Bowling, billiards, and ping-pong have always struggled to compete with the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball when it comes to sports-page coverage.
But the tens of millions of Americans playing these leisure sports in their rec rooms or local community centers suggest a lifestyle angle to pitch to the media. "Both bowling and billiards as industries are seeing growth from the more casual customer," notes Steven Knipstein, SVP with Chicago-based Cushman Amberg Communications, which represents bowling accessories manufacturer Brunswick. "That has expanded the... PR opportunities [in new outlets]."
With bowling, Knipstein explains, that means pitching the changing face of the sport, as the traditional league bowler is being replaced by more families. "With billiards, we do a lot of work on home-renovation stories, which is not just the pool table or foosball table or air hockey table, but the game-room concept."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that many leisure sports have attained a kind of retro chic for today's youth. "Last year, bowling was named the fastest-growing high school sport in America," notes Michael Mazek, editor of Bowling Center Management, the magazine of the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.
Mazek, who tracks general interest coverage of the sport as part of his editorial content, adds, "There has been an increase in the number of large-circulation newspapers doing stories on bowling in the last five years, in large part because of the amount of young people who are bowling."
Few outlets have bowling or billiards reporters, but Knipstein says, "Even though we're dealing primarily with general interest reporters, most of them have bowled or played pool, and so they understand the appeal."
Other leisure sports, like table tennis, are also looking to expand their bases by targeting general interest outlets. "We're more of a sports page story right now, because we do get coverage when we do our US Open or Nationals, as well as during the Olympics," says Dana Schnell, programs coordinator and head of media relations for the USA Table Tennis Association. "But we are trying to get more lifestyle coverage, as well."
Schnell worked with the New York Daily News on a story about celebrity ping-pong fanatics like Owen Wilson and Kevin Spacey, but she notes the lack of high-profile, US-born players. "The sport is real big in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, so the face of table tennis right now is more international than national," she says.
PITCHING... Leisure Sports
Pitch the youth angle. Many traditional leisure sports are once again popular with teens and twentysomethings, so leverage statistics that back those trends
Pitch the home-improvement angle, especially with new billiards tables, by highlighting their modern designs in renovation stories
Focus on local coverage. Many bowling centers are social hubs in their towns, so you can generate community-page stories