In Kansas City and Omaha, theaters were converted into bowling stadiums; in the other cities stadiums were built new, the total cost for construction and conversion coming to $14 million. Besides Sanford's own Bronco Bowl, the plushest are those in Fort Worth, Minneapolis and Detroit. Unable to find a home on top of Manhattan's Grand Central Station, where it had hoped to perch like a city pigeon, the New York team finally landed in a new stadium at Totowa, N.J.
Each of the 10 teams is made up of from seven to nine bowlers. The smallest salary paid any team member is about $6,000 for the six-month season; the average salary is about $10,000. Bowlers have a one-year contract, with a one-year option. The total nut per season for a club—including the team's travel expenses, living expenses on the road and upkeep of arenas—will come to about $250,000 a year. "If the Bronco Bowl is only half filled, I'll break even," Sanford said recently, looking happily around his more than half-filled (four-fifths) auditorium.
Owners like Sanford, whose auditoriums are connected with public lanes, are also counting on the influence of the pros to boom business in the lanes. "If the spectators don't bowl after seeing a match," says the ebullient Sanford, "they'll eat or play pool or something."
Not all the greatest names in the game have yet rushed into the NBL. At the player draft in Omaha, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Jackie Brandt ( Baltimore Oriole outfielder) were selected by various teams, but none accepted the offers. Don Carter, considered the smartest and best bowler in the country, reportedly turned down an offer of $50,000 a year. Since Carter's affiliation with Budweiser and the money that comes to him from exhibitions, tournament prizes, TV, endorsements and other sources have made him one of the richest athletes in the country, this was not surprising. "We couldn't come to terms with him," says Sanford, "but we're not at all hungry for name bowlers."
Among the big-name bowlers who have signed are Buzz Fazio (Packers), Tony Lindemann and Bud Horn (Cavaliers), Bill Bunetta (Bombers), Steve Nagy (Toros), Joe Joseph (Stars), Billy Golembiewski (Thunderbirds) and Jack Biondolillo (Broncos).
Commissioner Charles, a silver-haired man in glasses, believes the league will give a tremendous lift to all bowling. "Up to now," he says, "there have been only about 15 bowlers in America who could make a living just by bowling. Now there are something like 100. To make sure it's a success, we wanted bowlers with fan appeal as much as bowlers who can knock down pins. It's all in how you do it."
New league rules governing how-you-do-it provide new opportunities for suspense and team strategy. There are two ways a player can earn points for his team—by winning his individual match (worth one point) and by making "bonus" points. If a player bowls from 210 to 219 he gets one bonus point. If he bowls from 220 to 229 he gets two bonus points. A 300 game gives him 10 bonus points. The winner is the team that gets the greater total number of points, bonus and match. Suspense derives from the fact that a team can be way behind but can catch up if its anchor man has a hot streak and adds not only a match point but seven or eight bonus points to the team score. Total pinfall does not count unless the two teams are tied in total points.
Matches are divided into two halves, with five players from each team pitted against each other. They're called the leadoff man, the pressure man, the pivot man, the cleanup man and the anchor man. The first match, called a team match, is played on a team-rotation basis, though opposing players compete on a head-to-head basis (leadoff man vs. leadoff man, pivot against pivot, and so on). The second half pits player against player, each bowler bowling one complete game before his teammate bowls.
The trickiest innovation in the new league is the wild-card substitution rule. When a team is in trouble and a bowler is faced with a shot he is not too sure of, his captain may call in a specialist to roll for him. The most common wild-card substitution is calling in a left-hander for a right-hander when a couple of pins on the right side of the alley must be knocked down for a critical spare.
Because he was not in favor of making the league too lively, Commissioner Charles refused to sanction the hiring of such obvious wild-card prospects as a trick-shot artist who could roll seven balls down the alley simultaneously or a California chimpanzee who bowled with both hands. "We want the league to stand up on its own merits," says Charles.