For the first time in its 60-year history, the Professional Bowlers Association will hold an event in China in an effort to expand into the world’s most populous country.
The PBA China Tiger Cup will be held Nov. 8-11 outside of Shanghai and will feature eight PBA stars competing alongside 56 bowlers from China, Korea, Japan and other Asian countries for a PBA title and a prize pool of more than $100,000.
The event will conclude the 2019 PBA season and is set for Suzhou Tiger Bowling Center, which is located an hour west of Shanghai, one of China’s largest population centers. After the singles event, a special USA vs. China team event will be held.
The eight U.S. players invited will qualify through the 2019 USBC Cup points list, which will be earned during the recently announced PBA Summer Tour.
“The PBA China Tiger Cup is another major step forward as the PBA continues its efforts to grow the sport around the world, and especially in China’s rapidly growing bowling market,” PBA Commissioner and CEO Tom Clark said. “The China Cup joins the creation of the PBA World Series of Bowling 10 years ago, a partnership with World Bowling on the World Bowling Tour and forming PBA Japan as examples of the PBA working to expose the sport at its highest level to as many people as possible.”
Other U.S. sports leagues have also worked on entering the Chinese market with the most successful being the NBA. Over the past 14 years, the NBA has held more than two dozen games in China and has grown a considerable fan base among the 1.4 billon population.
In addition to a previously untapped massive population base they hope will watch games and buy merchandise, U.S. sports leagues like the PBA are also looking to cultivate talent to compete in their sport.
“America’s men’s professional sports leagues have long entertained an interest in accessing China’s sports fans’ wallets and young players’ talents,” wrote Rui Zhong, the Program Assistant for the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, in an article for the China Business Review.
The PBA has already taken steps to develop talent to compete at a high level on the PBA Tour, though there is still considerable work to be done.
Frank Zhao of Longmarch Bowling has taken the lead in developing bowling talent in China. Since 2014, Zhao has helped dozens of bowlers qualify for PBA membership. In order to be eligible for PBA membership, players must have an average of 200 for at least 21 games.
Zhao’s Pioneers Tournaments have created an opportunity to Chinese players to get enough games in to become eligible. Recently, 25 players bowled in a 36-game event with eight of them averaging enough to qualify for the PBA.
“China has huge potential for bowling,” Zhao said. “In the 1990s, there was a big boom with more than 30,000 lane beds installed in China, but it declined sharply. Thanks to bowling industry efforts recently, we have seen growth again. The PBA China Tiger Cup comes right on time to further stimulate the market.”
One key to success for the PBA in the Chinese market will be developing a talent who can compete at the sport’s highest level, taking on the likes of PBA stars Jason Belmonte, Andrew Anderson, EJ Tackett and others.
Having a Chinese player become successful at that level creates a major marketing and media opportunity for the PBA to capitalize on as it seeks to expand in China.
Since 2014, at least one player from China has competed in the PBA’s World Series of Bowling each year. In 2016, Liu Shaoyi finished 57th out of 169 bowlers in the PBA World Championship with a 213.06 average for 32 games.
In the 2016 PBA Chameleon Championship, a subset of the World Series of Bowling, Liu finished 26th with a 223.5 average for eight games, just missing the cut into match play. Zhiyong Wang also finished 26th in the 2016 PBA Cheetah Championship with a 224.5 average for eight games.
While competing in the 2014 World Series of Bowling, Chinese bowler Zhu Tao told the PBA in a release that the sport needs successful Chinese players who fans can support.
“We also need idols, heroes,” Zhu said. “We can buy machines. The problems we can sort out with money aren’t a problem, but we don’t have any heroes… like (former NBA star) Yao Ming. Everyone in China watched Yao. We don’t have heroes to encourage young people to start bowling. It’s a very attractive sport. It’s easy to play, but it’s very hard to get addicted. We need idols to make people fall in love with bowling and if we do that, it’ll be very popular in China.”