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The 11th Frame: Ultimate Bowling Products shakes up grip market by signing big players, BJI reports

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Friday, October 30, 2015 10:00 am

A relatively unknown company is making waves in professional bowling, according to a report Thursday by Bowlers Journal International.

PBA announced Thursday that Ultimate Bowling Products will become PBA Product Registered effective Dec. 1, making its full lineup of grips, ball plug and accessories eligible for use in PBA competition. Franklin, Indiana-based Ultimate is owned by Roger Brunette.

Not long after that news release came out, BJI reported in its cybernewsletter that Ultimate had signed 11 pro bowlers effective Dec. 1:  World No. 1 Jason Belmonte, Bill O'Neill, Amleto Monacelli, Bob Learn Jr., Dino Castillo, Dom Barrett, Kyle Troup and Mike Wolfe (from Turbo), and Tommy Jones, E.J. Tackett and Tom Daugherty (from VISE).

"We plan on doing whatever we do in a big way, with the biggest names, best bowlers and best people," Brunette, who acquired Ultimate about 18 months ago, told Bowlers Journal. "Bowling isn't going away. It's a worldwide sport, and we've actually been increasing our market share [of existing products] in Asia. We're trying to be innovative with our product line and rejuvenate excitement in bowling. That's why we were looking not only for good bowlers, but also good people to join our staff."

BJI said two sources told it they’d heard one player had been offered $30,000 to join the Ultimate pro staff, but that it couldn't confirm that figure.

A source with knowledge of the situation told 11thFrame.com that at least some of the players who were switching staffs had been offered contracts more in line with what ball companies offer, which is much higher than what grip companies typically pay.

“When you make your living bowling, how can you turn that down?” the source said.

BJI said the moves disappointed executives at Turbo and VISE, although they understood the positions of the players.

"It's very disappointing what has been happening over the past three months," Turbo President Lori Mraz told BJI. "Turbo and VISE have a firm footing in this business and both companies have done a lot to support the industry. It's all about money, and it's kind of sad.

"There isn't a lot of opportunity for players to make a living at this point, and they have families to support. So it puts the players in a tough spot."

Dave Brown, Director of Operations for VISE, told BJI that "You help these staff members along and give them financial rewards, so it's tough. But I think the bowler has to do what's best for them. If there's something out there that can help them better support their families, they have to do it. It's such a tough industry right now, especially for the pros."

BJI said that Mark Sullivan, a former touring pro, is Ultimate’s National Sales Manager, and Learn will be involved in marketing and sales.

Update: Sullivan told 11thFrame.com on Friday afternoon that BJI's report that Monacelli had a employment position with Ultimate was incorrect, and all the legendary Venezuelan would be was a staff player.

Here is Sullivan on The Bowlers Show talking about Ultimate

Here is the letter Turbo President Lori Mraz sent to Turbo staffers — I am one — on Friday:

Turbo Remains Steadfast in our Commitment to the Sport of Bowling which includes to our Distributor Partners and Regional, National and International Team Members.

Chesterfield, MI, October 30, 2015 - Information was recently released announcing a list of pro staff members from Ultimate Bowling Products. Many of you will be shocked and surprised by the names on this list, some have been long-time staff members and friends of Turbo for decades.

We never like to see staff members leave but want you know that these staff members chose to leave for no other reason than greater financial gain. Nothing about who we are, what we do, how we do business, where we do business has changed.

Our sport faces many challenges including the long-term viability of a professional tour and earning a living as a professional bowler. Things are tough... tough on all sides of the industry. Countless centers are closing in our neighborhoods and cities, pro shops are struggling to make ends meet with less league participation, manufacturing is consolidating, distribution is consolidating, the pro tour is trying to survive among other things. It's certainly a bumpy road.

While the departure of any staff member is disappointing and the threat of new competition 'buying' their way into the market is disturbing, we want you to know Turbo remains steadfast in our commitment to you and to the industry. We remain positive about the future of bowling and our commitment to the sport especially to future generations and events like the Turbo Tech Collegiate Expo and others. We dig our heels in everyday and look for new opportunities to be better and move the sport forward.

The Turbo brand and its core values are based on innovation and quality sustained by commitment, trust and respect. We have always held our pro staff and valued distributors in the highest regard.

We ask for your continued support in the coming days, weeks and months. Help us pay it forward! Send your #hashtags, Tweets and Facebook posts. Tell everyone why you support Turbo. Encourage your friends to visit their local pro shop and ask for Turbo by name. Let the world know what it means to use and partner with a product and brand you can trust. Voice your opinions. Whatever you do, it will go a long way in these seemingly questionable times.

Again, we value your loyalty and are thankful for your support and many friendships.

Sincerest Regards,

Lori Mraz