Portland rolls out the red carpet for pro bowlers
PORTLAND — The big rollers are coming to town, courtesy of the Professional Bowlers Association, and Charlie Mitchell is ready for them.
"We always knew (Bayside Bowl) was special, but to have the PBA understand that is a very nice feeling," Mitchell, the bowling center manager, said last week as Bayside Bowl was preparing to host five days of events showcasing the best bowlers in the world.
Beginning with a pro-am event Thursday night, the bowling center at 58 Alder St. will be the scene of a unique tour all-star event, followed by a singles tournament, all to be broadcast digitally and on cable by ESPN.
PBA Commissioner Tom Clark said Bayside Bowl is ideally suited to show how the sport is changing and reaching a new generation of bowlers.
"The leagues that take part there have a great demographic," Clark said March 20. "People enjoying the game they might not even know it, but what they are doing is cutting edge."
Initial discussions last year centered on bringing a full tour event to the city, with Spare Time Portland on Riverside Street and Easy Day in South Portland possibly hosting qualifying rounds.
Instead, Bayside will first host a two-day team event with 40 professional bowlers split into eight teams of five and competing for a $250,000 prize purse. Included in the field is Jason Belmonte, the top-ranked bowler in the world and leader in PBA point standings.
The four-session, two-day event is sold out; Mitchell said the 200 tickets for each day were gone before he even needed to advertise, but each session will be rebroadcast on ESPN over several Sunday afternoons.
"It is always frustrating to have to turn people away, but it is exciting it sold out so quickly,” Mitchell said. "We could have doubled the ticket sales based on emails, phone calls coming in and the league members.”
Clark said each team will have a rooting section guaranteed.
"(Bayside) had a very creative idea – when someone bought a ticket, they were assigned a team," he said. "We are shooting for one of the most electric atmospheres a PBA event has ever had.”
The team event will use two lanes, which will be stripped and re-oiled to professional standards, then surrounded by fans on bleachers on one side and standing on the other.
Clark said Bayside exemplifies a new approach to the sport. "It is the kind of atmosphere nationwide audience needs to see," he said.
A singles tournament featuring 64 PBA bowlers on Monday, March 30, and Tuesday, March 31, is free, but space is very very limited because all of Bayside's lanes will be in use, Mitchell said.
The singles tournament will be streamed live on the PBA's Xtra Frame service.
While Clark and Mitchell worked on tour logistics and ticket sales, Shamrock Sports & Entertainment President Brian Corcoran, lined up sponsors, including Shipyard Brewing, the accounting firm MacPage, the law firm Verrill & Dana, IT contractors Pro Search, and the Maine Office of Tourism.
"I think it was challenging to really educate sponsors on why this is not only good for them, but good for Maine,” he said.
Corcoran said he expects an economic impact of $1.5 million when considering hotel rooms, meals, shopping and other spending by visiting pros, their families, TV crews, and people coming to town to watch the event.
The ESPN broadcasts will also feature shots of Portland and Maine.
"It will be a walking, talking billboard of our state," Corcoran said.
Corcoran said he dreams of a wider event covering more of the state next year.
“We need to get it right this year, then the challenge is how do we grow this for next year," he said.
Mitchell said there is another perk: a taped segment with local league bowlers squaring off against the pros.
“I get to bowl one frame against Pete Weber,” he said.