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Youth Bowling Is The Future Of The Game continues our series of Editorial articles, youth bowling is the future of the game. Success with bowler development strategies by bowling center proprietors and management lies with a variety of youth programs and in youth participation. Proprietors fully realize that youth bowling is the future of the game but must work diligently, not sporadically, to attract kids to join youth programs and brand them as adult league bowlers of the future. The youth bowling groups today serve as feeding mechanisms into adult leagues so it is of vital interest to proprietors to work especially hard in getting kids into the centers and into organized programs on the lanes.
Although it is largely volunteer work on the part of adults interested in seeing youth bowling emerge, proprietors have a huge responsibility themselves in building effective programs to entice youngsters to the sport. Proprietors, in the opinion of this reporter, must also rely more on there own efforts to promote youth bowling and not entirely on volunteers. One idea is to ask proprietors to create incentives for volunteer workers or for their own staff members to profit if a new youth bowler joins an in-house program.

The efforts to grow the numbers of youth bowlers cannot and must not lie solely on volunteers to bring new business into the centers. Proprietors must also utilize the services of internal management team members to visit local school district officials, establish appointments in the schools. Presentations can be given to a body of prospective youth bowlers educating them on the value of socializing with kids their own ages in a competitive atmosphere. Invite them to join an organized bowling league where the love of a sport and friendships made can last a lifetime. Not all youngsters play basketball, baseball, football, soccer, golf or tennis. Bowling is a game where anyone can easily learn to bowl and can thereby mingle with friends in a social setting with adult supervision and for relatively inexpensive costs. Proprietors should not rely on outside entities such as USBC or PBAA to do their work but rather establish aggressive campaigns to promote youth bowling.
In addition to youth leagues, proprietors must also 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.
Proprietors must not rely on the USBC, however, to promote these programs and fill their centers with bowlers. One of the biggest challenges facing the youth bowling movement in the country today are chain operated bowling centers. These corporate owned and operated centers employ a "cookie-cutter" management strategies and typically operate with little promotional budgets. Merely establishing a time on Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons for youth leagues or youth programs and wait for volunteer adults to help fill spots with youth bowlers is not enough. Waiting for families to stumble upon a flyer sitting on a counter of the control desk advertising youth bowling is not what will attract kids to the game and permanently brand them for the future. A focused effort, much like political campaigns and community organizers, in taking the messages to the streets, to the schools, to the homes of kids in nearby vicinities must be done if bowling will ever attract much needed league membership.
Simple advertising schemes such as mass mailings of fliers to homeowners or to apartment dwellings or postings on concourse bulletin boards will not turn the tides of fortune for bowling businesses to flourish in tough economic times. Aggressive marketing strategies must be employed by proprietors. Raising money for charitable organizations through youth bowling programs and involving local law enforcement or fire department officials is one method of bringing community interest to the bowling centers.
When was the last time you saw a billboard on a busy roadside showing kids smiling and having fun bowling at a local bowling center. How about a cable TV commercial advertising the social benefits for kids to stay off the streets and join organized bowling programs. When was the last time you heard of an event where kids can bowl free one time, have lunch, and receive a discount coupon for the pro shop if they attend a promotional presentation about youth leagues.
When was the last time you tuned into the radio in your car and heard spot announcements about youth bowling programs and scholarships fundraisers through high school bowling programs. When you are preparing to begin your evening adult league session, how many times have you heard an announcement about youth programs with corresponding literature available to capture the interest of those adults with teenagers and communicate the benefits of youth bowling programs. When was the last time youth bowling presentations were administered to kick-off a new season at adult league meetings. How about also introducing the contact personnel at league meetings who can help gets kids enrolled in various programs. The point is that the proprietors need to get as aggressive as possible and not rely on 20th century advertising to promote youth bowling. Use of the internet websites with incentives for the kids to come in and bowl is another method which might attract renewed interest in the game with community youth. Social networks might be another scheme to promote youth bowling programs. A little imagination might go a long way to get our kids off of the streets.
The mechanism works as follows: youth leagues (once known as bantam leagues) where kids bowling in groups from ages 6 - 12 and can interact socially with peers of their own school grade levels begins the cycle, then youth leagues for teenagers 13 - 17, known as high school leagues, where kids can bowl as school representatives in competition with other schools, then collegiate programs with not only tournament competitions but also normal league competitions among college age bowlers, then adult league from ages 18 - 55, and then finally senior leagues ages 55 plus.
Once a child is branded as a youth bowler, then there is a great chance that child can remain a bowler for life. Would it not make sense for proprietors to emphasize promoting youth bowling with the objective of retaining the bowler for many years. When kids bowl in recreational, open-bowling sessions with friends instead of in organized youth programs, they may not return often to the bowling center.
The BPAA (Bowling Proprietors Association of America) has suggested that an adult league bowler represents approximately $500 per year revenue to the given bowling center. If a given proprietor would actively increase efforts to promote youth bowling programs, then by the time the youth bowlers join adult leagues, the scale has been moved upward regarding lifetime revenue streams. If that same bowler sticks around in the game as a senior bowler, even better for the proprietor. Of course, not all bowlers remain fixed as customers of one bowling center for a lifetime or even remain in the game for a lifetime, but the chances increase if a youth bowler enjoys the game by virtue of quality youth program exposure encountered during the formidable teenage years and then continues in the game as an adult league bowler.
The United States Bowling Congress (USBC) and the BPAA have merged efforts to develop youth bowling as a new entity known as the International Bowling Campus (IBC) and is now the official title of the unified Youth Department which is jointly run by USBC and the BPAA. If you see future reference to IBC youth bowling, it simply refers to the former USBC Youth leagues, tournaments and programs in conjunction with the bowling proprietors who now have influence in Youth programs.
Proprietors need to take the baton from the IBC and run with it, not sit back and wait for youth bowlers to walk in the door. After I personally interviewed a few bowling center employees including general managers in both corporate owned chain-center operations and at individual centers about what is being done currently to promote youth bowling, I was amazed at the lack of initiative, motivation, or budget allocations to seek improvement in youth bowling programs.
AMF and Brunswick are two leading bowling chains and many of these centers in the country today would be closing and if they could escape leases. Centers owning the land and building through these corporations struggle to maintain market share and remain profitable. In this tough economy, no banks will typically lend to prospective buyers on single use facilities, like restaurants, bowling centers, roller skating arenas, etc. The corporation, therefore, are forced to run skeleton crews and keep the doors open limited hours to try and remain afloat financially and pick up losses in revenues spread across the ledgers by more successful corporate run bowling centers.
This type of limited operations spell doom for promoting youth bowling. Might it not be a good idea to see corporations form district field promotional teams representing all the corporate centers in a given region and work at promoting youth bowling programs across the cities as opposed to doing little or virtually nothing?
Individual proprietors face their own challenges. If business slackens, then they raise prices and layoff personnel. Without field promotions, personnel getting out and developing community interest in bowling, the bowler count suffers correspondingly. Coupled with the fact that tough economic times means fewer bowlers bowl multiple leagues each week compared to past years and in better times, employee man-hour cuts deepen and less promotional monies are allocated for youth bowling. The net effect is that bowler count drops and insufficient bowler feeding mechanisms emerge.
Successful individual proprietors are always heard to be discussing how their promotions and field efforts are strong reasons why their centers do well. A tip of the cap to those proprietors who work diligently to promote their businesses and particularly the expansion of youth bowling - thanks for the solid efforts. It takes highly motivated people to be sole proprietors of bowling businesses in today's economy. Those of you who have been or are now bowling proprietors, we encourage you to light fires in the bellies of your management staff and yourself and recommit to strong efforts in promoting youth bowling. Your communities rely on you to take a proactive approach to working with the youth by building programs to help get kids off the streets and into socially acceptable youth programs.
Many successful proprietors encourage the development of high school city wide leagues and participate in promoting these leagues. There are cities in the country which have a representative bowling team from every high school in the district participating in the city leagues and rotating to participating bowling centers. It is amazing that more programs such as these city high school leagues are not prominent across America. Some High School Leagues have there own Halls of Fame and offer rewards for honor scores internally as well as from IBC.
Obviously, an entire field study can be done and likely has been done by industry entities and perhaps some solutions to decreasing numbers of youth programs have been brought forth. Are these solutions being implemented? At the end of the day, success of youth bowling development lies with the proprietor.

As former U.S. President Harry S. Truman once said, "the buck stops here."
It is important that all entities in the bowling industry become much more actively involved in promoting youth bowling and not just talk about it. As for myself, I hope proprietors are listening. Youth bowling is the future of the game. Thank you.
Rich Carrubba