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Is Bowls a Spectator Sport?

MARCH 2013 edition

I would be the first to admit that I am not a great watcher of our fine sport and I guess I should apologise for that. I used to; indeed, thatโ€™s how I learnt and dreamt of better things. I wonder if itโ€™s because I see so much of it when officiating? What about the rest of you? Do you enjoy watching and supporting this sport?

There has been much discussion about the lack of spectators, the loss of tournaments and indeed the changing of rules and formats to make the game more attractive to the viewing public.

The number of different formats in the sport has become quite daunting. Itโ€™s hard enough for us poor old umpires to keep up with the multitude of rules in the game so what must it be like for people watching? How many ends are they playing? How many sets are there? Is the jack being re-spotted today or not? These, I am sure, are all questions that confused punters are asking each time they turn up to watch their beloved sport, and these people are usually seasoned proโ€™s that understand the game. What about the poor old novices and those that are channel hopping?

It has been well documented that the number of spectators at the venues has declined over the last few years and this is clearly evident at the national championships indoors and out. I can remember officiating at the finals of the Middleton Cup and the national singles competitions โ€“ the โ€˜Blue Ribandโ€™ events at Worthing. I struggled to get to the green through the throngs of supporters when called for a measure. I remember the big stand on โ€˜Aโ€™ Green being full and I can remember straining to see the action through the crowds whilst visiting the ladiesโ€™ nationals at Leamington. As for a final of the Liberty Trophy indoor, well that was just a cauldron of noise and excitement! โ€“ Alas, it is a much different picture now.


But why? What has caused the decline? What must our national governing bodies do to reignite the passion in our sport and thus encourage more people to watch? There are too many questions that are causing a lot of head scratching. Many formats have been tried and tested and failed. Sets play obviously has its place for televised competitions but is far from popular at grass roots level. Mainstream TV companies are not interested in games that last for three hours with the most exciting part being the last end. We even have the Shot Clock now for the World Bowls Tour events, which was introduced to make the game more appealing to TV.

Using sets play at national championships has pretty much been binned. Even World Bowls has had to have a rethink and the recent World Bowls Championship in Adelaide, they reverted to a more traditional scoring system. Now the task of looking at the best format for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 has landed on some poor soulโ€™s desk โ€“ I donโ€™t envy that job.


So what will it take to get people to watch and enjoy bowls again? Thinking about the World Bowls Tour and the portable rink for a moment, a big discussion on the Julian Haines Bowls Forum centred on the creation of a better atmosphere, more noise, more interaction with the spectator, and even the serving of alcohol rink side โ€“ and why not? It hasnโ€™t done darts any harm and it would be no different to the halcyon days of the Waterloo championships that those of us who can remember enjoyed watching on prime time TV. One concept that will be interesting to keep an eye on in the future is Premier Threes, the brain child of Danny Brown and John Byrne. Premier Threes is a dynamic format of three bowls over three sets of three ends and if a tie-break is required then a one bowl shoot out determines the winner. This format is short and sharp and games last about 20 minutes. Will this encourage more people to watch some exciting games?

So do we really need to mess about with the rules and the format to get people to watch this great sport of ours? What are your thoughts? Are you a purist and like the traditional 21 up singles and 21 end team games or would you only watch if a more exciting format was introduced to liven the game up a bit? I would be interested to hear your thoughts via the magazine.

E-mail the editor: patrick.hulbert@keypublishing.com and he will forward it to me.