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Beyond Bowling

It is an undeniable fact that the bowling industry is in a state of change. While there will always be a place in our society for the traditional bowling center, many proprietors are realizing they need to ex-pand their product offerings in order to maintain and grow their customer base. As a result, we are seeing business models for centers that are hybrids of different attractions, games, food offerings and themes to create the modern day Bowling Entertainment Center (BEC). Beyond Bowling is the new quarterly publication from International Bowling Industry magazine that highlights the great stories of bowling center owners and operators who have found success through the BEC concept.

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Latest Activity: Oct 12, 2013

Discussion Forum

Volume 2 of Beyond Bowling due in August Edition 1 Reply

We are preparing the content for Volume 2 of the Beyond Bowling section which will show in the August edition of International Bowling Industry (IBI) magazine. The August issue will feature a profile…Continue

Started by George McAuliffe. Last reply by Joe Schumacker Jul 10, 2012. proof of concept. What do you think?

Lee Zavakos, a third generation bowling proprietor, has teamed with me to develop an idea that may revolutionize the bowling industry. I will leave it to you to pass judgement on that statement, but…Continue

Started by James L Yeatrakas May 18, 2012.

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Comment by George McAuliffe on June 7, 2012 at 1:58pm

Joe and Heinz: Thanks for a great discussion. As you may have read I come at the BEC from the family entertainment/non-bowling side. I'm sure you both have forgotten more about bowling then I know. That said, I have been intimately involved with the developing BEC concept, assisting some four dozen centers over the last few years to either add family entertainment to their existing center, or to develop ground up BEC's. 

Regarding Heinz's comment:  “Beyond Bowling” means we must leave behind Bowling as we have known it.  We need to invent the new Bowling, one that creates exciting experiences for today’s customers.   We need to invent new bowling products and re-invent old ones such as league bowling....

The Beyond Bowling name was developed in the context of International Bowling Industry magazine, to provide focus to all the elements other than those directly related to the bowling piece. As a section of the magazine we never intended to suggest we would move beyond bowling itself. We thought the bulk of the magazine would cover all the bowling direct aspects, and Beyond Bowling would cover the indirect elements of the BEC- from family entertainment to food & beverage.

That said, I agree with Heinz's point that the BEC is a reinvention of the Bowling Center although I do see the classic elements, including leagues, as not only capable of surviving within the BEC but critical to its success. Looking at Joe's numbers the BEC seems to fit the bill. In the restaurant industry they refer to day parts. Dave and Buster's is a great example of marrying food & beverage and entertainment to trade in many day parts (lunch, happy hour, dinner, late night and weekend families) in their big box buildings. The BEC, properly programmed, allows bowling centers to do the same thing, with the tools to achieve Joe's weekday/weekend balance and expand utilization of lanes.

Comment by Joe Schumacker on May 20, 2012 at 10:18am

Heinz, There is a lot to respond to in your last post.  You touch on challenges in many areas of Bowling. 

I believe the combination of ball technology and lane conditioning has killed scratch leagues.   One of the greatest ironies in Bowling today is that averages and the number of honor scores have never been higher but yet it is impossible to find a scratch league.   The reason is the spread between the mid-average bowler and the peak average bowler.  When scratch leagues were the norm for competitive bowling ‘par’ was 200 with a peak of 205. A mid-average competitive bowler averaged around 190.  The gap from mid to peak was only about 15 pins.  Mid-average bowlers respected the peak bowlers but were not afraid to compete head-up.  Today the mid-average bowler is at 200, ‘par’ is 215 and the peak is 230 and the mid-average bowler will not compete without handicap.  Taken together, the combination of ball technology and lane conditioning, create an explosive scoring environment for a small percentage of bowlers.   Place intelligent limits on balls and gap between peak and mid will shrink.   Bring balls under control then lane conditions can be brought under control. There is a bright side to the handicap/scratch quandary.  The recently launched USA youth bowling program is a scratch only program. If the IBC Youth department (the integrated BPAA and USBC Youth departments) can withstand the pressure to introduce handicap into the USA Bowling program, a new generation of competitors can be created who don’t need handicap.

One of the major shifts in the last 10 years is that competitive bowling is no longer the ‘bread and butter’ of the business.  Entertainment and Casual (E/C) Bowling accounts for more than 60% of total US games bowled and a higher percentage of Direct Bowling Revenue.  Many centers need the weekend E/C business to pay the bills, if there is any ‘gravy’ it comes from a league bowling.  An increasing number of operators believe they can do without the ‘gravy’.  Such a strategy is both short-sighted and dangerous.  It is difficult to put a week’s worth of revenue into the weekend.   A healthy bowling business must have a weekend / weekday balance that can only be achieved with a balance in the four segments of bowling product (Entertainment, Casual, Recreationally Competitive and Purely Competitive).  I believe the contemporary balance should be 35%,30%, 30%, and 5%.

I am not very familiar with the business model for Australian bowling centers.  A strong US center would have games/ lane/ year of 10k, total revenue per game of $7.00; an Operating Margin of 40% with an EBITDA Margin of 30%.  The price per game in Australia is exceptionally high.  Adding Ancillary and Complementary revenue would make take Total Revenue per Game to a level beyond anything in the US.  If Australian centers are not hugely successful it must be due to low volume and/or high operating expense.    A low volume issue can be cured with an aggressive revenue management program.  The high operating expense issue would seem to be not bowling specific.  High costs should support higher prices without suppressing volume.  Containing costs is however a major issue for operators regardless of their geographic location.   You have a stated preference for the string machine as means of controlling expense.  I would much prefer installing new Brunswick or QAMF machines.  Both are very efficient and require far less maintenance than the A-2 or the 82-70.  A 32 to 40 lane center with new machines would be able to have a tech-ops person who is much more of a technician than a mechanic.  The tech-ops leader would take on additional responsibilities in the center.  In terms of energy saving I believe there is more potential for saving from the use of solar panels, reflective roofing, enhanced insulation, upgraded lighting and efficient air conditioning units. 

Comment by Heinz Gress on May 19, 2012 at 5:50pm

Thank you Joe for your comments. We both agree on some of the reasons for the decline in bowling centres, be it in the States or here in Australia. I see another reason and would like to have your opinion on this. When I started bowling in the seventies, we each purchased our own ball, mine was 15lb, and it was simply that the best bowler achieved the best score. The focus was on the sport and we tried every week to beat the opposite team and we all had similar balls. In those days, very few achieved a perfect 300 game and I actually never met anybody then who did. It was the ultimate goal and the ones that did it where heroes.

How time has changed; technology has developed bowling balls to such an extent that now thousands have bowled the perfect game, some actually multiply times in a row. Where do those players go now? What it their goal? Trying to bowl this perfect game 3,4,5 times is succession? What is the point? I just wonder how some of those “top” bowlers would fare with my old seventies ball? I remember how proud I was when I got my first 175 needle, three months later I got my 200 needle and next season I managed 225. He following year, I actually bowled 262 and received the 250 needle and I thought I was the king of bowling. Never got better after this and after 15 years gave the sport away and played tennis. Practically all of my old Tenpin mates gave the sport away as they got bored with the same game every week. The challenge and excitement was gone.

The problem, as I see it now is that the fun has left the sport, not just in bowling, but similar in most other sports. It has become to “ultimate target” focused and if there is not a rethink, the sport of Tenpin will continue to decline.

For bowling centres to survive, the focus has to be towards the general public. Naturally, the competition bowlers are the “Bread and butter” income which has to be nurtured and supported. The operating costs of the centres are one of the largest concerns and the main reason why so many operators leave the industry.

Interesting that you have not made a comment regarding my mentioning string pinsetters.

Comment by Joe Schumacker on May 19, 2012 at 4:13pm


The trend you describe is not limited to Australia.  The US has been similarly affected in the past and stands to be greatly impacted in the future.  Although we are all eager for a return to economic growth it will come with a nasty surprise for Bowling.  As the economy improves the number bowling centers being sold will increase and the percentage of those sales for non-bowling use of the property will also increase.   The business is much more difficult today than it was even ten years ago.  In the future bowling operators will accept deals which they would have rejected a decade ago.  Operators have seldom been concerned when a competitor goes out of business.  There is a point however where there are not enough locations to support Bowling as a national activity. 

The solution is simple to say and very difficult to achieve.  We need to grow the number of games bowled per lane and achieve higher total revenue per game while we optimize operating expenses.  It is tough to do but it is possible.  Basically there are three steps:

  1. Be relentless in efforts to sell an incremental game (hour) of bowling.
  2. Look for all opportunities to create Ancillary and Complementary Revenue.
  3. Maintain tight control on costs.  

The biggest challenge may be our own mindset that lineage will continue to drop.  We cannot forget that people love to bowl.  It is up to us to create products they want to buy.  League bowling may continue to drop in the near-term but total lineage per lane can be increased.

“Beyond Bowling” can seem to be a negative in that we will be leaving bowling behind as we move into the future.  I see it differently.  “Beyond Bowling” means we must leave behind Bowling as we have known it.  We need to invent the new Bowling, one that creates exciting experiences for today’s customers.   We need to invent new bowling products and re-invent old ones such as league bowling. The result will be fewer centers being sold and a smaller percentage being sold for their real estate value. 

Comment by Heinz Gress on May 18, 2012 at 10:10pm

Thank you Chris for starting this forum. I fully agree with you that the bowling industry has to change fundamentally and look at additions to the centres. We all have seen the decline in the occupancy numbers, especially in competition players. There are a few reasons for this as I see it, mainly the increase in costs, such as land and building values and the ever increasing cost of power and wages. I can really only speak from my experience, which is solely based in Australia. The cost to the customer per game has very little increased, but everything else has gone through the roof. We have had a number of centres close due to the fact that the owner of the property sold out to a large developer. In the sixties and seventies, when most of them where established, the building site was on the fringes of the towns, but as they grew, the land became very valuable.

I wonder if anybody that looks into establishing a new BEC has checked out the possibility to use string setters instead free fall pins-potters? I know, hardened comp players hate them, but how many have really used them? The operating costs for the owner is considerably cheaper as the conventional machine, not only in much lower power consumption, but also virtually never having to replace the pins. The fact that there is no centre mechanic required saves a packet, but the mechanics naturally dislike this fact. I know that this is controversial, but it should be looked at seriously by any new entries into the business.

Comment by Chris Holmes on April 30, 2012 at 5:06pm

Welcome to the Beyond Bowling Group on IBI Online! This group has been created to bring together proprietors that truly embraced the Bowling Entertainment Center concept. Please share your story of success at your center and it could be featured in the next edition of Beyond Bowling in IBI!


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