Pro Bowling's 'It Girl'
Topic Introduction to Marketing
Key Words Sports marketing, professional bowling
InfoTrac Reference A131014072
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News Story 

From its heyday back in the 1970s to its near extinction as a spectator sport in the 1990s, professional bowling has seen both the palace and the gutter. The hushed solemnity of ABC's regular pro-bowling coverage during the '70s affirmed the traditionally working-class sport and made it appear almost dignified. Less than two decades later, the 1996 Farrelly Brothers film "Kingpin" exposed bowling's kitschy underbelly and poked fun at its flagrant squareness.

Today bowling is making a comeback. A group of retired Microsoft executives purchased the Pro Bowlers Association (PBA) for $5 million, and the leisure sport has since locked up televised coverage on ESPN and garnered support from key sponsors including Denny's, Odor-Eaters, and Miller Lite. In addition, the National Federation of State High School Associations claims that bowling is the fastest growing sport on high-school campuses, and popular clothing fashions pay nostalgic homage to the iconic polyester bowling shirt--nametag and all.

Like other competitive sports, pro bowling has its superstars--and they aren't all men anymore. Just as professional golf has its Annika Sorenstam, and NASCAR its Danica Patrick, pro bowling may have found its premier superwoman of the game: Liz Johnson. The 5'7" bowler from Cheektowaga, New York is the latest female pro athlete to prove that she can play with the boys. At the PBA's recent Banquet Open, Johnson knocked out four men--including Chris Barnes, who is No. 2 on the PBA points list--to become the first woman to reach a championship round since the PBA began in 1958. During the ESPN live broadcast, Johnson rolled a 235 to beat Wes Malott before losing 219-192 to Tommy Jones.

For certain, the recent Banquet Open was a new milestone for the 30-year-old female bowler--and for bowling itself. For Johnson, continued success in male-dominated PBA tournaments could bring lasting fame. For professional bowling, Johnson's success could bring greater interest to a sport that has occasionally lost the public's attention.


Do you think the introduction of women into traditionally male sports leagues is good for sports marketing? Why or why not?

Source Yi-Wyn Yen, "Do Balls Matter? Get your mind out of the gutter: One woman proves she can bowl with boys," Sports Illustrated, April 4, 2005 v102 i14 p14
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