A Storm Is Brewing in the Bowling World

Dick Evans

EVERYWHERE YOU TURN, THE media are giving Bill Chrisman’s bowling ball company free plugs on radio and television and in newspapers. “There’s a storm brewing in the tropics,” says the meteorologist on The Weather Channel. “The Salt Lake City area is bracing for a winter storm,” says a Utah radio announcer. “Notre Dame stormed back in the final minutes to win the game,” writes a sports reporter in South Bend, Ind.

No doubt about it–Chrisman’s Storm Bowling has taken the bowling world by storm in the past 10 years. He didn’t do it with mirrors or tricks. Chrisman stormed on the scene in the old-fashioned American way: by combining hard work, a great product, an inspired imagination, a winning philosophy, and product recognition.

Back in 1991, Storm was trying to infiltrate a diminishing ball market that was dominated by the old standbys: Brunswick, AMF, Columbia, and Ebonite. Ten years later Storm–which only makes high-performance balls for elite bowlers–is the No. 2 bowling ball manufacturer in the world, trailing only Columbia, which makes balls for several companies and for any bowler.

“I don’t know how I could be more successful over a 10-year period than I have been,” Chrisman says. “I’ve been very lucky. I have hired good people. We have a great product, but still we have been lucky.”

Chrisman has carried a 200-plus league average for more than 25 years and was scheduled to become president of his local ABC association in Ogden, Utah, until he bought an eight-lane center in nearby Morgan in 1985. He lives by a code that permeates everything he does: “Never make promises you can’t keep. I have made everybody who works for me live by the same creed. I believe in integrity and honesty and doing what you say you are going to do. That’s how you achieve respect for a company, and that has a lot of do with the success of our company.”

Perhaps Chrisman’s bowling background is why he turned to the PBA’s Senior tour when he was trying to launch his company. “We decided to target the PBA Senior tour almost exclusively during our first three years in business because a lot of those guys are anywhere from bowling proprietors to operators of bowling shops. We gave away a lot of Storm bowling balls to the seniors, but it really paid off.”

Once he had his foot in the door, Chrisman made further headway in the industry with a number of marketing innovations:

Advertisements. “We have advertised in about every bowling publication at one time or another.”

Staff. “We have a worldwide amateur and professional staff of 70.” (The Storm ball staff includes superstar pros such as Pete Weber, Anne Marie Duggan, and Robert Smith, and world-recognized amateurs on three continents.)

Sponsorships. “We have been involved as a sponsor in all kinds of tournaments, from the Eliminator to the High Roller to the ABC Masters to the WIBC Senior Queens to the FIQ Seniors. We almost signed a deal to change the name of the National Bowling Stadium in Reno to the Storm Bowling Stadium.”

In other words, Bill Chrisman dares to be different–but not obviously so. “Some of the things I do are so subtle that I’m sure most people don’t notice them. I have a patent to put a fragrance in a Storm bowling ball, which everybody thinks is kind of weird or hokey. But I want a person who walks into a pro shop to ask, `What is that grape fragrance I smell?’ [and go] to the display and pick up a Storm bowling ball. We even have marketed bowling balls that look like soccer balls. Somebody must have liked them, since we sold over 14,000 bowling balls that a kid may have tried to kick if he saw one lying on a soccer field. I’ll do anything to get the name of Storm in front of the bowling public.”

Asked which strategy works best, Chrisman smiles again. “I can’t really tell you what works and what doesn’t. I can’t put my finger on one thing. I’ve done a lot of things I didn’t think would work in business, but when I got them into place they clicked. I guess it’s a combination of everything. My philosophy is that if people are talking about you, then you’re doing OK. If they quit talking about you, then you’ re in trouble.”

There’s no question that the word “storm” comes to mind all the time. As I write, I look outside the window and notice a storm is brewing. The wind is bending the trees and lightning is streaking across the sky, while thunder booms like a Storm bowling ball chalking up another strike.

One thing that alarms Chrisman is the fate of the Senior tour, which, after all, helped him launch his company. “The new owners of the PBA don’t appear too interested in the Senior tour,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to it.” Chrisman himself would consider taking over the tour if the PBA drops it, but that’s not his ideal situation: “To be honest, it’s not healthy for one company to take it over. But it could happen.”

Let the newest Storm rumors start to rumble. Bill Chrisman enjoys hearing people talk about Storm.

The new PBA is doing a lot of things right these days, but it’s still being haunted by a leftover problem: how to resolve the age-old controversy between righthanders and lefthanders.

First, take a look at what the PBA has done right in the past year:

* Eliminated the PBA school that was mandatory for new members and allowed old members to rejoin without paying another initiation fee.

* Signed a three-year deal with ESPN that includes live, 90-minute telecasts of every event and TV promos before each tournament, which should ensure higher ratings.

* Eliminated coaching during competition, making it more fair for rookies trying to beat tour stars who were able to get coaching from ball reps during competition.

* Announced a guaranteed first-place payoff of $40,000 in standard tournaments and $100,000 to $120,000 in the four majors. In addition, 64th-place finishers are guaranteed a $1,000 check, no matter how small the field.

* Selected a new format for standard tournaments that includes a nine-game qualifier for non-exempt players, a nine-game qualifying round to reduce the field from a maximum of 128 to 64, and another nine-game qualifier to reduce the field to 32. From there, tournaments will become sudden death, best-of-five-game thrillers (winners advance and losers go home) until the final match.

All of these points have been instrumental in a 20% growth in PBA membership in the past nine months. But then there’s the continually sticky lefty vs. righty feud that has intensified this year because south-paws have won six of nine tournaments. Things got really bad during the Tar Heel Open in Burlington, N.C., where five lefties–champion Ricky Ward, Jason Couch, Parker Bohn III, Mike Aulby, and Eric Forkel–made the TV show. What really makes this statistic alarming is that of the 116 bowlers in the field, only 10 were southpaws.

And what about the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, where the Masters was contested in June? For some strange reason, the stadium seems to favor lefthanders. Mike Aulby won the two previous Masters contested there, and fellow lefthander Dave Davis won the first Senior Masters held there. So what happened this year? Lefties made up almost half of the final 64 and three–Chris Hayden, Couch, and Bohn–made the TV show, with Bohn picking up his third victory of the abbreviated nine-event 2001 season.

Listen, there is no hanky-panky going on tour. No one is trying to make it easier for lefties to dominate. It’s my guess that three things should be taken into account:

* Dressing lanes is still more guesswork than exact science.

* Bohn, Couch, and Aulby are gifted bowlers who are very tough to beat.

* Since there are so many more righthanders than lefties out on tour, righthanders may be running into constantly changing lane conditions while lefthanders are benefiting from a more consistent lane condition from start to finish each day.

But all that could change as the PBA launches its 2001-02 season with not only a new format but a new lane-dressing policy that entails re-oiling the lanes using the sport condition between all bracket matches. Play at the National Bowling Stadium may be another story, of course, because every lefthander who bowls there feels elated while most righthanders feel dejected.

And make no mistake: Mental outlook plays a major role in bowling.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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