announcing pair of Chris Schenkel and Nelson “Bo” Burton Jr. made household names out of bowlers like Mark Roth, Earl Anthony, and Marshall Holman every Saturday afternoon. While that’s a tall mountain to summit, the sport is in the middle of a renaissance.
Fox bought the PBA television rights from ESPN in 2018. Under the deal, Fox promises to carry 29 events and 58 hours of PBA Tour programming annually through 2022. According to Nielsen, the 2019 PBA Tournament of Champions on Feb. 10 brought Fox 1,131,000 viewers. That’s a 75% increase from 2018’s ESPN telecast.
This year’s Tournament of Champions went one better. Nielsen reported it drew 1,464,000 viewers. That represented the largest non-NFL adjacent viewership of a bowling event since 2010.
New PBA Formats Provide Variety for Bowling Fans
Fox has the lanes booked on June 13 for the PBA Summer Clash, which includes the aforementioned eight bowlers and WPBA stars Shannon O’Keefe and Danielle McEwan. Under that format, the 10 bowlers will each throw one ball, with the low score each round eliminated until one player remains.
FS1 takes over in July with a four-night “PBA King of the Lanes” series that takes the king-of-the-hill game and drops it on the lanes. One player becomes “the king” and must defend his “hill” against a challenger in a one-game match. The winner becomes the new “king” and returns the next night against a new opponent. Rinse and repeat.
The organization also announced that events postponed because of COVID-19, such as the PBA World Series of Bowling, the USBC Masters, the PBA Playoffs, and the PBA League team competition will take place at yet-to-be-determined dates in the fall and winter.