It’s official: PBA returns to Saturday

by Bob Johnson 0

What may have been this year’s worst-kept secret in bowling has been confirmed: The ABC television network will air the championship round telecast of a PBA tournament in early 2011.

The Professional Bowlers Assn. on ABC was once synonymous with Saturday afternoons in living rooms across America. The 36-year-long institution ended with a tearful farewell from legendary sportscaster Chris Schenkel and long-time color analyst Nelson Burton Jr. in 1997.

On Tuesday, the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour announced its return to that familiar spot after a 14-year absence. The finals of the record $1 million PBA Tournament of Champions will air live on ABC on Saturday, Jan. 22 beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern from Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas.

“This is a milestone accomplishment for the PBA and for America’s millions of bowling fans,” said Fred Schreyer, PBA Tour Commissioner and CEO. “It’s the result of a great deal of hard work and support by the PBA ownership, sponsors, players and broadcast partner ESPN. This is exciting news for the entire sport.”

ABC’s coverage of the PBA Tournament of Champions is part of the PBA’s three-year extension with ESPN which will run through 2013. The PBA has a long-standing relationship with ESPN, which began when the network launched in 1979. For the past seven years, the PBA has aired on Sunday afternoons on ESPN.

Perhaps the most memorable moment in bowling history happened at the 1970 Firestone Tournament of Champions when Don Johnson came within one pin of perfection, rolling a 299 en route to capturing the title on ABC. The picture of him sprawled on the approach, face-down, is one of the sport’s most recognizable.

Last year, the Tournament of Champions produced another historic moment when Kelly Kulick became the first woman to win a PBA Tour event. That ESPN telecast attracted 1.7 million viewers.

PBA Deputy Commissioner and COO Tom Clark said the airing of the Tournament of Champions finals on ABC is exactly what PBA fans have been asking and hoping for.

“The Tournament of Champions is the PBA’s signature event,” Clark said. “The 2011 Tournament of Champions, especially, will elevate bowling to its rightful place in the world of sports. Not only will it feature the largest prize fund in PBA history and a life-changing first prize for the winner, but it will provide every PBA member who has ever won a PBA title a chance to become an instant star.”

The PBA Tournament of Champions, now open to all PBA titlists, will be a week-long celebration that runs Jan. 16-22 at Red Rock Resort and Bowling Center, with the PBA Hall of Fame ceremonies to follow the telecast on the evening of Jan. 22. Additional schedule details are available on pba.com.

In a nod to the ongoing industry unity initiative, the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America moved its 2011 Bowling Summit from Arizona to Red Rock, and changed the dates to coincide with the Tournament of Champions.

Details on the remainder of the 2010-11 PBA Tour TV schedule will be announced soon. The first telecast is set for Sunday, Nov. 28 on ESPN, featuring the first event of the PBA World Series of Bowling.

In the November issue of Bowlers Journal International, correspondent Lyle Zikes will present a comprehensive preview of the 2010-11 PBA season.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.