As the NBA and NHL Playoffs heat up, the Triple Crown heads towards its second league, baseball moves along, college’s spring sports move into their postseason, soccer hits its stride in North America and wraps up across Europe, bowling tries to find its niche for awareness and growth.
Bowling? Yes bowling. Still enjoyed by millions in a world where things still need to be done yesterday and a younger generation is all about mobile, bowling is fighting as a brand to try and stay more relevant but generating buzz through some new partnerships.
The first one, which will formally get rolling this week, is with NASCAR and Pocono Raceway. This week approximately 2,100 participating bowling centers nationwide will launch an integrated marketing and awareness campaign tied to the GoBowling.com 400, which will take place at “The Tricky Triangle” in August. The winner will receive round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations and VIP tickets to the race all designed to link participants to NASCAR fans.
The deal was created between Pocono Raceway and Strike Ten Entertainment, the sponsorship activation arm of the bowling industry, and will try and link two core fan groups…NASCAR and bowling. At first glance it seems to make sense…brands that try and spend against one should enjoy the other…beer, snack foods, family entertainment, soft drinks etc…and bowling’s audience is still not as brand heavy as NASCAR’s. Both groups are also trying to figure out deeper digital engagement with fans, and although bowling is obviously more participatory, it would seem fans of one can beget the other.
The program will also include the GoBowling.com 400 “Stop Your Thirst & Start The Race” Sweepstakes, which will provide one grand prize winner with an opportunity to be selected as the ‘Honorary Race Starter’ for the GoBowling.com 400 on August 4, 2013 at Pocono Raceway, earning the right to wave the green flag that will officially start the 400-mile race. The partnership program will also include a series of GoBowling.com-themed bowling league promotional contests and in-center marketing elements, as well as other initiatives to be rolled out across the more than 4,000 participating bowling centers.
Pocono also makes good sense because of its physical location, so close to the New York and Philadelphia markets, still key demo areas for bowling and a very important touch point for NASCAR as it continues to find ways to always improve its relationship with Madison Avenue. It is a partnership that makes sense to try, linking the two sports in a solid and well marketed and strongly targeted push.
Then there is the celebrity side of the sport, and the “team” concept that bowling launched this past year, bringing in celebrity athletes like the LA Clippers Chris Paul and others to raise awareness with casual sports fans. This past week the name to surface was former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens, who has been eyeing a return to the NFL, and leveraged that news through bowling.
Owens made his United States Bowling Congress Open Championships debut at the National Bowling Stadium Wednesday in Texas, and is celebrity owner of the Dallas Strikers. So leveraging one to gain exposure for the other was timely during a quiet period for the NFL and a key engagement point for bowling.
Now what a “celebrity” owner really does, other that promos and rolling some frames, isn’t really clear, but it isn’t important anyway. Neither is the concept of “team” pro bowling with celebrities.
What is important is that bowling is trying to find ways to not just stay relevant but to grow in a very challenging environment. Whether they work for the long haul remains to be seen, but they certainly seem to be thought out and not outlandish money spends to hit some core audiences. Certainly some stories worth following for a sport that had been down but is looking to strike back.