New PBA programs should produce a great 2010-11 season By Dick Evans

    03/20/10

    Column

    ColumnistDickEvans.jpgBowling has not escaped the nation's economic slowdown on many fronts and many have been predicting doom and gloom for bowling tournaments. The United States Bowling Congress, struggling to stop the lost of funds, has eliminated a made-for-TV tournament and was considering contributing less money to the Professional Bowlers Association next season.

    The PBA in turn ran into a lost sponsor and a lost tournament site during the current 2009-10 tour season. So rumor was rampant that the three former Microsoft executives who have lost an estimated $20 million since they purchased the PBA in 2000 might be pulling the plug on the 2010-11 season.

    Everybody was worried....until Thursday when the PBA announced that it was not only going to survive but could thrive through some dynamic changes and innovations.

    Among things announced were the PBA's first million dollar tournament and a record $250,000 check for the tournament, more tournaments and better tournament dates on ESPN.

    I got hold of Fred Schreyer, who holds the dual titles of CEO of the PBA and Commissioner of the tour, and asked if the PBA was going to wind up making money this season, and if not how did he pull off this financial miracle for the 2010-11 season, which would be the PBA's 52nd.

    "This has been an extremely difficult year and we have missed our projections on the revenue side," Schreyer said. "We managed expenses well but the shortfall in revenues was too steep and we are going to post a sizable loss for the current season. We were able to weather the economic slowdown fairly well in FY '09 (5/1/08 – 4/30/09) but the conditions affecting many parts of the economy and the bowling industry caught up with us this year.

    "Ownership is disappointed in the results but understands the conditions with which we and others in the sports industry were faced. Our mission remains consistent with what it has been the past several years – manage our business effectively and generate a profit so that the PBA is self-sustaining.

    "Ownership does not want to underwrite the operations of the PBA the way it did the first 5 years of our operation. We strongly believe that yesterday's announcement signals our intention to continue to be innovative in how we run the Tour so as to maximize our potential. We are excited by the changes that we are planning to introduce next season."

    I then asked Schreyer how he convinced ESPN to give the PBA tour a later starting date for the 2010-11 season, which means fewer PBA tournaments going up against the powerful NFL telecasts, plus three more tournaments than normal.

    "ESPN made a decision to move NASCAR from ABC to ESPN for the portion of the NASCAR season that it televises in the Fall," Schreyer said. "This coincided with our desire to reduce the number of weeks we go head-to-head with the NFL so it was a situation where our interests aligned and we mutually agreed to push the start of the television portion of our season to Thanksgiving weekend.

    "Our television schedule will extend next season through the end of April and we believe that this will allow us to deliver a higher overall rating to our sponsors and advertisers as our shows historically deliver stronger audiences in the second half of the season."

    I then suggested that the PBA might benefit if Jason Belmonte, the dynamic two-handed star from Australia, would start winning tournaments on a regular bases and if Kelly Kulick, who last January became the first woman athlete to win a major sports title, was winning matches on tour.

    Schreyer wasn't buying my suggestions. <
    "While Belmonte has not won this season, he has bowled well and currently sits in 7th place on the point list. He is a charismatic individual and a great ambassador for the PBA and the sport and he undoubtedly will be a success on the PBA Tour.

    "However, we are in no way dependent upon Jason Belmonte for our success. There has been an abundance of great story lines this season. Tom Smallwood, Kelly Kulick, Bill O'Neill, Walter Ray Williams, Mike Scroggins to name a few players who are having big years.

    "The amount of national coverage we have received this year is unprecedented as compared to what we have received over the 10 years that the new PBA has been in existence. By many measures, this is the best year that the PBA has had in the last decade."

    If the national economy improves only a little, things should get dramatically better for the PBA next season. Included in Thursday's PBA release were the following nuggets:

    • The PBA Tour's signature event, the 2011 PBA Tournament of Champions, will feature a record $1 million prize fund and a $25,000 first prize, the richest in professional bowling history. Different eligibility rules will open the event to any PBA title winner, including players who have won National, Regional, Senior and Women's Series titles. The Tournament of Champions will air on ESPN on Jan. 23.
    • Lumber Liquidators has affirmed its commitment as the PBA Tour's title sponsor through September 2011. Lumber Liquidators has been the title sponsor since the beginning of the 2008-09 PBA Tour season.
    • The PBA World Series of Bowling will return, producing nine separate TV shows and culminating with the PBA World Championship. A United States vs. the World special competition also will emanate from the WSOB. Last year's inaugural PBA World Series of Bowling had participation from 700 different professionals from 14 nations.
    • For the first time in PBA history, select events will feature three consecutive days of live television (Friday, Saturday, Sunday time slots on ESPN's family of networks). The PBA World Championship and the U.S. Open will both be telecast in this groundbreaking presentation. Previously, only the final championship round of any PBA Tour event has been telecast.
    • The USBC Masters again will round out the list of four major championships and will be aired live from Reno's National Bowling Stadium.
    • For the first time in PBA history, live telecasts will air on ESPN in high definition.
    • A new PBA Playoffs will conclude the season with a six-week series of shows. The elimination series will have its own separate prize fund and be a key decider in the PBA Player of the Year race.
    • A new "Xtra Frame Tour" will bring the PBA Tour players to at least five different locations across the nation for competitions that will be "broadcast" exclusively on pba.com's Xtra Frame video-streaming service, but will not air on network television.


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