How to Bring Back Bowling Post-Covid? Replicate a Successful Event from The Depression

Upgrade a Promotion From the 1930’s Using Today’s Media & Technology Platforms

People are starved for sporting events, having been deprived of them for the past two months. They will watch just about anything, even a curling tournament (no offense to curling, I’ve watched them in the past). Once the major sporting leagues realized that spectators would not be coming back anytime soon due to the continued spread of the virus they started thinking of ways to provide live content for television and streaming services that did not include a live audience.

We are just at the beginning of this new phase and some major organizations have already set schedules. NASCAR will run seven major races in May without fans in attendance which will attract viewers hungry for a live event. But by far the event that should draw the most viewers is the recently announced charity golf match between Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. Airing on multiple networks at 3:00PM ET on Sunday, May 24 it is sure to be a ratings winner as it will draw both golf and NFL fans as well as those who just want to see live sports again. It is no surprise that once it was announced major advertisers signed on almost immediately.

Bowling’s Successful Depression-era Promotion

While the underlying causes are different the outcome of the 1930’s depression is essentially the same as today’s pandemic – a severe economic downturn. And like most of the business sectors back then bowling had to endure its share of hardship. But in 1932 the newly formed Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA) launched one of the greatest promotions during the depths of the depression. They brought together a group of the current star bowlers and had them tour the country performing exhibitions and giving free lessons. The tour generated lavish coverage in newspapers and the bowlers participated in frequent radio interviews.

Today’s social distancing requirements will not allow a group of pros to tour the nation and perform in front of large audiences. But today we can take advantage of television and the internet to reach a much larger audience than they could in the 1930’s. And a great way to do that would be to take a cue from the PGA and stage a charity bowling match between top PBA pros and sports personalities…and there are some good sportspersons out there to choose from. Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox would be a top contender as he shot a 300 while competing in the World Series of Bowling back in 2017. And C.J. Anderson of the Denver Broncos has already competed in several PBA Regional tournaments.

A Showcase for Other Formats

While the matches will be entertaining there are other events that the spectators could enjoy. This would be the perfect opportunity to bring back Jackpot Bowling, a very popular show that aired on NBC from 1959-1961. Two players competed to bowl up to nine strikes. After each bowler took nine turns, the player who bowled the most strikes won $1,000. Any player who rolled six strikes in a row won a jackpot which, in the earlier seasons, started at $5,000 and increased $1,000 each week it was not won. The bowlers were all members of the PBA and a few won big jackpots.

Another option would be to revise a show that aired on CBS in the early 1970’s call Pinpoint. Again, it was a match between two PBA bowlers that tested their accuracy. The object was to knock down 10 pins in the 1st frame (strike or spare), 9 pins in the 2nd frame, 8 pins in the 3rd frame, etc. Successfully completing each frame scored 30 points and completing all 10 frames scored a 300. This format could also include other sports personalities.

As a finishing touch you could also include a segment on trick shots. During the televised PBA League Championships in 2015 each show featured a pro performing a trick shot as well as footage of Andy Varipapa doing his trick shots. The fans were asked to vote for their favorite trick shot over the four weeks of telecasts and generated thousands of votes.

A Showcase for Centers

Unlike what they did in the 1930’s the current situation prevents sending bowlers around the country. But we can take advantage of television and the internet to feature bowlers and/or celebrities around the country where they live. PBA Regional Directors can provide a quick roster of available bowlers who live near accessible centers. These telecasts could also serve as a showcase for many centers to display to a national audience the numerous transformations and upgrades they have made to attract potential bowlers. Each issue of Bowlers Journal always seems to include some very eye-catching photos.

Every business sector and organization is trying to figure out how to navigate their ship in this pandemic environment. But it’s equally important to set yourself up for success in whatever the “new normal” for your business will be when that time comes. For bowling, producing some televised competition and entertainment may be a good start down the path to a post-Covid world.

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