PORTLAND, Maine – In front of a national television audience, bowling captured the magic of big-time sports on Saturday.
Everything about the PBA Playoffs semifinals at Bayside Bowl screamed major sporting event. It was like being at an NFL playoff game in a tie game with the home team driving for the win – except for two straight hours.
The PBA Tour needs this. The players need this. And more importantly, bowling needs more of this.
The magic of Bayside Bowl is tough to replicate. The bowling fans are incredibly knowledgeable and they get it. They understand the moments. They know what’s at stake. And more importantly, they know how to have fun.
If this type of atmosphere can be replicated organically by fans in other cities, the sky is the limit for the PBA Tour. This is what sponsors want. This is what drives television viewers. This is what bowling needs.
“I hope when people watched that they said, ‘when is the PBA coming to my town because when they come I want to be there because that’s fun,’” PBA Commissioner and CEO Tom Clark said after the semifinals. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Some traditionalists and armchair quarterbacks despise what is happening to the PBA Tour. Much like two-handed bowling, it’s time to get on the bus or be left in the dust.
This is the new PBA Tour, and, make no mistake, the players love it.
“This was the loudest I’ve ever heard this place and that’s really saying something,” Bill O’Neill said shortly after beating Sean Rash to advance to the finals. “These people bring it, and they are great bowling fans. I hated to read all the negative comments on social media about these people. Frankly, none of those people know what they are talking about.”
The players get it. They understand bowling needs a boost in the arm to become relevant the way it was back in the good old days. They see the writing on the wall and they are ready to embrace it.
“We need to be a sport,” O’Neill said. “If we are going to be a sport and be considered a sport, this is what sports is and we should embrace it.”
The crowd’s energy at Bayside Bowl not only makes bowling exciting to watch that energy also transferred to the players as they competed.
You could see Kris Prather feeding off the energy when he kicked out a nine pin for a strike in his semifinal win against Anthony Simonsen. And you saw Simonsen capture the energy when he struck and offered a finger wag to Prather to tell him he wasn’t giving up.
O’Neill fed on that atmosphere and nearly shot a 300 game against Rash. If he had been able to finish it off, the roof may have blown right off the building.
The fans at Bayside Bowl have laid the groundwork for what the future of the PBA looks like. Now it’s up to fans in other cities to follow in their footsteps.
Bowling doesn’t just need it. Bowling has to have it.
Lucas Wiseman is the senior editor of FloBowling. He has covered bowling around the world for more than two decades. Follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Wiseman.