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Championship Bowling Series

in down is the new up

Sports imitating esports imitating sports. BleacherReport swoons:

Say hello to the brand new PBA League!

PBA CEO Geoff Reiss and Commissioner Tom Clark have joined the likes of the MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA and started a PBA team concept, bringing back a legendary format first developed in the 1950s—PBA Teams.

This not just a bunch of teams thrown together; it’s about a brave new world and creating new excitement and interest.

Each team has its own geographic identity; is linked to major city or area. There are celebrity owners, uniquely designed team logos and t-shirts—all done with hopes of gaining exposure to new audiences, increasing attendance, viewership and of course sponsorships.

Oh, but it is just a bunch of teams thrown together.

I saw the opening broadcast Sunday, aired on ESPN, while having breakfast out. I nearly choked on some hash browns when I figured out just what exactly I was watching.

It seems professional bowling is repeating the Championship Gaming Series experiment.

They are feigning locality by simply slapping a city’s name on a neon-colored jersey, and selecting five warm bodies to fill them. With names like the Dallas Strikers, the Philadelphia Hitmen, the L.A. X, the Brooklyn Styles; most of these teams will never throw a single frame in the cities they’re said to represent. The exception is that the opening rounds were played in Allen Park, Michigan, a little ways out from Detroit, adopted home of the Motown Muscle, ‘owned’ by Detroit native Jerome Bettis.

The other three rounds are being played…somewhere, I guess, I really can’t find anything outlining where…and they will be taped and aired later. A few things are certain, they won’t be broadcast live, and they won’t be playing on any team’s ‘home turf.’ The next league broadcast they’re currently plugging on their site is the ‘Chris Paul League All-Stars’, it airs on Sunday…and it actually happened four weeks ago.

You read correctly earlier, they’re taking things a step further and replacing the whole ‘knowledgable but ultimately powerless GM figurehead’ role with actual celebrity figureheads. Tennis great Billie Jean King made headlines last week for lining up the league’s first trade with Bettis.

Would you really have me believe that fellow ‘team owners’ and comedians Chris Hardwick and Kevin Hart really scraped together the money to pay for any part of this, even the fifty-odd thousand dollars in base salary the players on each team are getting (collectively) to participate? Or would you have me believe that they’re in any way knowledgable about the bowling scene to the point that they’re helping make trade decisions?

Obviously, it’s a marketing play, just like the CGS was. Some wide-eyed finger-gunning third-five-hour-energy-this-morning account exec must have gotten a wild hair up their ass and excitedly blurted out ‘OMG TEAMS LIKE THE NFL’ in a brainstorming meeting; and here we are.

This will fail not because of the teams. It will fail, like the CGS did, because people don’t have time for inauthentic, manufactured bullshit whose sole purpose is to optimize key performance indicators, and pander to a mass market that increasingly doesn’t exist. People only have time for the real thing, and only the real things they like, because there’s so many likable real things out there that there’s no time for chintzy garbage.

Mostly though, people aren’t receptive to being told what they should like, at least not anymore. And that’s exactly what all the bloviating around this bowling league and the CGS boiled down to: that you should like it because it’s a thing you already maybe like, combined with mocked parts of another thing that a lot of people like, so you should like it. Are you excited? You should be.

The entire purpose of adopting a home town as a sports team is to play a lot of games there, and build a following there, so as to pull a crowd to sell tickets to, and so as to find companies who wish to advertise to your crowd and support your team and sport. That’s all there is to it; intro to the business of team sports, right there. This doesn’t change with the advent of television, or the jet, or the internet. People still live in towns, not in the cloud. People like attending events. People like supporting their home team, in their home city, with their friends.

There’s no corners to be cut on this formula; and that’s why this is extra bizarre. I don’t expect anyone in the bowling sphere to have known about the CGS enough to loudly throw the brakes on what is a carbon copy. I do expect people leading sports ventures to show more sense than their esports counterparts, though.