The Federation of Professional Athletes, a member of the AFL-CIO, has announced the formation of an organization sure to warm Sylvester Stallone's heart: the Committee to Organize Professional Boxers in the U.S. Pointing out that boxing, unlike other major sports, has no pension program, health plan or benefits package, the federation says its new union will give boxers "a say in their own destiny."
We say it's about time—and predict that a pugilistic picket line will be one no one's going to cross.
As another season of the pro bowlers' tour gets rolling this week, the sport is gaunt and sickly beneath its oversized shirt. Bowling is still a hugely popular sport, played by more than 80 million Americans. But the number of league-registered bowlers has declined steadily over the past 15 years, high rents and low profits have forced hundreds of bowling centers out of business, and now the tour, the Professional Bowlers Association's showcase and a weekend TV fixture since the 1950s, is veering toward the gutter.
ABC has aired the tour for 33 straight years. Though the network renewed its contract with the PBA for 1995, it did so at a drastically reduced rights fee—$700,000 for 14 tournaments, rather than the $3.52 million for 24 tournaments it paid under its previous deal. Meanwhile the tour, which depends on the willingness of title sponsors to pay grandly for ad time and exposure on its broadcasts, has failed to find corporate backing for two of its 15 winter events. The sport's crown jewel, the Tournament of Champions, recently had to find its third sponsor in as many years. And True Value just ended its 12-year affiliation with the tour. The drought in sponsorship dollars has reduced purses, which, in tandem with steeper entry fees, has led many bowlers to cut back their participation or retire.
"Ratings aren't a problem," says ABC senior vice president Dennis Lewin, who points out that bowling still dominates its Saturday time slot. "Revenues are." The sport survived a lean summer tour, aired by ESPN, during which only two of eight events attracted title sponsors. (There's nothing so great about the Greater Wabash Open: the name simply means no sponsor has anted up the money to call it the Waddle Widget Wabash Open.) PBA commissioner Mike Connor is trying to get the bowling industry to consider each tour telecast a 90-minute promo for the sport and agree to sponsor it, just as golf-equipment manufacturers support their game. But much of the industry has balked, perhaps because it's busy enough trying to keep the bowling center from going the way of the drive-in theater.
Connor has already cut staff, eliminated events and resorted to such fanciful innovations as last year's staging of the Split Fire Spark Plug Open on temporary lanes in the Erie (Pa.) Civic Center, where some 4,200 raucous fans watched the final. This season at least five tour finals will be held at similar sites. SplitFire was delighted by the change of venue. "It was like being at a hockey game," says one company executive. Of course, given the recent state of hockey, that may not be the most auspicious analogy.
Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain went at it again on Sunday, mano a mano, John Hancock a John Hancock, in the shadow of the John Hancock—Tower, that is—in Boston. The occasion was a memorabilia show at Boston College High, where they signed autographs at tables separated only by a yellow curtain. But while Wilt's signature went for a minimum of $75, depending on the object being signed, Russell, who is notorious for refusing to take up a pen, commanded $295 to $995 per and raked in about $150,000, of which he reportedly received "the largest chunk." Not bad for four hours', ahem, work.
We can hear the Russell cackle from here. Russ gets the better of Wilt. Again.