I am here today to save the professional bowling tour, but it’s a daunting task. Heck, just the fact that I’m writing about bowling today means I’ve just lost two-thirds of my readers, most of whom I know individually at this point.
The PBA on TV is broke, and, frankly, I’m not sure how to fix it. Sadly, in trying to fix it, the PBA folks keep breaking it worse.
Last year they went to team league bowling as their miracle cure – it’s back again this season – and that nearly drove me to home gardening telecasts.
This year they’ve gone with groundbreaking blue dye on the lanes to show the oil patterns, and that means they talk a lot about, well, oil patterns.
The move to league bowling for much of the schedule addressed one of the PBA’s perennial problems: Only four or five bowlers make it to each Sunday ESPN telecast, which means that weeks, even months, can go by without some of the game’s brightest stars getting on TV.
With team league bowling, every telecast is filled with big names. It’s Woodstock for bowlers!
But I have no interest in team bowling, and, if you look carefully at the team bowlers, you can see they don’t care much either. It’s an amped up, artificial gimmick that feels like an exhibition. Rather, I want to see Jason Belmonte vs. Norm Duke for a real title. I want to see some nobody from Hoboken try to climb the stepladder finals and knock off all the big boys.
And even if you see more icons during team league bowling, to what end? They all bowl two frames and sit down, then roll a couple more frames 15 minutes later. If you were a piano buff, would you be satisfied to go to a concert in which Mozart plays “Chopsticks” and Rachmaninoff taps out the Notre Dame fight song, and that’s it?
(Column Intermission: To be honest, this isn’t a ‘column intermission,’ I’m just pausing to find the energy to discuss oil patterns.)
So the PBA decided a few years back that the road to “American Idol”-type ratings was to steer viewers to the differences and difficulty of the invisible oil patterns pro bowlers face every week.
They even named four of their events after these oil patterns – the Cheetah, Viper, Chameleon and Scorpion championships; imagine, if on the PGA Tour, you had the Bentgrass, Bermuda, Poa Annua and Zoysia championships.
Now, I’m no expert – though I’m darn close – but you’d have a better chance of luring viewers if you showed black-and-white photos of street sewers from the top of the Sears Tower than if you build your broadcast on oil patterns.
Listening to ESPN analyst Randy Pedersen discuss oil patterns isn’t exactly like listening to Gore Vidal discuss the classics.
During the Cheetah Championship, the Cheetah pattern seemed to get more attention than Clara Guerrero, trying to become only the second woman to win a PBA title. Somehow, oil patterns trump personality on PBA telecasts.
This season, the PBA decided to make the invisible oil patterns visible by applying blue dye to the oil on the lanes. Yes, now we can see the oil pattern! It’s actually almost unnoticeable and not nearly as annoying as, say, TBS’ PitchTrax. I wouldn’t call the blue dye a bust, but for me, it has all the impact of when Burger King rolls out a new burger.
But now there’s even more emphasis on oil patterns, with Pedersen talking endlessly about friction. That’s right, friction. As in:
“Even though there is friction right, you can’t get there too quick.”
“This is just an overreaction to the friction on the outside part of the lane from Parker Bohn III.”
“That balls looks like it wiggled down the lane. It never caught the friction.”
I am reminded of one of my favorite sports TV moments ever, right after Pete Weber completed his record fifth U.S. Open title in 2012 and exclaimed to the crowd, “Yes! That is why I did it! Number five! Are you kidding me? That’s right!…Who do you think you are? I am!!!”
“Who do you think you are? I am!!!” is sheer, if, accidental genius, and it didn’t involve league bowling, oil patterns or any friction of any kind.
Ask The Slouch
Q. In your East-West comparison last week, you conveniently failed to mention that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and sunrises are more spectacular, are they not? (Laura Raymond; Providence, R.I.)
A. First, who wants to wake up that early for a sunrise? Second, there’s nothing more spectacular than a hazy southern California sunset, with a PBR in one hand and a bag of Cheez-Its in the other.
Q. Soccer clubs loan players to other teams all the time. Is Alabama missing an opportunity by not loaning out some of its players to the NFL between the end of its regular season and the Sugar Bowl? (Jeff Hazle; Woodbridge, Va.)
A. They would miss too much schoolwork.
Q. If the Lakers were forced to give Kobe Bryant a $48 million extension after he missed a chunk of this season, how much will the Bulls have to pay Derrick Rose for missing almost two entire years? (William Murray; Chicago)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.