Bowling and Brawling, Thoughts For The Weekend…

We arrive in the middle of November and as NCAA hoops tips off and football hits its stride some thoughts…

Nice Try, Bowling: Even with its ESPN presence, bowling hasn’t had much of a wow factor in years. The latest try is professional team bowling, city vs. city, in addition to the traditional tour. The thought, like other individual sports have tried, is that casual fans may have an interest in rooting for the guys and women from their cities, or at least their teams. Ok, but how do you draw with it, or at least get some additional buzz? Celebrity owners who bowl. So the PBA announced that Chris Paul, Jerome Bettis,  Terrell Owens and Kris Hart have become “celebrity owners” of teams. All love bowling and have agreed to participate in promotions and other competitions to help the league. Nice idea, and the guys will probably have a nice equity stake if the thing takes off but… The PBA has tried lots of things…rivalries, outdoor bowling, different scoring, million dollar purses etc etc over the year. Not much has resonated in bringing in casual fans. Now professional teams have used bowling for charity events for years with great success, and inner-city bowling centers, built up in buildings, not out, have become reasonably successful in recent years.

Chasing celebrity is certainly worth a shot for the PBA. Bowling is a fun casual game which is probably under appreciated. Other sports who have tried teams and celebrity have never really succeeded, so there’s really no formula which would lead anyone to believe that thousands are going to start showing up in bowling centers to watch pro bowling or to follow “celebrities.” It hasn’t succeeded in sports from MMA to boxing to golf to volleyball, but if bowling can make a team concept work without great loss of dollars, great.

Does MMA Need A Hertz? This week the rumors got louder that Strikeforce, one of the best well run regional professional Mixed Martial Arts promotions; will fold their tent in January after a long run in the business. The company, based in Northern California, was purchased by Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC last year, and will now be the latest MMA brand acquired by the UFC to go out of business. Strikeforce follows Pride, the World Fighting Alliance and World Extreme Cagefighting as brands that were strong on their own, were absorbed into the UFC and then disappeared. It also comes at a time when the UFC has expanded even more into Asia and is now bringing Ronda Rousey, a Strikeforce champion in as their first ever female fighter, something UFC head Dana White had said for years would never happen (Female fighters in the UFC).

There are many who feel that the professional side of MMA in the U.S. will plateau without a competing promotion to drive interest. Yet others say like the NFL, there is no need for a major second promotion when the UFC fills the bill. Sure there are smaller regional promotions that do well but does the demise of Strikeforce mean that the market is a one trick pony now more than ever…UFC or nothing?

We shall find out more in the coming months when The Bellator Fighting Championships, easily the number two national promotion now, will push forward with their new deal on Spike TV, the network that helped make the UFC before the promotion departed for  FUEL. Bellator has made its name with a tournament style competition in mid-sized arenas and has worked hard to embrace all areas of MMA fandom. What will the market, sponsors and fans tell the sport through TV ratings, attendance and brands? Is the UFC enough or is there a national market for a competitor for the long haul. The late Jay Larkin, who ran Showtime’s boxing division when it was at its peak, always said the the Showtime/HBO rivalry was best for the sport of boxing, because it forced both companies to push the other to be successful. HBO was Avis, which drove Showtime like Hertz, using the metaphor from the car rental companies. Without that push, the industry and the competition become stale.

Will that be true for professional MMA? The fight really begins in January.