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The 11th Frame: BPAA cancels U.S. Opens for 2015 — and future looks bleak

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Saturday, May 3, 2014 4:00 pm

Could Liz Johnson and Wes Malott be bowling' final U.S. Open champions? Photo by Pro Bowlers Association.

This is one of the saddest stories I have ever written.

Bowling’s inability to attract sponsors from outside the industry has spelled doom for the U.S. Opens for 2015, BPAA tournament committee chairman John Losito told on Saturday.

And the future looks bleak if something can’t be found to change that situation, Losito added.

“Strike Ten did everything in its power, but it couldn’t find any (outside) sponsors,” Losito said, calling it a “horrible” situation.

And it’s not just a BPAA/Strike Ten issue, as PBA and USBC also have struggled mightily to attract outside sponsors.

The key issue is that bowling’s demographics skew old and sponsors want to reach young adults in that 18- to 35-year-old range.

BPAA last year canceled the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open for 2014, with Losito telling me in this blog that BPAA planned to “reboot” them and bring them back in 2015.

In recent years, BPAA got the U.S. Open back from PBA and the U.S. Women’s Open back from USBC because those organizations no longer could afford to run them. (They had been leasing them from BPAA for a nominal $1.)

Losito said the cost to run the two events is roughly $650,000, with about $200,000 of it for TV.

The organization did “decent” with sponsorship in 2011 and “fair” in 2012, but had a “difficult” time in 2013, he said, adding that Ebonite was the key industry sponsor and Jani-King the key outside sponsor.

That led to the cancellation and attempt to reboot the events and bring them back with some of their former glory of qualifying events and the like in 2015.

Along with the restructuring, the BPAA and Strike Ten sought to get a 2- or 3-year deal starting with 2015 to try to provide stability and a chance to build something, but nothing could be found, Losito said.

“Bowling is not generating outside sponsors,” he reiterated.

Losito said it’s not fair to expect the manufacturers to support everything, noting that they are facing the same downward trends as the industry as a whole.

It’s hard to argue with that.

The Tournament Committee came up with a proposal that would cut BPAA’s costs by about half, but the BPAA Board of Directors said no.

Losito summed up the board’s reasoning this way: “It does not make sense for BPAA to put that kind of money into one event that puts us on TV for two hours.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

“I can assure you that we as a committee looked at all sorts of different things,” Losito added. “We spent hours and hours trying to come up with something.”

But one thing no one wants to do is to run U.S. Opens that are so scaled down and financially small that they devalue the U.S. Open brand.

“It doesn’t make sense to do a U.S. Open for $5,000 first,” said Losito.

It’s hard to argue with that.

So where does BPAA and the industry go from here?

“In no way, shape or form should this be construed as BPAA not believing in competitive bowling,” Losito said. “We’re not going to give up. It has not been said that we’ll never do (U.S. Opens) again.”

It’s even still theoretically possible to do them in 2015, if funding was found and the BPAA Board approved it, Losito said.

And that will be the case going forward: find funding and the U.S. Opens can be held.

Leasing them to an outside entity also is a possibility, but brand protection will be a key in any such proposal, Losito said.

Losito is the proprietor of Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Neb., and a solid bowler who competed on the PBA Tour in the early 1990s.

He knows competitive bowling and like many of is BPAA brethren knows that “if we lose competitive bowling, it will have an effect” negatively on the industry.

“I’m saddened,” he said. “I don’t know the future but change needs to happen.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

The BPAA decision on the U.S. Open and U.S Women’s Open has no impact on this year’s Senior U.S. Women’s Open scheduled for July, detailed in my blog here, or the PBA Senior U.S. Open, which is being held the first week of June in Las Vegas.

I have a messages into PBA Commissioner Tom Clark and USBC for their reaction. I wouldn’t imagine they could afford to run the U.S. Opens, but I will post their answers as soon as I can after getting them.