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Note: The initial information in this blog on the Lumber Liquidators sponsorship time frame was incorrect.

The uncertain future of the PBA may be getting even more uncertain.

Bowlers Journal International reported on its website Thursday that Chris Peters, one of the three tech titans who acquired the PBA as it was on the verge of bankruptcy a decade ago, is scaling back his involvement.

"Chris does not want to continue to participate at the levels he has in the past," PBA Commissioner Fred Schreyer told BJI. "It's likely he won't play the same role going forward, and won't participate in future financing rounds."

It's no secret that Peters and partners Rob Glaser and Mike Slade have poured tens of millions of dollars into the PBA over the past decade without being able to turn the league into a money-making enterprise.

Schreyer told BJI the PBA has turned a profit in only one fiscal year in that time, and this season lost sponsors H&R Block, CLR, Edward Jones and Flomax amid the worst economy since the 1930s.

Glaser and Slade remain committed and the PBA is not going under, Schreyer told BJI. Further details are in BJI's story.

But the rumor mill has been on overdrive for quite some time regarding the future of the PBA.

You may have heard that the PBA is going to fold, that USBC or BPAA is going to buy it, that there will be just half a tour in 2010-11, and that the Tour will have nothing but open tournaments next season.

At least some answers will be forthcoming Wednesday, according to BJI, which said that was the day PBA would meet with the players on Tour.

The PBA has made it clear in the last couple of years -- most notably with the World Series of Bowling -- that its bottom line literally is its bottom line. (There has been talk of a 2010-11 World Series being held in September, possibly in Las Vegas.)

And what happens in 2010-11 can't be known until that bottom line is clear. And that bottom line can't be clear until companies are in better position to decide what they might spend on advertising and sponsorships.

ESPN has made it clear that it wants professional bowling on TV -- on its terms, which means PBA pays to produce its own broadcasts and compensates ESPN, which has a stake in PBA, (remember when ABC paid PBA millions in rights fees? -- those days are long gone for small sports) and then attempts to sell ads and sponsorships to cover its costs. And on Sunday afternoons in the fall and winter against the NFL, where PBA gets better ratings than anything else has gotten there.

The PBA got some good news in January when it announced a renewed and expanded deal with Bayer.

But a big key is having a title sponsor. The deal with Lumber Liquidators runs through only 2010-11.

The half-season scenario sources have sketched out would have no "real" tournaments in the fall of 2010, although special things like the GEICO Team Shootout could air.

Then there would be perhaps a dozen tournaments in early 2011, including the major championships and top-of-the-line tournaments like the Dick Weber Open. It's also possible that some of the tourneys may  be telecast on PBA's Xtra Frame webcasting service.

Presumably, that schedule, which would mostly or completely avoid the NFL, would be an easier sell to sponsors.

One sticking point is that there will be a core of players who have earned exemptions and the PBA may have some commitment there that it legally must fulfill.

One rumor has the PBA running open field events with the exempt players guaranteed their minimum checks even if they don't finish in the cashing portion of an event. Another is the PBA will simply pay those players off the value of their exemptions.

The economy has dealt a blow to just about every sport. The LPGA, for example, has lost so many sponsors that the schedule its running in 2010 almost can't be called a Tour. Even the mighty NFL has seen places like Jacksonville fall far short of capacity in ticket sales, resulting in local TV blackouts.

One thing I don't worry about is the complete disappearance of professional bowling.

One bowling industry figure told me there's no way BPAA would let pro bowling disappear from TV. That person said BPAA has a plan to put on tournaments should the current PBA ownership give up. Of course, first prize might not be near the current $25,000 for standard events.

But I have little doubt there will always be a PBA in some form.

And that includes the Regional Tour, which has been in the black and does a lot to generate grassroots interest in top-level bowling.

The Senior Tour I am less sure about, which is sad for me since I'll turn 50 in July 2012.

BJI reported Thursday that PBA will meet with the players next Wednesday to outline its plans for the 2010-11 season. So stay tuned.

 

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