Thursday, April 26, 2012

Better Bowling Through Publicity

I shared an article on Facebook today about people today caring more about inconsequential celebrities than they do about accomplished scientists, intellectuals, and artists. The author hypothesized that this was largely because we're now living in an "everyone-is-special-and-there-are-no-losers society. As a result, we are fearful of accomplished people because they can do stuff we cannot do, and giving them the spotlight would un-level the playing field."

One commenter offered another explanation. She said our hollow celebrity worship is the result of escapism motivated by our economic and social ills. But, then, it could be argued that accomplished people were held in much higher esteem than they are today even during times more troubled than ours. Another commenter suggested that it was because celebrities have more publicists working for them than do scientists, philosophers, and artists.

I think he may be on to something. And I think his idea may suggest at least a partial solution to making bowling more popular and profitable in this modern age. The bowling industry needs to pool its financial resources and hire the best public relations talent around to promote bowling to the general public in a concerted and determined rather than occasional and haphazard fashion.

One way they might do this is to begin spotlighting the most accomplished male and female bowlers on the planet. Doesn't this contradict the article's premise that we don't want to see accomplished people? Well, curiously, sports seems to be an exception to the rule. We revere the greatest athletes in sports because of their amazing, sometimes almost superhuman abilities and accomplishments. So why don't we do that with Belmo, Osku, Mike Fagan, Kelly Kulick, and so forth?

Yes, these things have been tried, but I would argue that they've been tried only to a very limited and therefore ineffectual extent. Perhaps it's time to get serious, hire the best in the publicity and advertising business to make bowling appealing to the public, and then pay to saturate the media with their creative and skillful efforts. Otherwise, bowling at all levels seems to be on a downward spiral to near-extinction in the United States, even as it appears to be gaining momentum in other parts of the world.

And, as far as elite level bowling is concerned, how long can the PBA continue to survive without a heavy infusion of fans and advertisers' dollars?


  1. I think that people need something that EVERYBODY talks about. It really can't be scientists or intelligentsia because it is an appeal to the lowest common denominator. But I would say we have always done much the same thing! The first person the article mentions in regard to when things were different is Marilyn Monroe! BUT, in 1960 Monroe was a global whore! She was only taken seriously after she was dead. Marilyn Monroe IS Kim Kardashian. What is most different about today is the frenzy caused by the Internet. The web intensifies everything.

  2. Bowling seems to have shot itself in the foot with some of its own "everyone-is-special-and-there-are-no-losers" mentality by giving away honor scores. Forty years ago there were only a few hundred 300 games/year with 10 million bowlers; now there are 53,000 with 2 million bowlers.

    In addition, with so many "stars" who are total losers, how are you going to attract serious sponsor money? (Seriously, if you're the CEO of a huge corporation are you going to want to write a $1 million check to Pete Weber?) They've been burned too many times--remember Randy Lightfoot's comments after winning the Burger King Open?

    Every corporate executive knows how difficult it is to hit a tennis or golf ball, and the public is riveted to the telecasts in awe of the feats of the greats. But bowling's scoring integrity is so low that a 900 doesn't even make national news headlines. And what could any pro do on TV today that wouldn't just make shoulders shrug, heads shake and eyes roll?

    Perhaps the kids being forced to bowl on sport shots in high school and college events nowadays will eventually usher in a new generation of bowlers who don't want their scores handed to them for nothing, and the game's status will once again rise to the prominence it had in decades past.

    Until then, bowling will continue to lose demoralized novice bowlers who don't realize how little skill it takes to shoot the huge numbers they see on the wall, and the sport will retain too many bowlers who want instant gratification without much work (at being accurate).

    In short, I don't think bowling has a marketing problem. It has a product problem.

  3. Scott, there may be something to what you say about the ridiculous proliferation of honor scores diminishing the public's respect for the touring pros' scores on much tougher lane conditions and for the skills they possess to be able to shoot those scores. Though I've always respected the pros, I certainly respect them even more since bowling on "PBA Experience" and other sport conditions.

    But I still think that real advertising geniuses could also stir up more public interest than we have now in the sport. A spokesperson for the PBA wrote to me right after I published this article, and he strongly disagreed with me. He said that the PBA is doing everything it can to stimulate the public's interest. All I can say is that if he's right, the PBA is probably as good as dead before long. Or it will survive only by becoming even more of an international organization than it is now. Because, if this guy is right, professional bowling seems like it's going to be popular outside rather than inside the USA, and our PBA stars from this country will have to take up residence in Europe or Asia if they want to keep bowling and earning even halfway decent money from the sport without having to spend exorbitant amounts on travel expenses.

  4. I certainly agree with you that Bowling needs a shot in the arm and a good promotional campaign would help. Twenty years ago we had 9 bowling centers here in Tulsa you couldn't get an open lane until after 11pm on any weekday and sometimes on the weekend as well. Today we only have 2 centers in the city and 3 small centers in outlying suburban towns.

    You don't see any adds of TV, in the paper on the radio either. I wouldn't be surprised if more the 50 percent of those under 25 even know what the game is about or even heard of it.

    Perhaps Scott is right and bowling has shot itself in the foot with the inflated scores and the easier shots but still nothing has been done to improve the situation.