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Maybe the Time Has Come for a World Bowling Tour

Timing is everything. If you are in the right place at the right time with the right idea, it increases your chances of success tenfold. Let’s hope that former USBC executive Kevin Dornberger and others have chosen the right time to roll out a very ambitious project – a professional World Bowling Tour.

A WBT is not really a new idea. It has been talked about for years by visionaries in the industry like Joan Romeo, Gary Beck, Dornberger, and many others who have hopes and big dreams for bowling.

Dornberger however, since leaving his job at USBC a year ago, has stepped up the efforts to make the WBT a reality. Dornberger is the president of the World Ten Pin Bowling Association, an organization that works with more than 100 international federations to govern and operate events outside the jurisdiction of the United States.

Initially, with the cooperation of the American PBA and a few federations, the first official WBT was launched this year with five events; the Ballmaster Open in Finland; the USBC Masters in Reno, Nevada; the Euro Challenge in France; the Kuwait Open, and the WBT Bangkok Open in Thailand.

In early February, WTBA announced that two events were added – The US Open in New Jersey, and the Australian Masters in Sydney. Commenting on the Australian event was former Professional Women’s Bowling Tour star Cara Honeychurch, who is now the CEO of Tenpin Bowling Australia, the equivalent of the USBC in the land down under.

“It has been many years since Australia hosted a significant international tournament to attract the sports finest athletes from around the world,” said Honeychurch. “The foundations were laid with the 2010 Masters, but now, with its inclusion into the 2011 WBT, we look forward to taking the tournament to the next level.”

“Our goals were limited for this first year of the tour; but the response has been so enthusiastic that goals will be aggressively ramped up,” said Dornberger. To launch the tour, WTBA created a world ranking system to determine the best male and female players; and they started a bonus pool to provide a financial incentive for the highest ranked athletes. Working with the PBA, they have now added a WBT Finals with a $40,000 prize fund featuring the top three men and women, to be televised in late 2011 on ESPN in the USA.

Promoters are also starting to notice the potential; a sports consulting firm has told the WTBA that they believe it is possible to sell the 2012 WBT Final to a city / country for a significant host fee, and ensure television coverage. “There are several events that have advised me that they will be increasing their prize funds to be included in the 2012 World Bowling Tour,” said Dornberger. “We anticipate the 2012 WBT to include 12-15 events.”

The challenge? Getting more American pros to participate. And the key to that will be significantially higher prize money. Right now, American pros occupy four of the top five spots in the men’s rankings, (if you count leader Mika Koivuniemi from Finland) and three of the top four spots on the women’s list, led by Carolyn Dorin-Ballard; but we just don’t see PBA players and former PWBA players lining up to get their passports right now.

Our guess is that most of them are in the “wait and see” mode. If the 2012 WBT schedule is published later this year, with good money available, a few more American pros will sign up. Pros like Mika Koivuniemi have been an international star for years. He leads both the PBA and the WBT rankings right now. He moved his family to the USA so he would have the opportunity to make a living as a professional bowler. If the WBT takes off, he may go back to his previous lifestyle of globetrotting to bowl.

How will this affect the American PBA Tour? As far as scheduling goes, not at all, because the two organizations are working together to avoid conflicts. But the long range affect is hard to predict. It is no secret that the PBA is struggling to make ends meet; and maybe a successful WBT might make American sponsors and media outlets step up to become a part of something bigger. It certainly had that result in Tennis; why not in bowling?

Putting on our own visionary hat for a minute, a few years from now, we can see a WBT with an American Swing; an Asian Swing; and a European Swing. It certainly could change the image of bowlers from blue collar to international traveler.

Another challenge will be that the WBT provides a legitimate platform for women. It is a shame that there has been no women’s pro tour since 2003. We hope that the WBT recognizes the potential of women’s events; that they will garner equal if not greater television ratings; and that the marketing of women will greatly enhance the image of the tour. We hope that they do not simply create a “women’s division” or a “women’s series” with very limited players and prizes.

With recent events in Japan, we may also see more pros like Wendy Macpherson turning to the WBT for her bowling. Wendy has made good money in Japan since the American women’s tour stopped in 2003. Here’s hoping that Japan gets back on its feet, and in a few years becomes a regular destination for the WBT.

The World Bowling Tour is an ambitious project to take bowling in the direction of Tennis and Golf; but with the planet getting smaller every day, it is inevitable that this would happen sooner or later. Now, it looks like it is on the horizon. Another thing we hope the WBT settles once and for all – the issue of amateur v. professional; but that is another column.

“My gut tells me that the potential of the WBT is enormous,” said Dornberger. “We are actively discussing common media platforms, sponsorships, and charitable partners for 2012 and beyond. I think the WBT will be successful because most of the players will feel that they can’t afford not to bowl.”

B.WL • . • P/N/ON by Jim Goodwin

Posted with permission from Stars & Strikes, America's bowling Newsmagazine.
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