PIVOTAL SATURDAY FOR PBA

This week’s PBA Tournament of Champions at Red Rock is assured of two records: the $1 million purse and $250,000 winner’s share are runaway marks for pro bowling.

Jackpots, money games and betting have long been staples for bowling since long before someone came up with the beer-frame concept.

It’s no secret that pro bowlers have long trailed what athletes in nearly every other sport make.

That’s why Tom Clark, chief executive of the PBA, said moves made this year on the PBA Tour are worthwhile gambles.

A lot is riding on how many tune in 11:30 a.m. Saturday for the stepladder finals that will air for the first time since 1997 on a Saturday and on ABC.

Clark says this is the first year of a three-year contract extension with ESPN that will put the Tournament of Champions on ABC on Saturdays through 2013.

He says Saturday’s TV audience should be enhanced by returning to ABC on the traditional day with a record prize fund and super-size winner’s check that is 2.5 times more than the previous best for a winner in the PBA’s 52-year history.

It wasn’t until 1989 when a pro bowler won that much for an entire season, and Mike Aulby had to compete in 40 tournaments to earn $298,237.

When the younger Weber won in 1987 he surpassed his legendary father’s career PBA earnings total – $733,331 to $731,003 – in seven years compared to the 28 years it took his father.

Clark believes the record prize money will add to the PBA’s prestige.

“A potential benefit is future (sponsor) opportunities,” he says. “This (prize fund) is a large portion of our season’s resources. We’re putting a lot of our money on this event. The biggest hope is that a sponsor will want to be associated with it.”

This edition of the biggest PBA major lacks added revenue from a title event sponsor. Firestone had sponsored the event for 28 years through 1993. To help cover the $1 million purse, the PBA expanded the field to include from about 60 previous Tour title winners to include PBA regional tournament champions and other lesser divisions to expand the field to 175.

The entry fee for all competitors ranges from $750 to $1,000 to generate between $131,250 and $175,000.

Tour costs led the PBA to reduce its number of tournaments this year to 12 with stops in nine cities; seven of those events were held in Las Vegas. Of the 19 PBA dates televised on ESPN and ESPN2, nine will originate from Las Vegas and five will have been tape delayed.

Three years ago, the 2008-09 season included 23 tournaments in 21 cities.

“We tried to create more (TV) shows with less operational expenses,” Clark says, adding that unlike the PBA’s glory years the association has not been paid a rights fee by ABC/ESPN for several years and the PBA has had to incur substantial production costs.

For Weber, now 48, and some other top pros the reduced schedule will send them to Europe later this year to compete.

“We used to have 35, 36 tournaments and travel year round,” he says. “I have to find other ways to make money and that means traveling overseas.”

A big TV audience could help turn the tide for the PBA so make sure you friends watch on Saturday.

ON LINE GUY ROLLS

Columnist Al Gibes writes the Online Guy column for the Las Vegas Review Journal and here at lvrj.com. He is an avid bowler and has a blog about PBA.com and its Xtra Frame feature on this website. Got there and check it out.

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