"World News Tonight" proclaims that bowling is back... But was anybody watching?


    WBW News

    Republished courtesy of Bowlers Journal International

    The 4th of July edition of ABC-TV's "World News Tonight" concluded with a feature titled, "Spare Time," and dealt with "the revival of a sport" -- specifically, bowling.

    Substitute anchor Charles Gibson introduced the report by noting how bowling had "disappeared from network TV, and fallen off the face of sports pages" during the 1990s. He also noted that, unlike the past, "Nobody could name a big-time bowler." Bowling, he said, "came to have an image of burly guys in not-very-flattering shirts." Then in introducing reporter John Berman, he added: "But you can't keep a good sport down..."

    Berman began by noting that for generations, "the shirts, the shoes, the leagues were a celebrated part of American culture," and that through the 1970s, "Pro Bowlers Tour" pulled in huge ratings. But then came the decline of the 1980s that stretched into the early 1990s.

    During that time, said PBA President & CEO Steve Miller, "Clearly, [bowling] suffered from that historical perception: 'I'm big, I'm fat and I bowl.'"

    Berman described how bowling's TV ratings had tanked, and Miller, ever the quote machine, added, "I think bowling did die. I think the reality is that bowling went the way of the buffalo. The truth is, it didn't market itself, it didn't promote itself..."

    But Berman cited evidence of a revival for bowling, especially among young people. In reporting that is it the fastest-growing high school sport in the country, he cited the words of Grand Rapids, Mich., high school bowler Phil Dehann. Since the school team won the state championship, "Everyone is cool with it," Dehann said, indicating that the stigma associated with bowling had all but been extinguished.

    The piece also included comments from Chris Barnes and Brad Angelo, and concluded with a nod to Liz Johnson's performance in last season's PBA Banquet Open. Said reporter Berman: "Bowling is the sport for every man and, now, every woman."

    It was one of the most positive pieces about bowling ever aired on a network news broadcast.

    That's the good news. The bad news is that it aired on the 4th of July, when a vast majority of Americans were either grilling in their backyard, returning home from a long weekend, or headed to a local fireworks display -- in other words, not watching a network newscast.

    The message was clear and positive. Whether it resonates remains to be seen.