Partnership helps USBC and PBA ensure a future for the sport

ARLINGTON, Texas - The call came in early Sunday.

It was a quiet morning in the bowling world as the first bowlers of the 2017 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships were just waking up to the Las Vegas sunrise, and nearly 400 of the best professional and amateur competitors around were converging on The Entertainment Capital of the World for the upcoming USBC Masters.

Approximately 575 miles southeast of Las Vegas, however, there was panic and uncertainty when it was discovered that the truck carrying hundreds of bowling balls and all of the equipment used by the Professional Bowlers Association to live stream its events on Xtra Frame had been stolen while parked for the night.

The truck was headed from the 2017 FireLake PBA Tournament of Champions in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to Las Vegas, where the Xtra Frame crew was scheduled to broadcast more than 60 hours of Masters qualifying and match play at The Orleans Bowling Center.

The possibility of not being able to live stream the Masters was short-lived, and a plan quickly was put into place for USBC's live stream equipment to be overnighted to Las Vegas.

The show must go on, and it did.

Thanks to an ongoing partnership between USBC and the PBA, the lines of communication were open, but, more importantly, the software required to live stream on Xtra Frame already was loaded onto the USBC computer, since all Professional Women's Bowling Association competition is shown on Xtra Frame.

Within a few hours, the gear was on its way and the coverage plan for the week still was in place.

While the Masters is a USBC event, it also is a major on the PBA Tour and counts as a PBA Tour title, if the winner is a PBA member. The USBC staff runs the event through qualifying and match play, and the live TV finals are facilitated by the veteran PBA staff and TV production crew.

This is just another facet of the partnership between two organizations that may differ greatly from business and service standpoints, but also share common goals, including wanting to grow the sport of bowling and ensure its future.

"When your interests align for the good of the sport, it's pretty easy to work together," said USBC Executive Director Chad Murphy. "If you think about it, many of the PBA's best players are our top players for USBC and the PWBA, so we want to do everything we can to showcase their talent and continue to give them a stage to compete on."

The USBC-PBA relationship concerning the Masters goes back many years, but the return of the PWBA in 2015 gave the organizations another common interest, and that is the support and promotion of professional bowling.

As the PWBA got back on its feet after a 12-year hiatus, the PBA was able to offer its player services truck and staff, which are used for transporting tournament and bowling equipment and also serving as a mobile pro shop at Tour stops from one coast to the other.

In exchange, all PWBA competition would be streamed by Xtra Frame, providing countless hours of additional coverage for subscribers during a time of year that traditionally was slower for PBA competition.

To promote cross-membership and professional bowling in general, one PWBA regional event was added to the schedule for each PBA region. The events are run by the PBA regional managers, while the prize funds are subsidized by USBC. These events allow the top women regionally to get a taste of top-tier competition and prepare for the main PWBA Tour, which runs from April until September.

Another layer of the partnership is that all competitors in PBA events - regional and national - must be USBC members in good standing in order to compete. This also means all PBA competition is USBC-certified.

And, with so many shared members and tournament entrants, the rules for many premier USBC events now are consistent with PBA rules and procedures, so there's no confusion for those who compete in both arenas.

PBA Commissioner Tom Clark shares Murphy's sentiments about how sharing resources can help maximize exposure for the sport and its top talent.

Cross-promoting the organizations, events and players to audiences that are as diverse as much as they overlap helps expand all brands involved.

"We really are all here for similar reasons, which include getting as much exposure and momentum for the sport as possible," Clark said. "We want to get the bowlers on TV, so we can show off all the great talent and make the future brighter. The Masters TV show is a great illustration of the PBA-USBC relationship. Our relationship with USBC allowed us to be part of a world-class event, and our relationship with ESPN allowed us to show the finals of that event on live TV."

When the five intense days of competition at the Masters wound down, and the five finalists from a field of 395 made their way to the TV set, the live stream gear was packed up one last time in a joint effort by the Xtra Frame crew and the USBC digital communications team.

Just before the televised finals the next day, Clark noted that analytics for the week showed the 2017 Masters was the most-watched event in Xtra Frame history. Something easily made possible with a partnership and a phone call.