Volume 1, Issue 46
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
My son and I were flipping channels the other day, and came upon the MTV Rock and Jock celebrity softball match. I wasn't even a fan of any of the folks playing, and yet I stopped channel surfing right there. It was a chance to see all these sports heroes and musical celebrities in a different light. We weren't watching professionals honing their craft, but we were watching parts of the celebrities' personalities emerge that don't normally appear on the mound or in a music video. While it amused my son to no end to see Yankee pitcher David Wells in shorts pitching against rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, I ended up wishing we had a better PR machine than we do for bowling.
Heck, the average league bowler would be hard pressed to name five or ten current bowlers from the PBA Tour, and even when these professionals make a telecast, they're not given much airtime time to be "personalities." Most avid PBA fans have a few bowlers they like to watch usually because of their bowling ability, but on the level of the individual personalities, there's not that gut-instinct level to root for or against certain players. I suspect there aren't many bowlers perched on the PBA website Friday evenings hoping and praying that certain people make the telecast or that others fall out of the top five. Luckily, I'm in a position that I am getting to know more and more players through interviews and such, and I am always taken aback by their different senses of humor and personalities. And yet on the telecast, none of that shows through.
One bright spot in the void is Parker Bohn III. Bohn has created the first player fan club of the PBA. Other sports have individual fan clubs for each player, so why not bowling? Members get an autographed picture, PBA schedule, and many other perks. The clothing line is due out sometime this spring. It's no secret my son is a fanatic when it comes to Parker, so it didn't take much coaxing from me to sign him up. By promoting himself through his "Bohn Zone," Parker is breaking away from the PBA pack. Already one of the most loved players, he's now one of the players creating a little bit of fan fare for the PBA by creating loyal fan members.
What I miss in bowling compared to nearly ANY other sport, is an old-fashioned, deep-seated rivalry between players. I know when my beloved Orioles go up against those dreadful Yankees, I have friends (well, they were friends until they admitted a weakness for the Yanks) who will tease me unmercifully and I reciprocate until the season ends. While I never want to see bowling evolve into the idiocity of pro wrestling, I have to admit their public relations people are on to something: the wrestlers have loyal fans. All the televised clapping and cheering in the world, can't cover up for the fact that professional bowling is still lacking that emotional involvement between the fans and players that the rivalries create.
One of the few chances bowlers get to interact with a pro for more than a few minutes is during the pro am. My biggest peeve has been with how too often centers market the pro ams. Too often the priority seems to be "sign up and get the latest wonderball for a ridiculously low price, and, oh yeah, you'll bowl with three professional bowlers. Meeting the pros becomes almost an afterthought. Of course, the catch 22 is that bowlers often find themselves paired with lesser-known pros, and yet if the players were better promoted, folks might know more of the players. An interesting pro am coming up in Southern California during the ACDelco tournament will feature only top-name pros, since the tournament field is limited to only 60-odd players. I was hopeful until I saw the last few paragraphs discussing the ball promotion. Time will tell if they're on to something.
Why doesn't bowling market its heroes like other sports do? We have few standouts, and certainly fewer rivalries. While I am sure they all respect their foes, there's nothing wrong with a little competition. I always seem to bowl better when I'm psyched up, and I'd like to think it's the same on the pro level. I'm all ears to hear when roommates are bowling each other, just to see the bowlers push each other a little more. Surely a few people are anticipating the Chris Barnes/Pete Weber match up that is bound to happen on a telecast soon--or the sister versus sister battle of Dorin versus Dorin-Ballard for a title while the nervous parents look on.
While I wait for the other players to create their own fan clubs, I'm secretly hoping that the PBA and PWBA showcase some of the natural rivalries on their respective tours. If my friends can egg each other on to better bowling in a league or tournament, and it makes it more fun for everyone around, I know the same can happen for fans of professional bowling.