Bowling strikes out for the big time
Fred Schreyer helps guide the PBA into sports mainstream
For Fred Schreyer, the art of chasing big-time pro athletes and trying to win their business had become tiresome. Sure, he caught some of them Ñ such as LeBron James, or at least part of him Ñ but the satisfaction of the deal had left him.
So the Dunthorpe resident turned to the next logical area of sports business.
'I always thought bowling was kind of a sleeping giant,' he says. 'Well, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, but it had a lot of upside.'
When new owners took over the Professional Bowlers Association tour in 2000 and moved the organization to Seattle, they called on Schreyer, a Portland-based attorney, to help run things as legal counsel and chief financial officer. In March, the PBA named him its commissioner.
'I saw things we were doing, and it looked like a lot of fun,' says Schreyer, 50, who started Nike Inc.'s sports marketing division. 'It's a great group of owners giving us the freedom to basically reinvent the sport. It was a sport with a history and a past and, even though it was in the doldrums, we saw potential.
'It's kind of fun to be able to do your own thing and not deal with bureaucracy of big companies or owners in other sports.'
Today, Schreyer stands as one of the most influential people in one of the most popular participant sports in the country. Although he hasn't promised to bring an event to his adopted hometown of Portland, the potential always exists, and the PBA Tour will make its annual stop in Medford this week.
Last week, the PBA stopped in Seattle, which saw one of the many changes that Schreyer and the new ownership have brought to the series. The tournament finals were at Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. Four lanes were set up, and the whole show took place in an otherwise empty building Ñ a concept intended to establish an intimate setting for more spectators and give television more angles to shoot the action.
'It's much more of a sporting environment,' Schreyer says.
Join the club
Next year, the PBA will feature an exempt field of 64 players. It'll be all match play, with guaranteed payouts of $2,000 to each bowler, not including winnings. If the model sounds familiar, it should ÑSchreyer says the tour basically copies much of what the PGA Tour and other entities have done to make their sports an exclusive club.
'The guys who see themselves as the stars love it. The guys who see themselves on the bubble are nervous,' he says.
The PBA will pump its regional events Ñ like the ones held in past years at Hollywood Bowl and Milwaukie Bowl Ñ with another $600,000 in prize winnings to help the bowlers who fall short of the PBA still make a living.
The PBA also will start to promote and manage many of its national events, which take place now in the more traditional bowling months of September to March. In the past, the PBA simply contracted with bowling houses to run events. Now, the PBA will solicit and work with local sponsors; the series and Brunswick have been in cahoots for years.
Schreyer says the PBA has gone from zero full-time sponsors to 15 this year. Another three-year deal with ESPN has been signed to broadcast all national events; ratings have tripled, he says. The number of bowlers seeking to get into PBA events has risen to 4,100.
All in all, the sport seems to be on the rise.
The PBA still has its stars in Pete Weber, Walter Ray Williams and Norm Duke. You can't miss Weber; he's the guy who wears sunglasses, talks trash and does a crotch chop. Once he proclaimed after returning from a suspension, 'I am P.D.W.! And I am back!' The TV stations lapped it up.
The sport has young stars in Chris Barnes, Jason Couch, Patrick Healey and Robert Smith, Schreyer says.
'We need to help people become aware of personalities on tour,' he says. 'There are some exciting young athletes bowling on tour, and they're not the stereotype of overweight and beer-drinking athletes. What these guys do is actually very hard.'
Schreyer bowls, but only recreationally. A graduate of UCLA Law School, he started working for Nike in 1987. By the end of his tenure in 1992, he had established the company's sports marketing division.
He started his own sports marketing company, Pyramid Sports, and maintained an athlete client list and helped negotiate endorsement contracts for several pro athletes. He has worked closely with agent Aaron Goodwin on endorsement contracts for Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Paul Pierce and the NBA's James, who landed with Nike.
His company still represents athletes such as the WNBA's Natalie Williams and Lindsey Yamasaki. At one time, Schreyer represented Troy Aikman.
Although he holds Nike stock from some very profitable years, he wouldn't put himself into the wealth category of the PBA's new owners Ñ Chris Peters, Rob Glaser and Mike Slade Ñ who all cashed in because of their association with Microsoft Corp.
The three took over the PBA during its troublesome years, with only Peters interested in the sport itself.
'He was the bowling geek,' Schreyer says.
Many ex-Nike employees have joined the tour management. 'We definitely have a Portland connection,' he says.
Getting an event in Portland, however, will take corporate sponsorship and community support, such as the backing the PBA gets in Medford.
'We're like the traveling Elvises down there,' Schreyer says.