(Photo: Jimmy McIntyre)
Pro football, pro basketball, pro baseball, pro bowling. The last item on this list may seem like an odd choice, but there was once a time when professional bowling in the United States was a highly competitive, money-making sport that generated massive earnings for players. In the 1960s and 70s, professional bowlers were celebrities in a sport that was closely watched by millions of fans. Zachary Crockett has a lengthy and fascinating piece on the subject. He writes:
In the "golden era" of the 1960s and 70s, they made twice as much money as NFL stars, signed million dollar contracts, and were heralded as international celebrities. After each match, they’d be flanked by beautiful women who’d seen them bowl on television, or had read about them in Sports Illustrated.
Today, the glitz and glamour has faded. Pro bowlers supplement their careers with second jobs, like delivering sod, or working at a call center. They share Motel 6 rooms on tour to save on travel expenses, and thrive on the less-than-exciting dime of beef jerky sponsorships.
Don Carter, a star bowler during this golden age, was the first athlete in any sport to secure a milion dollar endorsement contract:
In 1964, “bowling legend” Don Carter was the first athlete in any sport to receive a $1 million endorsement deal ($7.6 million today). In return, bowling manufacturing company Ebonite got the rights to release the bowler’s signature model ball. At the time, the offer was 200x what professional golfer Arnold Palmer got for his endorsement with Wilson, and 100x what football star Joe Namath got from his deal with Schick razor. Additionally, Carter was already making $100,000 ($750,000) per year through tournaments, exhibitions, television appearances, and other endorsements, including Miller, Viceroys, and Wonder Bread.
Here is one of those commercials:
-via Glenn Reynolds