Will Kulick attract new fans, sponsors?

By Lyle Zikes

MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, the PBA finally got the break it has needed.

Making every effort to amplify the Kelly Kulick publicity surge, the PBA is counting on coverage from the mainstream media since her Tournament of Champions victory to both expand and intensify interest in the sport.

More than providing just a temporary publicity blitz, there is great potential from her triumph being the symbol of a societal shift. In the eyes of many, Kulick’s performance repositions pro bowling from a dingy, largely forgotten pastime to a new-age sport championing egalitarianism and gender fairness.

The PBA is not on the verge of giving the NFL a run for its money regarding ratings and TV rights fees. But it now becomes likely that bowling could develop a bigger and more motivated following because a significant share of the population looks favorably on a sport that offers women a chance to compete against and beat the best of either gender.

From a marketing standpoint, that stands to be a real game-changer.

While most believe momentum has turned in the PBA’s favor through Kulick’s performance, there remain critics who firmly believe bowling will suffer in the long term because, “If a woman can beat a top male, it’s not a sport.”

Well, the dictionary definition of “sport” makes no such gender assertion. Furthermore, although there undoubtedly is a percentage of the male population who find rigid gender designations essential to their understanding of the world, their influence has long been on the wane.

That said, it still would be unfair to chalk up the concern expressed on this issue strictly to male chauvinism. Some of it comes from a firm belief that unless bowling somehow manages to recreate the type of challenge that it offered a few decades ago, it never will thrive at that level again. From that perspective, focusing on the women’s theme ― even if it proves to be comparatively successful for a couple years ― would only distract from the real reform the sport needs.

The upcoming GEICO Mark Roth Plastic Ball Tournament at least provides those who yearn for the days of yesteryear one event to embrace. But to see how Kulick would fare under such conditions, she’d have to succeed in the Tour Qualifying Round first. Her two-year exemption does not kick in until the 2010-11 season.

Finally, under the heading of “Unintended Consequences,” there is concern that Kulick’s success might diminish the importance of tournaments exclusive to women. Will the USBC-sponsored PBA Women’s Series ― presuming it’s renewed for next season ― suffer because its most recognized player has, in a sense, graduated to something bigger and better?

That’s an issue for another day. Right now, the PBA is in a unique position to attract an influx of new fans and sponsors. Let it seize the opportunity.