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Bowl Opinion - May 2015 by Jim Goodwin

By Jim Goodwin - Stars & Strikes Newsmagazine

lt's a New Dawn, lt's a New Day, lt's a New World for Bowling

Are we feeling good?

Do you ever take the time to sit back, relax, and reflect? We have been doing a lot of that recently, and it has become pretty clear that bowling is changing faster than most of us realize.

The traditional American model for bowling - league play, an occasional tournament, a nice little junior league on Saturday morning, sweepers, good open play on weekends and especially during poor weather - is DEAD.

Without a doubt, there are still many centers with a strong league base, but not many, and a large number of groups that may have been leagues in past years are now simply clubs; social gatherings that do not require or want official recognition or certification from the United States Bowling Congress; and they sure as heck don't want to make a long term commitment.

And the USBC is OK with that. Their focus is, and has been for quite some time, on quality rather than quantity. That may sound like an excuse to some, but it really isn't. If you were paying attention in our interview with USBC Executive Director Chad Murphy a few months ago, you noticed that he pointed out that 30 years of data shows certified league bowling on a downward trend; and rather than fight to return to the traditional model, they have chosen to focus on how to best serve the new model.

In doing research for a story about senior bowling recently, we learned from USBC's Terry Bigham that USBC membership is now about 1.69 million; and about 800,000 of those members are age 50 or over. But I wonder how many of this age group are former league bowlers? With 80 million American baby boomers out there, there must be tens of millions who have bowled competitively in league play at some point in their lives.

But the chances of getting them back into league play are close to zero. They still like bowling, they just don't want to marry it.

Thus, our leaders in Arlington have chosen to focus on building youth bowling. They want to create a whole new generation of bowlers that may someday respect the sport as much as they respect baseball because of little league baseball, or soccer, or golf. Pee Wee Football has pretty good numbers as well, but they have a huge problem because parents are more and more concerned about injury.

Olympic competition may or may not help, but regardless, there is a new effort to get bowling into the Olympics within the next decade. If it fails this time, I say it was never meant to be. We should know if bowling is on the short list this year for possible inclusion in 2024.

And if World Bowling and the other groups are successful, it is likely that bowling traditionalists will hardly recognize the sport on that level. It will be a shorter, simpler game that is faster paced with a totally dif- ferent scoring system. Again, if that is what it takes... as long as the integrity of competition is protected, go for it.


It is a fact that as the bowling business goes, so goes the sport. Some who live and breathe competitive bowling don't seem to understand this. Without successful bowling centers and the proprietors and manag- ers who run them, the sport would have no future at all.

Here is where bowling s changing more rapidly than we can ever remember. Smart proprietors everywhere are changing their business model to fit today's smart consumers. We read recently that even guys like Jamie Brooks are seeing the light. Brooks has been in the business since 1955; and he has been a very competitive bowler most of his life.

Brooks loves both the business and the sport more than anyone we have ever met; and at 80 years old, he is doing a multi-mil- lion dollar makeover of one of his centers to make it more of a Family Entertainment Center than a league based sport center.

Does that mean he is giving up on the sport? Absolutely not.

Brooks has known for a while that the FEC model is where a center needs to be these days to realize its full potential. There is much more profit in by-the-hour open play and corporate outings than there ever was or will be in competitive league bowling. The trick is to find a good balance by having both at the appropriate times, and Jamie will once again show others the way it should be done. Are there some FEC center operators who couldn't care less about the sport? Yes, but chances are, no one has talked to them about how they might introduce competitive bowl- ing into their business. It may take a gen- eration if USBC is successful with its youth programs.

Or it could happen faster if the folks who sell the sport take the time to understand and respect the business side of bowling. It can be done, and it will be done, because it is what it is in today's marketplace; and there is nothing wrong with that.

It's official - Texan Bill Lillard is now the all-time pinfall leader at the USBC Open Championship Tournament. Lillard passed the incredible Joe Norris last month to be- come the new USBC King of the Hill. And a better ambassador for bowling has never been born. What a class act he is, and has always been. Congratulations Mr. Lillard.

One final thought on the Traditional v. FEC type bowling centers - virtually all of the new centers being built these days fol- low the new FEC model; but there is more good news. A trend is getting started to in- clude bowling where we have not seen it before - with movie theaters. One very big movie company has already built a center with movies and bowling under the same roof; and has plans for several more. We will share more details in later issues.

Along those same lines, I have been doing a little writing for International Bowling Industry Magazine. Our long time friend David Garber is now the IBI Associate Publisher, and he asked me to look into a company in Norman, Oklahoma called Hey Day Entertainment. They opened in 2007 as an FEC without bowling; and after doing considerable research, they discovered that adding bowling was the answer to take the business to the next level. It is an incredible facility, and an amazing story. Check it out in the May issue of IBI.

Article was posted with permission from Stars & Strikes, America's Bowling Newsmagazine.

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