Volume 2, Issue 34, The 86th Edition
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
With the announcement of a few more telecasts this summer, the PBA hiatus that starts after the Tournament of Champions will be thankfully shorter than anticipated. While PBA members will have off the entire spring, it appears there will be testosterone in the air in June and July. The PBA Summer Swing will include both the ABC Masters and the US Open, and will air on Fox Sports Net. While the PBA finishes its winter swing next week, I figured there's been enough distance to look back and comment on the highlights (and lowlights) of this swing.
The PBA said good-bye to CBS and the one-hour format for this winter, opting to stick with ESPN and 90-minute shows. More is always better--well, almost always. Of course, this swing has been on tape-delay, which in today's world of online sites, newsgroups, and sports tickers has created a duality--the "want-to-know-now" folks versus the "want-it-to-be-a-surprise" folks. I'm the former, but I open my presents on Christmas Eve, so that's no surprise to people who know me. The "surprise" people are the ones who have to work harder not to find out accidentally. Thankfully the delays have only been a day, so I haven't burst from the anticipation of sharing the news. The good news is that the summer run will be live, so that dilemma will be eliminated.
One change I'm convinced has been for the better was the return of the eight-man telecasts. With 90 minutes of airtime, it would have been easy enough for the PBA to return to the five-man shows of the "good ol' days." Instead, they've opted to go with the three shootout rounds, followed by one "regular" match between the survivor of the shootouts and the top seed. First attempted at the All-Star Classic in June '99, the format is both fast-paced and features MORE bowling.
It seems like a win-win for professional bowling and its players. It gives more players that added opportunity at the incentive money a telecast appearance brings, which until prize funds for PBA events change, is a large part of their income. It also allows the opportunity for these athletes to build followings. When there were only four bowlers making a telecast, there were definitely weeks that I knew guiltily I wasn't so eager to watch. Now with eight bowlers per show, I can be happy for some of the new guys who crack the barrier, and I can also know I'll see some favorites as well.
Phil Ferguson and Marshall Holman are back in the announcers' booth, much to my appreciation. I'm still dreaming for the day that Denny Schreiner returns, but I think I'm pretty much given up hope for that. I've spoken to many that don't like the constant jabber that accompanies the telecasts of both the men's and women's tours these days, so the fact that the bowling is much faster paced and there's less time for talking works in their favor as well.
The clap-til-your-hands-hurt of last year is gone from the audience too. Instead once a player is "set" in his stance, the live audience falls silent. This allows for both a break for the clappers, and less of a chance that someone will inadvertently (or, worse, intentionally) shout out and disturb a player in his approach.
The "Score More with Brunswick" tips have actually been aimed at bowlers as opposed to aliens from another planet who are seeing the sport for the first time. Instead of marketing Cosmic bowling, I've witnessed tips that included finding the PAP on a bowling ball and how various drillings affect the hook of the same bowling ball. More tips like these and I'll believe the 60 seconds of airtime is actually worth cutting away from the telecast for.
The one constant source of frustration for most die-hard fans has been the "In the Bag" feature that started with so much potential. Apparently, between the PBA and ESPN, someone is limiting the feature to companies who both sponsor a tournament and purchase commercial time, so most of the ball manufacturers are denied this opportunity. Someday, someone will realize there are people who actually would like to know the name of the bowling ball and others would go so far as to want to know the drilling layout. Until then, we take what we can get--but with a grain of salt. I'm not the most ball savvy bowler in the world, but I can tell the difference between black and blue. I had a good laugh when Marshall was reading off a card and was describing one ball, and even I could tell the bowler was tossing another. For this feature to work, the guys in the booth really have to take a peak at what the guys are THROWING, and not just what they planned to throw when interviewed the night before.
All in all, ESPN's been doing a pretty good job. I could choose to be critical, but the obvious alternative is no telecasts at all. Of course, there's always room to improve, so it'll be interesting to see what changes that Fox Sports Net will bring to televised bowling this summer.