Facing the Future: What the PBA Clash Show Acknowledged About Spectator Sports in the 21st Century

by Gianmarc Manzione 0

This will not be a popular opinion. Particularly, I suspect, among pro-tour players.

Bear with me.

It is no secret to BJI readers that few people outside our bowling bubble comprehend the sport’s existing scoring system. Bowling never will attract the outside spectators it needs to become an Olympic sport until the math gets simpler and the pace of play gets faster.

Well-meaning and experienced people have tried.

In 2009, Johnny Petraglia developed a low-score-wins system that eschewed pinfall and instead calculated score according to the number of shots required to clear the pin deck each frame. A strike counted as 1 point, a spare 2, and so on.

Seeking “to aid spectator understanding of the sport and [increase] viewership,” World Bowling rolled out its “Current Frame Scoring System” in 2016. It awarded 30 pins for a strike and 10 pins for a spare plus the pinfall of the first shot in the frame and actual pinfall after two shots in an open frame.

The format featured on the PBA Clash show on Dec. 23 was audacious in its simplicity — a series of one-ball elimination rounds culminating in a traditional game between the remaining two bowlers for the big check.

At a time when anyone walking the street knows a touchdown counts as six points plus the extra kick if it’s good but almost no one outside bowling knows that a strike counts for 10 pins plus the next two shots, the Clash show featured just the kind of plain-and-simple scoring system a non-bowler easily can process. One ball. Lowest pin-count each round goes home. Easy.

The format quickened the pace of play, simplified the math, and kept the crowd at the Kegel Training Center (I was there) engaged throughout. The lightning-paced, hyper-elimination show provided the perfect way for the PBA to make its debut on FOX.

Was it a coincidence that it also happened to generate the largest viewership for a pro-bowling telecast in 13 years? Maybe. But one thing’s for sure: A world in which smartphones and Instagram feeds and the latest Netflix hit engage in unending warfare for a given consumer’s attention is a world in which the traditional stepladder finals format has become a slow dinosaur in televised sports.

I am not suggesting that PBA Tour titles be awarded by one-ball elimination contests, but I am suggesting that the way PBA Tour champions have been determined for at least the past half-century may not be the ideal way to determine PBA Tour champions in the 21st century.

BJI Editor Gianmarc Manzione's "From the Editor" column appears each month in Bowlers Journal International. To subscribe now for much more of the industry's best coverage of bowling news and incisive instructional tips and analysis, go here: https://www.bowlersjournal.com/bowlers-journal-subscriptions/

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