“Bowling for Dollars” was a popular 1970s game show. The company that owns the Professional Bowlers Association, as well as hundreds of bowling alleys across the country, is now getting ready to put that idea to the test.
Bowlero, which operates lanes under the Bowlero, Bowlmor and AMF brands in addition to owning the PBA, will debut on Wall Street Thursday following a merger with a blank check firm that is run by two former World Wrestling Entertainment executives.
Bowlero is thriving as bowling alleys have reopened from lockdowns and bowlers have flocked back to them.
The company said third quarter revenue in 2021 rose more than 20% from the same quarter of 2019. Bowlero has also returned to profitability and the momentum has continued, with sales up 20% from two years ago in the nine weeks ending November 28.
CNN Business spoke to Bowlero president and chief financial officer Brett Parker about what’s next for the company and why bowling remains uniquely popular. (Cue your favorite “The Big Lebowski” line.)
Bowlero getting bigger through acquisitions
Parker said that even though Bowlero is already by far the largest owner of bowling centers in the US, there are plenty of opportunities for growth. He noted that there are still roughly 3,500 independently owned bowling alleys in the US, many of which could be potential acquisition targets.
“This industry is still fragmented and ripe for roll-ups,” Parker said, noting that acquiring existing bowling centers and upgrading them tends to be a quicker and less capital intensive way to grow the business than building new facilities.
The company is also in the unique position of owning the PBA, which gives Bowlero a TV platform to promote the sport and drive more customers to its lanes.
“There are substantial advantages from our PBA ownership,” Parker said. “We’re increasing production values and developing bowlers so more people get to know them. That’s raising awareness.”
And that’s where Bowlero’s new partners at Isos come in. George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, the founders and co-CEOs of the SPAC, were both previously co-presidents at the WWE before being ousted in a surprise move by CEO Vince McMahon in early 2020.
Could bowling be the next WWE or Formula 1?
Parker told CNN Business that the PBA will look to the expertise of Wilson and Barrios to try to make bowling more entertaining to watch — without going overboard.
“Nobody is going to walk up behind anybody getting ready to bowl and hit them with a chair,” Parker said. “The sport needs to maintain its integrity. But we can make it more engaging. And they know how to take something that is more of a niche product and bring it mainstream.”
The PBA already has at least one personality who seems like he might fit right in with the WWE.
PBA champion Kyle Troup, who previously worked as a Wendy’s manager and is the son of a former champ, is known for wearing flamboyant outfits and sporting a hairdo reminiscent of the late painter and TV star Bob Ross.
Parker said the PBA is currently in talks both internally and with outside media companies about how to develop a show focused on Troup and other professional bowlers.
It’s also not lost on Parker that the international auto racing circuit Formula 1 has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past few years thanks in part to the Netflix “Drive to Survive” documentary series that debuted in 2019.
Parker also noted that CBS currently has a pilot for a TV show set to debut in 2022 called “How We Roll” based on the life of bowler Tom Smallwood, who went from being laid off at GM to the PBA tour.
Bowlero did not have any involvement in the development of that program, but Parker said he loves to see the sport referenced in pop culture. He added that cult classic comedies like “Kingpin” and “The Big Lebowski” help raise bowling’s profile — and he’s happy about that.
“We want bowling in the front of peoples’ minds as a way to possibly spend their leisure dollars. It’s okay if the movies are a little bit ironic. If ‘The Big Lebowski’ gives people a warm feeling and they then go bowling, that’s okay,” he said. “Bowling is really fun.”
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