From ESPN SportsCenter to Sports Illustrated. From Jim Rome’s TV show to Norman Chad’s syndicated column. Mainstream sports media heavyweights have used time and space to re-tell the unforgettable story of the richest tournament in Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) history, the $1 million PBA Tournament of Champions (TOC), which concluded Saturday, Jan. 22, at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas. Native Finlander Mika Koivuniemi won the biggest first prize in PBA history ($250,000) when he defeated Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, MI, 269-207, for the title. The victory, and Koivuniemi’s remarkable, record-setting 299-100 semifinal win over Tom Daugherty of Wesley Chapel, FL, was historic on a number of levels. It marked the return of pro bowling to its longtime network home on ABC-TV after a 14-year absence, with the first-ever PBA telecast in high-definition garnering the largest audience of the 2010-11 Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour season (averaging more than 1.1 million viewers), plus a sold-out crowd including a “who’s who” of bowling industry leaders. In the wake of the telecast, Koivuniemi’s near-perfect game was re-visited as one of the “Top Plays of the Weekend” on ESPN’s SportsCenter while Daugherty’s 100 game made the show’s “Not Top 10 Plays of the Week.” Daugherty also was a guest on Scott Van Pelt’s ESPN Radio show, earned a mention in Sports Illustrated, The Jim Rome Show, a feature story on AOL’s FanHouse website among others. ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and ESPN’s Around the Horn personalities debated the tournament, while SportsCenter ran highlights for three days across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNews. Additionally, Norman Chad’s nationally-syndicated “Couch Slouch” column plus hundreds of daily newspapers, local radio stations and web sites all covered the PBA’s signature event. The PBA also showed growth in its digital media coverage of the tournament week. Its pba.com live scoring and multifaceted coverage generated an average of more than 40,000 unique visits per day (up from an average of 25, 000 per day for the previous month) with a peak of 77,750 unique visits for the final round of match play on Friday night. In January - including the PBA World Championship a week earlier - pba.com had nearly 3.5 million page views, including 692,650 on Friday, Jan. 21, alone. Additionally, 50 hours of live qualifying and match play round coverage of the TOC on pba.com’s “Xtra Frame” online video service resulted in a 15 percent increase in subscriptions from the start of the week. Dozens of critical games were webcast live on Xtra Frame including the final position round, but one of the key shots only Xtra Frame fans saw was a 7-10 split conversion by Andres Gomez that eventually helped him secure the fourth spot in the stepladder finals by 18 pins over Chris Barnes. Grammy-nominated “Bowling for Soup” made a “halftime show” appearance to perform its new single “S-S-S-Saturday.” In the wake of their performance, band manager Mike Swinford wrote to fans on Facebook: “You guys were so excited to download our new song you broke our BandPage.” The telecast also brought the return of Nelson Burton Jr., the long-time color analyst for Pro Bowlers Tour telecasts on ABC, to the broadcast team. The entire TOC production, including the PBA Hall of Fame ceremonies which capped the week, drew praise from PBA CEO and Commissioner Fred Schreyer. “Today truly was a great day for the PBA and bowling,” Schreyer said. “I don’t know where this show ranks in the history of the PBA Tour, but I easily can say it was the greatest show I have been associated with in my 10 years with the organization. Everything was spectacular, including Tom Daugherty’s 100, and we should all feel proud about what we accomplished. We demonstrated to the industry, and our television audience, how good bowling can be.” The telecast also was the first event in a new three-year relationship to air the TOC finals on ABC. “We are happy with the start of a new Tournament of Champions tradition on Saturday on ABC, and encouraged by the increase in viewers over the course of the show,” said PBA COO and Deputy Commissioner Tom Clark, noting an increase of 400,000 viewers from the first half hour to the pinnacle of 1.3 million viewers tuning in. “Moving extremely fast, we have already built an anxious audience for what will become appointment TV in coming years. The high-definition telecast produced stunning images and the electricity generated by the record-setting purse and packed Red Rock crowd created the perfect stage for the best players in the world. “The biggest NFL games of the year were played on Sunday, but because of the moments only our sport can create, the PBA was right there in water cooler discussions along with the NFL on Monday morning,” Clark added. “This unforgettable event and the resulting media attention gave us a great deal to build on. We are already looking forward to next year’s TOC on ABC, just like everyone else.” At the heart of the discussion in the wake of the tournament was the 299-100 match. Daugherty, a 35-year-old pro shop operator and four-time PBA Regional champion, was making his first television appearance. Conversely, Koivuniemi, who now owns three PBA major titles, was making his 31st career Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour television appearance. Daugherty, who had lead the field in average for 58 games (225.26), promptly left seven splits in 10 frames en route to his 100 game: the 2-8-10 in the first, 4-6-7-10 “big four” in the third, 4-6-7-9-10 “Greek church” in the fifth, 4-6-10 in the sixth, 3-4-6-7-10 in the eighth, 2-10 in the ninth and another “big four” in the 10th. Daugherty’s 100 shattered the previous PBA record for lowest game on television, a 129 bowled by Steve Jaros in the 1992 Brunswick Memorial World Open finals in Lake Zurich, IL. Meanwhile only a wobbling 10-pin left standing on his final ball prevented Koivuniemi from becoming the first PBA Tour player to roll two 300 games on national TV (his previous 300 came in 2003). The near perfect game reminded all bowling historians of the 299 bowled by Don Johnson at the 1970 Tournament of Champions. Koivuniemi’s resulting 199-pin margin of victory over Daugherty is a PBA record that likely will never be broken. Other notables from the finals: ● Daugherty finished third in the Tournament of Champions and earned $50,000 (Smallwood’s second-place finish netted him $100,000). In his only full-time season as a Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour exempt player (2005-06), Daugherty earned $43,600 for the entire 20-tournament campaign. ● Koivuniemi, who has lived in Hartland, MI, since 2002, won $250,000. During the 2003-04 season, when he won two titles and was selected as PBA Player of the Year, he earned a personal-best $238,590. ● For his 100 game, Daugherty earned $500 per pin. Koivuniemi, for his three-game 792 series, earned “only” $315.65 per pin. The next Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour event, the One A Day Earl Anthony Memorial at Earl Anthony's Dublin Bowl in Dublin, CA, will air live Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific on ESPN2.