Web Special / April 24, 2007

Bowling: Life after death

Up until two years ago, the only news regarding the bowling industry had been of the "Gloom and Doom" variety.

League membership continued to tumble; bowling ball sales began to dwindle; the Ladies Pro Tour collapsed; entries for megabucks tournaments were at an all-time low; the PBA was struggling to keep afloat; and bowling centers were closing at an alarming rate.

BUT, for the past two years, the bowling industry has taken a miraculous turn for the better and the future looks much brighter. What happened to reverse this trend?

Perhaps the unification of all integers of the bowling industry has begun to bear fruit. Although the United States Bowling Congress has not fully succeeded in unifying all local associations into their organization, the overall cooperation of the USBC with the Bowling Proprietors Association of America and the Professional Bowlers Association has began to indicate an upsurge in the game's future.

While membership figures are lower than in the past, perhaps the figures released by the USBC are greatly misleading. For instance, over one million seniors bowl in unsanctioned leagues. These bowlers play a major role in the success of bowling establishments. Also, we must presume that perhaps an additional million bowlers participate in leagues that are not included in USBC membership rolls.

Although some bowling establishments continue to relinquish their prime properties to "Offers they can't refuse", more and more bowling centers are being erected to replace them with state of the art facilities that feature the latest innovations in equipment. In addition to this, the new 40 to 60 lane centers include other enticing means of entertainment, including theaters, game rooms, miniature golf, and great food facilities.

Despite the fact that USBC membership figures aren't overwhelming, bowling proprietors around the country have increased their overall income by open bowling, glow bowling, and private parties. For example, Mike Monyak, general manager for Coast Casinos in Las Vegas, (which include the Orleans, the Gold Coast, and Sunset bowling centers,) estimates that league bowling comprises about 22 percent of his total business. Birthday parties, business parties, and tournaments more than compensate for smaller league play. Even more surprising, Monyak's centers average around 40 lines per bed, a staggering figure when compared to the coveted 35 lines per bed during the game's booming era. .

Although I am not privy to other bowling establishment figures, these numbers seem to portray the overall picture in Las Vegas, undoubtedly the bowling capital of the world. For example, Frenchy Letourneau, editor/publisher of the Ten Pin Alley publication in Las Vegas, accepted a position at Santa Fe Lanes as Promotions Director about two years ago. In a recent conversation, Frenchy informed me he has conducted over 1500 parties during this period. Furthermore, he envisions no slowdown in the future for these activities and, although Santa Fe Lanes may be the leader in the "party" category, most other bowling centers in Sin City are profiting from their share of open bowling, glow bowling, and party bowling.

Currently, the most negative comments relative to any sport today are the numerous choices of recreational activity available to the public. Bowling must compete with movies, television, golf, tennis, soccer, football, baseball, basketball, and other forms of entertainment. Yet, with all these pastimes readily available in Las Vegas, bowling has more than held its own in a city that features the largest and most modern bowling facilities on the planet. Las Vegas investors continue to build more bowling centers, and, to date, no one has issued warnings of "over-building".

Fortunately, while the rest of the country's bowling atmosphere isn't quite as appealing as Las Vegas, the future of the game, under the combined efforts of the USBC, the BPAA, and the PBA, seems to be headed in the proper direction.