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Don Carter - Bowling's First Million-Dollar Man

In 1964, bowling great Don Carter inked a million-dollar deal with Ebonite, making him the first bowler -- and perhaps the first athlete in any sport -- to hit the magic mark.

By Kristen Scheuing
USBC Communications

Earlier this month, USBC Sport Bowling spokesperson Chris Barnes became the face of Columbia 300 as part of a $1 million eight-year deal. He joins an elite club of bowling's million-dollar dealers - a club that was founded nearly half a century ago.

In 1964, bowling legend Don Carter managed the unthinkable for a bowler -- or any athlete for that matter -- when he landed a $1 million endorsement deal with bowling manufacturer Ebonite. He was the first bowler to hit the magic mark, and far outpaced his contemporaries throughout the sports world.

Just four years before Carter's landmark agreement, the best that professional golfer Arnold Palmer's manager could muster for his client was a $5,000 per year "global" deal with Wilson sports. In 1968, Super Bowl quarterback Joe Namath famously shaved off his moustache with a Schick razor for a mere $10,000. Race car driver Richard Petty would become the first million-dollar driver, but not until 1971.

Carter's Ebonite deal launched the widely popular Don Carter Gyro-Balanced ball, but his own lucrative endorsement career was already on track. As early as 1959, Carter was grossing more than $100,000 a year through tournaments, exhibitions, TV matches, investments and endorsements for such products as Miller Lite, Viceroys, Palmolive Rapid Shave and Wonder Bread.

The charismatic Carter charmed sponsors and consumers, and his spokesperson clout was backed up on the lanes. He was voted the greatest bowler in history by a Bowling Magazine poll in 1970, the same year he was inducted into the Unites States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.

He was the first to win bowling's Grand Slam: the All-Star, World's Invitational, PBA National and the ABC Masters. Along the way, he racked up an impressive list of firsts.

In his nine All-Star Tournament appearances between 1952 and 1960, Carter won four times, once had to withdraw due to injury and never finished lower than fourth in the other four years. His record in the World's was even more astounding: five titles and one second-place finish in six years.

Millions of TV viewers were tuned in on Oct. 28, 1961, when Don Carter toppled the $18,000 6-7-8-10 jackpot pin arrangement on "Make that Spare." The fifteen-minute bowling program aired on ABC between Oct. 15, 1960 and Sept. 11, 1964. Carter was the first to spill the jackpot spare on the show.


  • First bowler to win every major tournament

  • First athlete to sign a $1 million promotional contract

  • First bowler to have a PBA tournament named for him

  • First bowler selected for the Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame

  • First active bowler to be named to the Billiard and Bowling Institute of America's Hall of Fame

  • First 800 series on TV (809) on "National Bowling Champions"

  • First to "Make That Spare" on network television.