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Bowling Popularity, Originally Posted: 1/3/2012; Updated: 8/22/2023
continues our series of Editorial articles with examination of bowling popularity. For many years, we have heard that bowling is the World's Number One participatory sport so let's take a closer look at some insight into bowling popularity.

Bowling is certainly a very high participatory sport of any athletic endeavor in the world. With emergence of new bowling centers in parts of the country and around the world, bowling is experiencing a boost once again popularity. Bowling is already a medal sport in the Asian and Commonwealth games and is expected to gain further recognition as a medal sport in the future. Bowling has always been a popular activity; the industry is constantly working to the goal of bowling become an Olympic Sport.

At the summer games in Seoul and Barcelona, international competitions of the world's best players took place in Atlanta, athletes from all over the globe sought relaxation and enjoyment in the Olympic Village's bowling center. Bowling is played in more than 80 countries located in all five Olympic Zones. With more than 100 million participants, 10 million competitors and 250 thousand bowling lanes it is one of the largest and best organized sports in the world.

Bowling is an event included in the following international and regional championships: Pan American Games; Asian Games; World Games; Commonwealth Games,. Central and South American Games; Caribbean Games, Bolivian Games, South East and Far East Asian Games; Maccabiah Games; Masters Games, Solidarity Games, and Ciss Games.

Bowling has a rich sporting history dating back to ancient Egypt in 5200 B.C. It was an Exhibition Sport in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. In 1992 and 1996, a modern bowling facility was installed in the Athletes' Village at Barcelona and Atlanta where champion bowlers conducted exhibitions, competed, and offered instructional sessions for the benefit of Olympic athletes. Bowling supports and observes Olympic ideals.

Bowling's universal popularity can be attributed to the following:

- 100,000,000 plus participants

- 10,000,000 competitors

- 13,000 bowling centers

- 250,000 bowling lanes

- 250,000,000 annual exposures

- $6,000,000,000 annual industry

- Proven television track record

- Arena venues

- 40% - 50% Women competitors

- Many women outscore men on identical lane conditions

- Mental and physical precision

- Exceptional hand/eye coordination

For many years, the debate whether bowling is a recreation or a sport, or perhaps both, has raised interesting perspectives on the subject. In my opinion, bowling is both a recreational and a sport endeavor and its popularity is shared by all participants.

Academically, we can presume bowling fits the definition of a sport. It’s an organized physical activity with membership, rules and regulations, and tiers of involvement. As with other sports, those who practice, stay in shape and master the finer points of the game have a distinct advantage over the casual performers.

Flexibility, balance, coordination and strength are key components to successful bowling. The majority of today’s top players have highly developed wrists, forearms and shoulders and very strong legs that enable them to generate mega-revs on the ball and sustain control and accuracy for extended periods of time. Having one's legs in good condition is a prerequisite of any successful competitive player who frequently participates in tournament events, as example, requiring many games of bowling as part of the event format.

Of course, many people still look at bowling as a social activity played by beverage-drinking, chain-smoking men and women who demand or are spoiled by easy lane conditions to post scores above their realistic skills and abilities. These same people certainly reserve the right to compete in typical bowling leagues where the season can last upwards of 33 weeks during the fall and winter bowling season. Having fun and enjoying the company of others along with the competitive aspect of trying to win the league regardless of the pace of overall scores has been a staple of bowling for decades of time.

USBC Sport Bowling is an optional membership level that presents the chance to experience a new challenge and satisfy a bowler’s competitive nature regardless of the bowler’s skill. Conducted on challenging lane conditions, Sport Bowling Leagues and Tournaments emphasize the bowler’s ability to deliver the bowling ball accurately and consistently, make necessary adjustments, read lanes, and convert spares — skills that will ultimately improve a bowler’s game. Today, Sport Bowling is recognized as the competitive standard in bowling. Almost every premier bowling tournament is rolled on Sport Bowling lane conditions. The USBC deserves a great deal of credit for advancing bowling as a sport with the advent of sanctioned leagues and tournaments.

Of course, tournaments of all types such as ones dedicated to amateur players, both handicap and scratch players alike, are abundant at all corners of the globe where competitive bowling is contested. The professional organizations around the world showcase the finest talent in players competing for prizes and monies. For many years, organizations such as the Professional Bowlers Association host numerous tournament events each year with many being televised nationally where players from around the world have the opportunity to emerge victorious and be called "World Champions."

Bowling is different things to different people, however, and to some, it is a relaxing form of recreation. Toddlers and other youngsters may be introduced to bowling by means of a birthday party or by Mom and Dad. Teenagers find the bowling center a great place for that first date. Husbands and wives use their weekly league sessions to spend quality time together. Men and women view their weekly leagues as time to hang out with the “boys” or “girls” while fueling their strong need to compete.

This aspect of bowling is widely referred to as "recreational" and has a tremendous participation and following around the world as evidenced by the fact that at its most basic roots, bowling is a game played by people ages 8 to 80 and perhaps beyond. As an indoor activity, it is not restricted by weather. Outside conditions often help drive people to the sport – away from winter’s blustery cold and from summer’s unbearable heat and humidity.

We must not overlook the growing impact of Youth Bowling. In addition to youth leagues, proprietors work to familiarize kids in schools that bowling in afternoon "glow bowling with music" sessions can be fun and also serve as a worthwhile social function, then work to convert them into youth league bowlers. Twenty years ago when bumper bowling first emerged, the industry and many proprietors looked at it as a fad. Well, this fad is still around and is still a source of entertainment for the kids as well as money-makers for the proprietors.

Another source of entertainment for the kids who enjoy the competitive aspects of bowling is demonstrated by the Junior Gold bowling qualifying events and championship events which also act as incentive to keep the youth bowlers in America keen to remain in the sport. Other programs and tournaments which have been successful through the years dedicated to promoting youth bowling are high school leagues, youth tournaments such as YABA, Pepsi Junior Championships, state and county youth tournaments, and other such tournament events, all of which have been vehicles to promulgate the sport of bowling.

What all of this leads us to is the conclusion that bowling is one of the oldest and most popular sports and recreations in the world. It is enjoyed by more than 100 million people in more than 100 countries worldwide. About 70 million people in the United States bowl at least once each year. Nearly 50 million bowl at least twice a year. About three million compete regularly in league and tournament play, about 80 percent of which is certified by the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) in Arlington, Texas, the sanctioning body for all of bowling which works closely with approximately 3,000 local associations who directly serve those members while working directly with staff at more than 3,000 bowling centers nationwide.

The industry recognized formally at the 2010 International Bowl Expo Trade Show that not only is bowling a sport, it is a recreation as well. After years of arguing that it had to be one or the other, it was apparent to the thousands in attendance at the Trade Show that bowling indeed is all of them together which certainly seemed okay to the experts in attendance. "We promote bowling as a sport, entertainment and business," Brunswick President of Bowling Products told the Bowling Writers' Association of America. It's all three."

When we consider the magnitude of bowling popularity we have to look at all these aspects of the game and conclude that if you are part of the bowling experience, you are part of something universal and lasting. Long live bowling!
Rich Carrubba

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