Friday, April 1, 2011

More on the Belmonte/Angelo Brouhaha

I wrote Wednesday about the mini-controversy's Jason Thomas has stirred up over the recent altercation between Jason Belmonte and Brad Angelo in a televised match. Actually, the match in question hasn't even been televised yet. It will air this Sunday on ESPN. But a clip of the altercation itself has made an advance appearance on YouTube. And people are talking.

They're saying all kinds of things. Some are saying Belmo's a "jerk." Some are saying Angelo's a jerk and a "crybaby." Some are saying it isn't absolutely clear that anyone is either a jerk or a crybaby, but that if Angelo was distracted by Belmonte's noisy water bottle, he could and should have handled it better. Belmonte himself has publicly apologized for his carelessness and said that he "made up" with Angelo after the match.

However, Belmonte also seems a bit perturbed by the way the PBA has handled this "tempest in a teapot," as one commenter on my piece Wednesday characterizes it. In his Facebook comment of last Monday night, Belmonte wrote:

"I didn't attempt to open the bottle in his swing like people or the PBA are trying to suggest. That would be a D-Bag move and last time I checked I'm not a D-Bag...I'm a little sad to see the PBA try and blow this out of proportion, considering the match itself is a great match and was very close all the way to the end. Clutching at straws I guess."

I think Belmo's probably right. I think the PBA probably *is* "clutching at straws" to lure as many viewers as it can to its telecasts lest it not have enough of them to remain on TV or in business. But to what lengths should it go to "live long and prosper"? Should it slyly impugn the motives and character of one of its brightest stars in order to drum up more business, or do you think it even did this in Belmo's case?

I don't know what kind of financial condition the PBA is in today. But I do know that since it was rescued from oblivion when three former Microsoft executives purchased it in 2000, it has had trouble attracting and keeping sponsors and has hemorrhaged so much money that its chairman, Chris Peters, withdrew last year from most of his involvement with the organization and, as I wrote last year, its current CEO, Fred Schreyer, has ominously warned that the PBA's owners will "not invest the same amount of money over the next ten years as they did over the last ten."

So, short of turning PBA telecasts into bowling's equivalent of "Wrestlemania" with manufactured or real feuds, shouting matches, and even fisticuffs between the bowlers, what, if anything, can the PBA do to draw more fans and earn enough money to stay solvent and ultimately become successful again? Or have the times changed so much that the PBA can never hope to regain the glories of its past or even stay in business much longer, no matter how many provocative articles Jason Thomas writes?'s bowling writer Jef Goodger has written a piece about this story on his bowling blog here.


  1. Thanks for the link, Steve. Also, I agree with you (and Belmonte). I don't see the appeal of a minor spat. One guy gets annoyed and says something to another guy. Where in life does this not happen on such a small scale?

    It looks like an obvious attempt to entice people with no interest in bowling to tune in on Sunday. Will they? Maybe. But will they watch next week? I doubt it.

    Seems to me, with league bowling the top recreational sport in the United States, there are a lot of people out there with an interest in bowling who aren't watching on Sundays. It might be wise to focus efforts on enticing those we know already enjoy bowling to start watching the PBA rather than those who just enjoy a good fight, minor as it is.

    Make a guy who likes bowling start watching, and he'll watch again. Make a guy who likes fighting start watching, and he'll be disappointed at the minor incident and go back to MMA or boxing or pro wrestling. A temporary increase in ratings is nice, but a long-term increase is great.

  2. Jef, I guess it could be said that the PBA either has a lot of class or bowling telecasts are insufferably boring if Angelo's brief display of anger with Belmo or his involvement in the "Brooklyn" strike incident with Chris Barnes last year is so noteworthy or people are trying so hard to make it so.

    I think you're right that if the PBA is attempting to use these minor incidents to attract viewers and keep them watching week after week, they're going to fail. Somehow, they need to find another, better way to draw viewers. But is there one? And how long can the PBA survive if there isn't?

  3. The issue of attracting viewers is probably far beyond my meager capabilities. Why do golfers watch golf and idolize golf stars and bowlers do not? The New York Times piece about WRW being able to walk into a tournament, unmolested, is huge, IMO. When hardcore bowlers don't care about the PBA stars, why should anyone else?

    Meanwhile, Jason Thomas will irritate the bowlers and fans alike, if he continues with the trash talk. If I didn't follow bowling and had read the piece about Belmonte, I'd wonder if he was a shady character. The PBA spokesman is wondering the same thing, so I'd guess that he probably is, because the "normal" thing for sports organizations to do when a problem arises, is to do damage control, not throw fuel on the fire.

    There's a serious disconnect between league and/or serious bowlers and the PBA tour. The brightest minds in the industry need to sit down together and figure out why there is a disconnect and how to fix it. I don't think the people running the PBA now have the ability to do that. It's going to take radical change, I think. The insiders will likely resist that mightily, which means they'll probably go down with the ship.

    I certainly don't know the answers. I tend to believe that a big part of the problem is that people can't relate their bowling experience to the PBA tour conditions. Golf is similar, but not nearly as bad as bowling is today. As I've outlined in other posts here, I believe that the tour needs to go back to the plastic ball type of tournaments, where the differences don't come down to ball changes.

    But, even that may not work. I find it incredible that superstars like WRW, Duke, Jones, Barnes, Weber and especially Kelly Kulick aren't mobbed by adoring fans like other sporting superstars. I'd have thought that Kulick would have been on various TV shows for months after she defeated Barnes. AFAIK, nobody cared. Perhaps that means that any attempts to "fix" bowling are futile. That's pretty sad.


  4. "When hardcore bowlers don't care about the PBA stars, why should anyone else?"

    Kerry, that is the proverbial $64,000 question, and if we could come up with the answer to it, we might just be able to figure out a way to rescue the PBA and bowling itself from the doldrums. I agree with you that the people running the PBA seem to be able to do this. Maybe no one can. Maybe bowling just isn't exciting enough to hold its own in this faster paced world filled with more and more things to watch on TV and do away from TV.

    As for Kelly Kulick not receiving her due, I've written her about that several times. Oprah should have had her on. I even wrote to her staff to suggest it. But bowling doesn't get any respect from the media powers-that-be. And THAT is more than "pretty sad."

  5. The disconnect is a frequent topic mentioned by the sportscasters and players alike. Many times players and Pedersen have stated that we amateurs don't get it, that we simply can't comprehend the difficulties involved with being a pro bowler today. Actually, it's such a frequent comment that it's getting a little irritating. It's not our fault that we don't/can't play on those conditions.

    I realize that most people wouldn't like playing on those oil patterns, but that's not the point. If the disconnect is so bad that normal bowlers don't get it, then the pro format needs to be changed to a format that normal folks can understand.

    I am more convinced than ever, that the pros need to go to a flat oil pattern and be restricted to a light, plastic type ball, such as 10 lbs, 11 lbs max.

    I realize that is radical, and probably not attractive to many, but what they're doing now isn't working. More of the same old, same old, isn't going to work any better.

    Maybe if Joe Average could easily go into his local center and bowl with a 10lb ball, on the same oil pattern as the pros, then the scores of the stars would have real meaning. Maybe then the stars would have appeal to the masses.


  6. I have a couple more thoughts on the issue of attracting viewers. First, your article "Make the Pros Bowl With Plastic" and the comments to that article, are quite relevant to the issue. Especially Steve's comment about the "trick shots" needed for tour level play.

    The trick shots are a double edged sword. On one hand, they will likely appeal to audiences because of the novelty. But, how long is that novelty relevant and how can the average bowler relate?

    I've been watching a number of videos on youtube, with the latest Dick Weber videos being the most recent. I wasn't happy with Jones losing. I didn't enjoy that match. I enjoyed the Weiss/Jaros match even less. I don't like watching Weiss bowl and I don't think he belongs in the playoffs. He's only there due to luck, his good luck and his competitor's bad luck. Much of that is due to the oil patterns goofing up the players. I'm not alone in my feelings on that.

    A funny coincidence happened while I was watching Weiss luck his way into the next round. I got a notification that someone had responded to one of my comments on youtube. That comment was on the 2009 Scorpion Championship match between Rash and Devaney. The final score was 182 - 162, Devaney on top. That tournament was very similar to the Weiss deal, with Devaney lucking out in every match to win the title. I was really disappointed, feeling that I'd wasted all the time I'd spent watching the videos of that tournament.

    Now, next week, the Dick Weber finals will have Barnes, Dick Allen and Weiss... I won't watch the match live. I'll record it and perhaps watch it later. With Weiss in it and Barnes being the only player to demonstrate the ability to score, the match doesn't hold much appeal for me.

    So, my disappointments aren't just with the players that I don't like, winning. No doubt, there are some like me that simply won't watch certain players, but I think that the larger portion of viewers are turned off by the scoring, or lack of scoring.

    The scores were simply terrible, in both of these tournaments. I don't want to watch bowlers throwing brooklyn strikes, splits and missing easy spares. I see LOTS of that every time I go into one of the local bowling centers. I watch the pros because I want to see excellence not mediocrity.

    I think that the larger audience is likely to feel the same way. How many of them are turning off bowling because they don't perceive excellence in the competitors and competitions? There must be a lot of them, otherwise the players wouldn't constantly complain that viewers just don't understand how tough it is on tour.