Note: 11thFrame.com always has offered space for contributions by guest writers on important topics. The future of PBA webcasting (livestreaming, if you prefer) obviously is an important topic of high interest, as anyone who follows PBA news on social media knows. Phil Brylow, who lives in the Milwaukee area, has a long history in livestreaming, has worked for both PBA’s Xtra Frame and FloBowling, and now has his own company, Ten on the Deck Productions. The decline in FloBowling productions for PBA events as the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the company’s business has angered fans, cost the company subscribers, and raised issues about Flo’s future with PBA. With his history and expertise, I asked Phil to offer his thoughts on the topic.
Note: I want to make this VERY clear at the start. I am writing this as a fan of the PBA. I was a PBA fan before I started with Xtra Frame, and I am still a PBA fan after my departure from FloBowling. (Yes, Jason Belmonte is still my fourth favorite Australian bowler of all-time…)
I am just lucky enough to have a unique viewpoint on that livestreaming entity from being involved for most of seven PBA seasons.
Thanks to the invitation and trial-by-fire from Mike Jakubowski, Dave Schroeder (former VP of Media for the PBA), and PBA Commissioner Tom Clark, I was able to come on board as a producer and commentator with Xtra Frame in August of 2014.
Those three men all had a team vision of what Xtra Frame could become; Jakubowski left the PBA in late 2016, while Schroeder and Clark continued forward. That executive team allowed the production team ideas of “bowling mind extraordinaire” Jef Goodger and “$2 Phil” to further shape Xtra Frame; Goodger and I also produced almost all the social media/YouTube clips that helped drive subscribers to Xtra Frame.
(Heck, I still paid for my subscription after I began my contracted work with the PBA for Xtra Frame… we were that good!)
When I joined Xtra Frame, just before WSOB VI, the number of Xtra Frame subscribers was less than 5,000. The PBA and Xtra Frame:
- Executive and production teams used a continuous drive for Xtra Frame streaming improvement, especially in production standards from events on the PBA50 Tour and non-televised stepladders on the PBA Tour
- The production team created longer-form content videos that debuted on Xtra Frame, and after some time passed, they were placed on PBA social media. Those videos were targeted to increase the Xtra Frame subscriber base by being basically not “here’s what you might have missed” clips, such as Xtra Frame Asks, WSOB Chronicles & Player Perspectives; clips produced above and beyond just “here’s another 300 game” clip
- A focus on play-by-play and color-commentary teams at many PBA events, especially the majors, with Hall of Famers like Marshall Holman & Randy Pedersen in the color seat. I was often shifting to a sideline reporter position late in PBA Tour major events, to bring the fans information that the commentary teams might not have been able to see from their booth position
- Listened to subscribers at events. I always enjoyed talking to subscribers who were able to make events in person, and always appreciated their ideas and comments
Thanks to those above points, the number of subscribers for Xtra Frame increased to over 10,000 by the time of the PBA streaming rights sale announcement to FloBowling in mid-2018.
But since the start of that PBA-Flo relationship that seems so promising to both parties, the amount of FloBowling website content such as bowler interviews, tips, and special features on the FloBowling subscriber website has gradually decreased since early 2020 to the point of non-existence, seemingly leaving the die-hard PBA fan to scour the internet for any relatable bowling news or features.
Seemingly, financial considerations FloBowling has made in response to the reduction in subscribers has also affected the tournament livestreams, with:
- Several events having little to no commentary at points of qualifying,
- Many events having an off-site commentator dealing with various technical issues (Dave LaMont did a great job, in my eyes, trying to steer that ship from afar with what little he was given to work with)
- Only a couple events having an expert color commentator (Tom Carter, did color at some events on his own accord, and to my knowledge, without recompense of any type from FloBowling)
All over social media, subscriber (and former subscriber) complaints about FloBowling event streaming and website content have increased; it seems that many die-hard PBA fans have suddenly been left with a “stone-8’” on relating to the athletes in their sport.
From a recent, non-scientific survey on social media, about 1/3 of former Xtra Frame subscribers no longer subscribe to FloBowling. This would estimate that about 6,000 or so “FloBowling-exclusive” subscribers remain, with about another 500 Xtra Frame-era subscribers that watch other FloSports “channels” such as racing or grappling along with bowling.
So, if the PBA were to find themselves with the livestreaming rights back from FloBowling when the current contract ends (believed to be in mid-2023), if not sooner, could the PBA not only save the remaining estimated 6,500 subscribers, but:
- Bring former subscribers back in
- Add subscribers to get to levels seen in June 2018, and
- Keep the casual fan informed by more than a press release on the PBA website?
If the PBA does need to reestablish their livestreaming outlet in a post-Flo contract world, what would the PBA need to do to make the re-growth happen? I have many ideas that would be the base of kicking off “Xtra Frame V2.0”; a few I’ll share below.
Allow a monthly or per event rate
Let’s be honest – there are many households who cannot or will not budget for a lump-sum annual payment. Sure, it’ll cost those subscribers more money in the long run, but that would bring in more eyes (and subscription fees) to the events that are big on the PBA schedule, like the majors and the World Series of Bowling.
Combine “Xtra Frame V2.0” and PBA Pinsiders to provide the top-level fan experience
PBA Pinsiders was supposed to not only provide some great merchandise to the member, such as a PBA hat and insulated mug, but also exclusive player interviews and other content that couldn’t be seen anywhere else.
So, make the top-tier PBA fan experience a combination of “Xtra Frame V2.0” and Pinsiders. Give the merchandise, early bird TV ticket opportunities, chances to win special meet & greets or bowling a pro-am with a specific pro, and other benefits to those top-tier fans who want to pay that little bit extra. I believe there are enough PBA fans out there, that if they receive the top-tier experience, they will pay more than the current FloBowling annual subscription price.
For the rest of the fans who just want to see the endless qualifying rounds, match play rounds, and non-televised stepladder finals, keep the price a bit lower than the top tier. Many subscribers would just be happy with quality coverage & commentary while the event was occurring.
Livestream a press conference after every tournament round
Every major sport, and many minor sports, has a press conference at the conclusion of a game or series, with many of those livestreamed through a team’s Facebook or YouTube page. This helps to see the reactions and passions of the players and coaches, get some of the inside story of what happened during the event, and help the fans of the sport make a connection with the players that goes past a performance.
During the WSOB IX in Reno, there were PBA press conferences within 20 minutes of the end of every round of livestreamed competition that was available on Facebook Live.
In my opinion, live press conferences should be back after every round of competition on the PBA Tour and PBA50 Tour; it is just a commitment to a little manpower and not-so-costly equipment to make this happen and have another chance to pull the fringe fans back in to following the PBA tour a little closer; maybe that fan then buys that replica jersey or goes to an event in person that helps support the host proprietor.
In conclusion, there are many more factors, not detailed above, to be considered for the future of livestreaming the PBA; we as fans will have to see what direction is taken for livestreaming and fan retention through the end of the FloBowling contract, and what may be available to PBA fans when that contract is up. Many PBA fans, including me, will definitely be answering those questions with our wallets, and likely sooner than later.