A few thoughts if I may on this Tuesday that came to mind when Arnold Palmer passed away on Sunday.
Now you may wonder why in a bowling column I would bring up one of the most personable golfers who helped golf explode at the beginning of the television era.
It’s because some of what could be said about Palmer could be said about one of the bowling pioneers — the late Dick Weber.
Weber was a true ambassador for the sport of bowling. From his days in the team bowling era in the 1950s to the start of the PBA Tour in 1960s, Weber brought a charisma and a certain everyman appeal to winning bowling championships. It was much of the same style that Palmer showed. Weber was a guy who made time for bowlers and time for the media — I know our columnist Scott Rabalais did a story with him when he was here in 1993 for the WIBC Championships watching his wife bowl, l and I had the pleasure to visit with him in his final public appearance, that came in Baton Rouge at the opening of the 2005 Open Championships.
He, like Palmer, was a big factor in what is now the PBA50 tour (the senior tour of the parent organization) and he kept bowling and winning on both tours for years.
Because of Weber and other stars like Don Carter, there were shows like Championship Bowling and All-Star Bowling that were filmed for weekly distribution on television much like Palmer’s All-Star Golf, Challenge Golf and others.
For a time Weber’s charisma and his ability was helping ABC’s interest in pro bowling. The network was paying a big rights fee and the money was good and growing for a lot of years. For a time the ratings rivaled golf events and college football.
In golf, Palmer was bringing attention to the game and networks were paying increasing rights fees and the money was good and still growing today.
For some reason, that’s where the difference begins.
Bowling turned into a sport that continues to skew older in that key demographic market that sponsors want to achieve. ABC started paying less rights fees and the winter tour became the spring tour and into summer tour when fewer eyes were watching. In 1997 ABC gave up the bowling telecasts after over 35 years on the air.
The stars like Dick Weber, Mark Roth and Earl Anthony were gone. Walter Ray Williams, Jr., and Dick Weber’s son, Pete, were trying to carry a tour that didn’t have the drawing power of the youth anymore. In the last year of the ABC shows in 1997, research showed that 67% of the viewing audience for network TV bowling was at least 50 years old. Ouch. I’m not sure what that research would show today.
The tour has been off network TV of any kind since 1999 and until recently, its primary home was ESPN. There have been several changes in owners and management, along with tournament formats, including the league series in Maine that has seemingly tried to draw a younger audience.
CBS Sports Network has used the PBA Tour at various times during the year and its USBC contract to become a bigger player in being bowling’s TV network, especially with the return of the PWBA to TV.
But to call the PBA telecasts a tour is a true misnomer. The group has to conduct events like the World Series, the current Fall Swing (airing on Wednesdays on CBSSN) and tape shows after a live event to keep the production costs from being too high. The USBC did the same thing with the PWBA. But to their credit, the women did tour the country, but held their finals until they could do four shows in one location.
This past Wednesday, Tom Daugherty won a televised tournament with a $10K purse. I think 12 places were paid. Used to be a lot of bowlers made their living off the tour and lucrative sponsorships. Now, not so much.
There is a thinking from some in the bowling world that the PBA could be closed down and restructured for a new start. I’m thinking that may not be smart. Bowling is bowling and it is still available for those who want to make the effort and try to pick up some money. It’s a grind, but bowling opportunities at the highest level are still there. You may have to leave the country, but PBA titles are still out there and sometimes the prestige of the title may be more important these days than the money.
By the way, the last tour to shut down, the old PWBA, wasn’t seen for nearly a decade and if the PBA would ever shut down, it probably would be difficult for someone to resurrect it anytime soon.
Arnold Palmer has seen before he left us what the game of golf has become. I’m not sure what Dick Weber would think of what his “tour” is in 2016.
Honor roll notes
Tyler Wright at Premier Lanes led the way with a 769 set, while Sarah Broussard had 717 and Mary Mansur had 700 sets of 709 and 704, all at All-Star. Bailee Chapman had 694 (257) for the youth league high, with Dennis Hebert posting a 680 in the senior leagues. Congrats to senior bowler Don McKinney for picking up the 4-7-10 split. Harry Kaywood, Butch Cormier and Sumner Taylor had 300 games with Ryne Daigle just missing with a 299.
Back with more bowling news on Oct. 11. Until then good luck and good bowling.