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Guest column: Live bowling is boring… and how we can fix it by Rob Piroozshad

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Friday, November 11, 2022 11:00 am
Guest column: Live bowling is boring… and how we can fix it by Rob Piroozshad
Rob Piroozshad letting it loose at the 2012 PBA Cheetah Championship TV finals. Contributed photo.

This website has always been open for guest columns that bring value to bowling topics of interest.

Boosting interest in the PBA certainly qualifiers as such a topic.

I call 11thFrame.com “Bowling’s digital daily newspaper delivering news, analysis and opinion” and as a newspaper Op-ed page will publish views it doesn’t necessarily agree with, I publish guest columns I don’t necessarily agree with.

That would be the case with this piece by “Brooklyn Rob” Piroozshad of the Sweep The Rack podcast.

I don’t disagree with every point Rob makes, but I’ve made clear what I think the biggest problem is for bowling and the PBA in this piece.

And I have no use for the fakery of wrestling — I don’t care how many people watch. More power to wrestling, but it’s not anything I would want to model a real sport after.

The PBA had what amounts to a wrestling-type star as its No. 1 star for many years, and the tech owners completely unleased him when they took over at the turn of the century. But while Pete Weber did move the needle some, it wasn’t enough to gain bowling and the PBA wide respect as a sport.

His talent perhaps could have done it if non-bowlers could understand his talent. Visible oil everywhere it the vehicle to do that.

And for the record, there was a young fan in the crowd that Pete Weber was mad at in that famous 2012 U.S. Open TV finals, as Sports Illustrated reported in this story years later.

Also for the record, PBA did not try to squash the rivalry between Jason Belmonte and Sean Rash that started with Bottlegate. In fact, PBA hyped the rivalry with the Super Clash match between the two in 2014. Just listen to Mike Jakubowski's opening description.

I do 100% agree with Rob that the PBA could use bowlers who show their personalities more. The problem is that getting too animated can pull a player out of being "in the process" and negatively impact performance, so I think there are players who deliberately avoid showing their personalities purely for competitive reasons.

If you want to respond to Rob’s entertaining piece, the best way is via Twitter @BrooklynRob11.

Live bowling is boring… and how we can fix it


It’s time to face facts in the competitive bowling world – bowling is boring! Rolling a heavy ball down a lane knocking down pins is a mundane, uninteresting, and at times lifeless event to watch on TV. It always has been, but few are willing to say it because it is the sport we love.

Now enter two professionals who show no emotion, have no personality on the lanes, and will be fined by the PBA the minute they do anything they deem to be “unprofessional,” and we now have a recipe for a boring TV event to be even more so. And the cycle goes on: Boring shows mean low viewer ratings, low ratings mean no major sponsorships, no sponsorships mean less money coming into the PBA, which means fewer events/pros (the new 2023 schedule looks to have fewer events based on the TV schedule), turnover of PBA ownership and less TV time. It’s a vicious cycle that has plagued the PBA for decades. There is hope with the Bowlero purchase of the PBA that things will change, and they will continue to bring in sponsors, keep the FOX TV deal, and increase the events and prize money.

I ask this question, “What has Bowlero and the PBA done to make bowling more entertaining since Bowlero took over the PBA?” Except for some flashy background graphics, a few player intros before matches (which were a great start and then mysteriously vanished) and added money they haven’t done a whole lot to generate a lot of outside interest. Bowlero and the PBA need to understand something very important. Bowling is boring and the TV coverage needs to be rethought.

Let me be clear here… I’m not downplaying what Bowlero has done for the PBA. They have added a much-needed boost to the prize fund, added some big money events including a $250,000 Players Championship, and some new events for the players and fans. I want this to be sustainable for decades in the future. I want the PBA to bring in big company sponsors to add more events, add millions of dollars to prize funds, add more TV time, and ultimately take it to the next level. The only way for them to do that is to bring in an outside audience and new generation of viewers to spike the ratings and attendance of the live events.

Here’s my advice: Bowlero and the PBA need to learn from the previous mistake of the last four decades. They need to bring less focus on the actual bowling and more focus on the players. The high-level bowling world is so laser-focused on issues only bowling wonks care about: house conditions versus sport conditions, rev rates generated by two-handed style versus one-handed style, righty versus lefty, and resin versus urethane, to name a few. These debates are great for the sport as we all should want a true challenging sport with integrity. But outside of an impassioned few, do others really care? Does the lane pattern make the show more entertaining to the average sports fan at home that has no bowling knowledge? Is the show more entertaining to this fan if the pro is throwing a Purple Hammer or a Reality bowling ball? The answer is a hard no.

Let’s look at what has brought pieces of the PBA into the mainstream. It is, of course, the personalities. Arguably the most watched moment was the famous quote: “Who do you think you are? I am”! The famous jumbled quote directed at an imaginary fan by Pete Weber after he won the US Open. Josh Blanchard falling on the lane with his bowling ball after losing his footwork. Randy Pederson stone 8 pin to lose to Ernie Schlegel. Three events that were showcased all over mainstream media. These events were mostly covered because of crazy off the wall emotions and antics by Ernie and Pete. Even though Josh’s fall on the lanes was covered on not so top 10 and highlighted all over the media as a joke on bowling, it brought eyes and attention on our sport and reminded viewers that anything can happen on the lines and our sport is worth your attention.

But how many actual bowling results or bowling accomplishments were covered by the mainstream media? Maybe one I can think of. Anthony Neuer making the 7-10 on TV. On the actual bowling side of things Jason Belmonte is currently having a historic career and can’t recall any highlights or mainstream media stories or any other bowling result type content. It seems bowling will only get covered by the mainstream media when something off the wall or weird happens. ESPN won’t even put bowling results on the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

Professional bowling at one time was on the rise in America, but I’m not here to give everyone a history lesson of restoring the glory days of bowling. That was a different time and entertainment era in America. Rubber balls, all one-handed bowling, low scores, and wood lanes will not bring new viewers or major sponsorships to bowling. So how does a boring sport bring new sponsorships, viewers, and money into it? Compelling personalities, interesting storylines, drama, and emotion.

Look no further than the WWE for monetize and scale the aforementioned. Despite being scripted and winners pre-determined, they are still wildly popular and have sustained success for decades. So, what’s behind their success? Because WWE owner is a genius on creating wrestler personalities/connections, storytelling, and drama. It’s no coincidence that Pete Weber is a huge WWE fan. Where do you think Pete Weber got the crotch chop from? Where did he get the off the lane charisma from? Pete understood that about WWE and brought that flare to the PBA. It’s what made him the most popular PBA bowler of all time on and off the lanes. People either loved his antics or hated them but one thing I think most can agree on when PDW was on TV it was must-watch television. From yelling at people in the crowd to his competitors, his raw emotion made for compelling TV.

So, what does the PBA need to do differently to make bowling not boring? They need to invest in their entertaining pros. They need to try different media, advertising, and marketing content outside the lanes. They need to form a connection to the fans with more engaging, interesting content that builds storylines and highlights personalities. Perhaps we need a reality show like the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter where pros live in a house, compete, and film them off and on the lanes. Maybe we need a serious show like Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit (did you see what this show did for chess?!) where they highlight the sport of bowling and entertain the fans at the same time. Or maybe the answer is simply having film crew travel to players’ homes to showcase their lives off the lanes. Flo bowling started to do some of this content, but they were behind a pay wall of Flo Sports, thus limiting the audience. This type of media content needs to be aired on FOX or FS1 for free for everyone to enjoy.

Fans need to feel strong connections to the pros, either as a fan favorite or heel. Once fans feel connected to their pros they will support them, argue with other fans about them, or passionately root against them. They will buy the merchandise, support their sponsors, and pay to watch them bowl. When personalities are the focus, rivalries begin to form. The PBA needs rivalries!

We need great storylines where two pros with similar skillsets who aren’t fond of each other compete regularly. Every successful sport has storied rivalries: Celtics and Lakers in the 80’s, Red Sox and Yankees, Ali and Frazier, Tiger and Phil, and the list goes on. The closest rivalry the PBA has had in the last few decades was between Sean Rash and Jason Belmonte. The rivalry mostly started when Rash called Belmo a “bottle bitch” on TV when Rash believed Belmo was cracking a plastic bottle on purpose. They didn’t like each other, and it was obvious. Compelling TV. Instead of leaning into this rivalry, The PBA sought to squash the issue when they should have let it transpire. PBA is known for fining players for showing raw emotion on TV. Calling someone a bottle bitch, questioning the integrity of equipment, or cursing on TV shouldn’t levy a fine.

If WWE is a bridge too far, perhaps it makes sense to look within our own sport. Anyone who has ever watched a high roller megabuck match, or an NYC action bowling match understand how captivating bowling can be. Not only were these matches more edgy, but they also encouraged betting on the outcome of the matches. When you have money invested in the outcome of the match it suddenly becomes more entertaining. Bowling is the perfect sport to bet on live. PBA has recently broken into this new sports betting venture with the addition on FOX Sports Bet. While a good start, restrictions abound (e.g., small money caps, state restrictions). Sports betting is a seemingly unlimited market right now, and the PBA has little skin in the game. They must partner with the big players like FanDuel, MGM Sports, DraftKings, or Caesars. Bigger bets, more props, and more exposure is a surefire way to bolster bowling viewership and engagement.

In conclusion, the current state of bowling is boring, but there is a lot for the PBA to build on. Following the playbook of WWE and non-PBA events, the PBA needs to get out of the weeds of the game that only appeal to a select few and leverage its personalities and make the live shows more engaging through expanded betting and storytelling. Superstar pros like Kyle Troup who understand that there is an entertainment factor involved in PBA bowling are just waiting to be gain more attention. Anthony Simonsen can be one of the best PBA superstars of all time and can be entertaining if he embraces his inner heel like Pete Weber did in his career. The PBA and Bowlero need to find creative and interesting ways to market the pros themselves, create rivalries and storylines, build drama, and make the shows more about the pros than the actual bowling. This is all just one bowling and sports fan’s perspective. I know it’s easier to write than do, but hey, PBA: my DM’s are open for consultation.