Kevin Dornberger voted Person of the Year by Bowlers Journal International

    12/13/11

    World News

    Focused on Bowling’s Visibility Issue; Is the WBT our sport's ticket to the Olympic Games? By Bob Johnson (Republished courtesy of BJI December 2011)

    First was the U.S. Women's Open, a Bowling Proprietors' Association of America event with its stepladder final round taking place at mammoth Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That event placed BPAA Executive Director Steve Johnson's name on the short list of those to be considered for BJI Person of the Year honors.

    Not long thereafter, promoter Gary Beck took the finals of his Teen Masters tournament to another high profile and unusual location: Grand Central Station in the heart of New York City. Both events generated plenty of buzz, mostly during the buildup for the U.S. Women's Open, and primarily concurrent with and just after the competition in the Teen Masters. So Beck joined Johnson as a Person of the Year candidate.

    And joining both of them was the corporate executive who green-lighted significant sponsorship dollars for both of those events: Ebonite International CEO Randy Schickert Also worthy of consideration was Stu Upson, Executive Director of the United States Bowling Congress, who managed to build USBC's reserves in a fiscal year that saw revenue actually decline.

    It was a sign that USBC's belt-tightening initiatives had been working. But when all was said and done, and BJI's editors sat down to make a very difficult choice, a fifth name ultimately stood out.

    2011BJIPersonOTYKevinDornbergerXXL.jpg It was that of a man who presently is wearing four hats on the global bowling scene: Kevin Dornberger.

    When the year began, Dornberger was donning just a single chapeau: that of President of the World Tenpin Bowling Assn. Then came the announcement that the WTBA would become the umbrella organization for the first-ever World Bowling Tour, and Dornberger had a second hat.

    When bowling's global leaders got together during the World Women's Championships in Hong Kong, historic legislation was passed requiring that the President of either the WTBA or the World Ninepin Bowling Assn. also be President of the group that leads the Olympic effort: the Federation Internationale des Quilleurs. Thus, a third hat was added.

    And finally, the WTBA also decided to make Dornberger its first-ever Chief Executive Officer, a move that completed his hat collection. It's one thing to wear a lot of hats. What really matters is how one wears them. And that's how Dornberger moved to the top of the list for BJI's 2011 Person of the Year honors.

    That of a piano player is not one of the hats that Kevin Dornberger is wearing these days as President of WTBA and FIQ.

    "The volume of my mail has increased considerably," Dornberger notes. "That has shown me how many opportunities we have as an organization to develop relationships with potential partners that I didn't even know we had before. There should be no communication gaps like we had in the past."

    WTBA and FIQ leaders have talked about developing a global tenpin circuit for as long as eight years. Their vision was a full-blown tour with all-new events and all-new sponsorships. "But when the economic downturn came about," Dornberger says, "that was just so much wishful thinking. It became clear to me that the World Bowling Tour should begin with existing events."

    That's exactly what happened in 2011, as eight tournaments — each offering a minimum of $100,000 in prize money — were linked under the WBT banner. Through Dornberger's work, that number will grow to at least 14 — plus a finals event — in 2013, bringing even greater visibility to high-level bowling.

    "We need the visibility desperately," Dornberger explains. "In discussions with members of the International Olympic Committee, that's our issue. Bowling is basically invisible to the outside world."

    Olympic fever tends to ebb and flow in the bowling world. Why is gaining Olympic recognition for bowling so important?

    "For one thing, it would put an end to the debate over whether bowling is a sport," Dornberger says. "If the IOC says you're a sport, you're a sport."

    And then there is the vast potential of the trickle-down effect. "If we're an Olympic sport, the funding issues for federations are basically solved. Olympic sports get substantial funding from the IOC; non-Olympic sports get virtually nothing. Put money in the hands of 115 federations, and there will be more training centers, more capital equipment sold and more bowling balls sold. It would benefit everybody in the sport."

    So, Dornberger focuses as much time as possible on developing and growing the World Bowling Tour, and says he has been pleasantly surprised by the progress.

    "Five of the 14 events [so far] in 2013 are new," he points out, "so not only has the tour tied together some existing events, but it has been an impetus to create new ones." Frankly, I don't understand why," he candidly adds. "There's still an economic crisis, bowling is still struggling to gain visibility, but I think people around the world have been looking for something positive for quite a while.

    "I think there are pockets in the world where there are opportunities to create bowling events. I think those pockets have laid dormant because there hasn't been much reason to spend money. Now, when there seems to be a purpose — leading to a future that's better than the present — there's a reason to promote. And, lo and behold, they're marshalling their forces and doing things."

    One example is the International Bowling Championship, supported by DHC, which is scheduled for Feb. 7-11 in Fukuoka, Japan. Organizers of that event have announced that its prize fund will be $350,000.

    "There are internal discussions under way that make me hopeful there's a possibility of obtaining global TV and global sponsorship in 2013, for rolling out in 2014," Dornberger says. "I'll know more about that in three to six months. But the point is: It's not a wish list anymore; it's a potential reality.

    "I've always felt that if you're going to aim for a goal, you'd better aim high." It's a trait shared by many great leaders throughout world history — not to mention numerous BJI Persons of the Year.