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Bowling is Re-Inventing Itself

Author: Jim Goodwin

Evolution is a slow process.

Our beloved game of bowling seems to be in an accelerated state of change in recent years . . . some might say even more so in recent months.

In the not so distant past, just a little more than a decade ago, the major groups that defined bowling were located in Arlington, Texas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Akron, Ohio; and Rockford, Illinois. Of course, I’m talking about the Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA), The American and Women’s International Bowling Congresses (ABC and WIBC) the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA), and the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA). Today, the only group that has remained relatively intact is BPAA; and although major changes have been made, like new leaders and a new HQ building, they still call Arlington their home. All of the others have made major moves. The ABC and WIBC merged to form the United States Bowling Congress, (USBC) which now shares the new Arlington building with BPAA; the formerly member-owned PBA was purchased by private owners and moved to Seattle and then more recently to Chicago. Unable to find a buyer, the PWBA ceased operation a decade ago.

When BPAA and USBC got together to purchase the new building at 621 Six Flags Drive in Arlington in 2010 which was labeled The International Bowling Campus,(IBC) the primary purpose was a culmination of years of planning toward industry unity. More giant steps were taken when the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame (IBMHF) was added to the project, and the International Training and Research Center (ITRC) soon followed in a beautiful facility connected to the IBC on its south side. More unity was accomplished when the IBC became home to some of bowling’s smaller groups, including Strike Ten Entertainment, (STE) the International Bowling Pro Shops and Instructors Association (IBPSIA), the Bowling Foundation(BF), the Billiard and Bowling Institute of America, (BBIA) the International Bowling Media Association, (IBMA) and the Bowling News Network, (BNN).

The one glaring omission so far has been the Professional Bowlers Association. Recently, when the PBA decided to close its Seattle office, there was talk of finally bringing that last big piece of the bowling alphabet puzzle under the IBC roof, but no agreement could be reached, and PBA decided to hang its shingle inside the Luby Publishing office (publishers of Bowlers Journal and Bowling Proprietor magazines) in Chicago.

In our view, industry unity will never be fully achieved and bowling’s potential will never be realized until the PBA, with both men’s and women’s tours, is a vital part of the IBC. From what we have been able to learn, the hang up in the recent negotiations was that they could not figure out how to make STE the sales entity for the PBA. It seems to us that if STE is charged with selling bowling, that the PBA would be a very attractive item for their sales menu. We hope that those involved can sit down face-to-face sometime in the near future to figure out how to make the PBA a part of the IBC.

When the IBC opened with much fanfare on January 25, 2010, many thought that bowling would skyrocket to growth and prosperity; others were more cautious and predicted growing pains that would take years to resolve. It seems the latter has proven to be the new reality, but even with the challenges, optimism is still abundant within the walls of the magnificent IBC, and throughout the industry.

One of the experiments that did not produce satisfactory results was the hiring of new Executive Directors for both BPAA and USBC from outside the industry. In 2009 just before the IBC officially opened, two very qualified and very well paid executives, coincidentally both from the Auto Racing industry, were brought in to ‘teach’ bowling how to thrive in the new high rev world of instant communication, unlimited entertainment, and worldwide social connection.

After four years, the BPAA and USBC Boards of Directors decided to pull the plug and change direction again, replacing them with two industry insiders. Now, we are off to the races again, but this time the leaders, due to their extensive knowledge of the sport and industry, were able to jump over the learning curve and hit the ground running. Part of getting off to a fast start has been the unpleasant task of further trimming the USBC and BPAA staff even more than in recent years. In September, more than a dozen jobs were eliminated. We are guessing, and I say guessing because no official details were shared, that leadership found ways to get the job done and be more efficient with fewer people; and we all know that the biggest expense for any business is payroll.

What’s next? We imagine that there is a new emphasis on working together, and the already stated priority of growing youth bowling will get even more attention. One example of shared services can be found in tournaments. BPAA has given their Tournament Committee a rest, and the Men’s and Women’s U. S. Open events and the revamped Family Tournament, now called the All American Family Tournament, will be operated by USBC.

Given the USBC adult tournament track record of recent years, some are a little concerned by this decision, but new people could and probably will produce better results. We are expecting the Hall of Fame Xtravaganza, operated by the IBMHF, to be the next event added to the new tournament model. With all of bowling’s challenges, we have confidence that BPAA’s Frank DeSocio (see interview in this issue) and USBC’s Chad Murphy are very capable of facing whatever comes along for bowling in the short and long term. They are both energetic and smart and their hearts have a genuine love for the game and the business. Their success will depend on their unique leadership skills, their ability to communicate to staff, media, and directly to members; and to their respective board of directors. God speed to them and to everyone else who will set bowling’s new course.

Published with permission from Stars & Strikes, America's Bowling Newsmagazine.

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