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by John Jowdy

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PWBA in Trouble

May 26 2003

How would you like to buy a potential gold mine - the Professional Women's Bowling Association - for say $3 million?   There are some golden nuggets to be found in this gold mine. Adler, Barrette, Dorin-Ballard, Terrell, Macpherson, Gaines, DiRupo, Kulick, Turner, Dorin-Lizzi, Duggan, Honeychurch, Gianotti-Block, Daniel, Aalto, Daniels, Davidson, Ginaulias, Mackie, Mullen, Perez, Schmidt, Sill and the two Johnsons (Tish and Liz) and two Normans (Carol and Brenda).   And that's only in the first mine shaft.   The current PWBA assets at this point in time are a dedicated staff, seven live 90-minute telecasts on the ESPN network and five taped shows on ESPN2 and about $1.3 million in revenue this year.  Only one problem, owner and chairman of the board John Sommer is running out of cash.

I ran into a distraught John Sommer at the Women's International Bowling Congress Convention in Reno April 14.  I have known and admired Sommer for about 20 years. To me he was a man who was calm, cool and collected even in a press cooker.  In Reno I found him to be a fretful and worried man who may be forced to abandon something he deeply believes in and loves — the Professional Women's Bowling Association.   He has poured more than $4 million into keeping the PWBA afloat since 1980 but now Sommer admits he's about to run out of cash.  "I'm hurting for cash flow right now, we're going to wind up about $500,000 short this year," Sommer said Thursday from the PWBA office in Rockford, Ill.  "I think we can break even next year and should make money in 2005. "But I must renew my cash flow by mid-June or I may have to shut down the tour," Sommer lamented. "I hate that thought, I can't sleep at night worrying about the possibility. Or if not shut down the tour, or at least possibly cut the TV shows.  "We've got to find a way to save the tour, it's good for the entire bowling industry."

I agree wholeheartedly and in my opinion without a healthy PWBA there is no way that high school and even collegiate bowling will continue to grow and thrive. The elite young female bowlers of America deserve a viable women's pro tour.

Off the top of my head here are a few suggestions about potential buyers:

1. The Women's International Bowling Congress already is a key sponsor on the PWBA telecasts. Just think what could happen if the WIBC bought the PWBA and used all of its TV exposure to make sure female bowlers remained faithful to the WIBC no matter what happens in the single-membership campaign.

2. The American Bowling Congress. If the single-membership proposal doesn't come to fruition in some shape or form, then the ABC could buy the PWBA and use its TV shows to urge all female league bowlers to purchase ABC membership cards. It could be a trump card for the ABC.

3. The Professional Bowlers Association. For years there has been talk about the old PBA and now the new PBA purchasing the PWBA tour and its TV contract with ESPN. There's no question that the PBA knows how to salvage a sinking ship and then how to market its saved product, The only possible drawback to PBA ownership is the possibility that the women pros might wind up taking a back seat even to the the PBA Senior tour.

4. The ESPN network. For almost 17 years, the women pro bowlers have been the most watched women's sports show on ESPN. If ESPN owned all or part of the PWBA tour, then the $50,000 to $40,000 production costs for each TV tournament would be drastically reduced. ESPN easily could recoup its investments through more commercial sponsors.

5. Some rich proprietors from the Bowling Proprietors Association of America can come to the rescue of the women pro bowlers in their hour of distress. AMF made an overture to buy the PWBA tour in the late 1990s, but nothing came of it.

6. Some lucrative casino-hotel-bowling center/chain in either Las Vegas or Reno should purchase the PWBA and present the winning gambling/bowling quiniela to the world. There's no question that the PBA tour put the Showboat Hotel on the world gambling/bowling map and the PWBA tour did the same for Sam's Town just down Boulder Highway. Imagine what the PWBA tour could do for say a chain that features bowling centers in its hotel/casino properties.

7. Bowling ball companies could roll a winning financial strike for the PWBA. There is a rumor out there that one of the tours could turn into a one-manufacturer tour if the bowling company could come up with big-time money to be the umbrella sponsor. Just think what the bowling ball companies could do with their ever changing products with their own PWBA tour and all those telecasts.

"What we desperately need is about $700,000 in new sponsor money or someone or some company that can come up with at least $1.6 million to buy half the tour and earn a percentage of the profits.  "I'm at wits end, I have already sold one of my bowling centers in order to keep the tour afloat. It's not fair to my wife, children and grandchildren to keep plunging into more red ink. If it was just me, I would charge ahead and sell another bowling center, but I said that wouldn't be fair to my family."

Hopefully, Strike Ten could step up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning and save the PWBA from striking out. Some poor advice by the old Strike Ten Entertainment group headed by then CEO Steve Ryan got the PWBA into a big-time financial bind in the first place back in the late 1990s. The new Strike Ten under Frank DeSocio has been moving mountains and has helped add Pepsi and Miller to the PWBA sponsorship list. Hopefully they can sell even more sponsors for the PWBA tour in the very near future. 

I covered the very first professional women's bowling association tournament in Miami way back in 1960.
I hope I haven't covered my last.