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Nineteen Eighty-five, twenty-five years ago; Windows 1.0 was released, President Ronald Reagan began his second term in office, the first compact discs were distributed in the US, Madonna began her first concert tour, Apple released its first computer with voice capability, and the internet was created, although not by Al Gore. Most of my bowling readers are now expecting a recital of statistics from 1985 which in comparison to today would show just how much bowling has lost. The purpose of the preceding list is not however to place the current world of bowling in contrast with bowling of our past but rather to have the reader realize just how short of a period is twenty-five years. And the greater purpose is to reinforce the fact that the next twenty-five years will be just as short of a period of time.

It does not matter whether we are prepared, whether we want it to go faster or slower, time moves at steady pace, day, night, summer, or winter, in the north or the south. The movement of time is a constant. The question is only what we each do with our time.

The majority of readers of this piece have memories of 1985. Most have experience in the world of Bowling dating back to at least 1985, some decades more. We need to respect the passage of time not so much from the perspective of our past but from the potential for our future. The history of the past twenty-five years or even fifty years is not nearly as important as the plan for the next twenty-five years. Bowling has given us a tremendous legacy. Our decision is whether we spend it or grow it.

The world of Bowling has changed tremendously over the past twenty-five years. There are well defined trends in place indicating a decline in competitive bowling and, surprising to some, the slow growth of Entertainment/Casual bowling. Trend becomes destiny in the absence of directed change. Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.

A corollary to Murphy’s Law tells us that “Left to themselves things tend to go from bad to worse”. The positive side of this statement is that concerted action against a set of circumstances will change the circumstances. Here is the rub for contemporary bowling; we have proven we have the capability to create major change but yet the long-term prospects for Bowling remain uncertain at best.

Why at this point in time is there not comfort that we are collectively tracking toward a successful future for Bowling? Basically, we can’t have comfort in future prospects if we do not believe there is a feasible plan. And there cannot be a feasible plan without a crystal clear vision for what we want Bowling to be in the future. Let me be perfectly clear, there are enough intelligent people within Bowling to make it happen. There is an adequate base of bowling participants on which to build a positive future. The resources or the ability to obtain the resources needed to build a successful future are available.

The “yea but” people will say the Proprietors are in the way, or the USBC is in the way, or the USBC Delegates are in the way or the STE Board is in the way or someone or some other group is in the way. The answer is that if you don’t know where you are going everyone is in the way. If you have a clear vision of where you want to go, no one will be in your way, at least for long.

The process starts with clearly articulating what we want Bowling to look like in the year 2035. What achievements will be recognized during the celebration of the 25thanniversary of the opening of the International Bowling Campus?

Now the question becomes who should be doing all of this deep thinking? The New USBC Executive Director (Stu Upton) and the new BPAA Executive Director (Steve Johnson) have been both in place for long enough that we could expect them to do the thinking for us. The USBC Board has a number of people with solid bowling and organizational experience; we could expect them to do the thinking for us. The BPAA Board is strong with a very good blend of experience and knowledge; certainly we could expect them to do the thinking for us. Why not QAMF or Brunswick or Ebonite, or Storm, after all they have a huge investment in making stuff for Bowling, we could expect them to do the thinking for us. The answer is that every time you allow someone else to think for you, you give up control of the progress. Every time you expect someone to do the thinking for you, you will be disappointed. We want all of the individuals and all of the organizations noted above to think along with us so the correct plan is developed and there is broad commitment to its execution. The time for us to sit and wait to see what happens next is over. If we want to build on the legacy that was given to us we need to start taking action, now.

The question for now is “how do you see the world of bowling in the year 2035″. The process needs a framework on which to begin. Contemporary Bowling consists of a spectrum of bowling products. The bowling product mix has changed since the days when we could define Bowling as being League, Tournament or Open Play. Today, bowling products can be divided into four segments with the following definitions:

Entertainment – A visit to the center is driven by a desire to participate in an event or program designed to be an exciting, fun and non-competitive event.

Casual – A visit to the center for the purpose of non-competitive bowling without consideration of programs or events; let’s go bowling!

Recreationally Competitive – Routine visits to the center to compete against others where the social and recreational value of the experience outweighs the actual competition; typical league bowling.

Purely Competitive – Routine visits to the center for the purpose of competing against others in the sport of bowling; the primary intent is to win.

Each segment has potential for growth, strategies for marketing and processes for execution. Let’s start the development of the 2035 vision of Bowling with your thoughts on how the spectrum of bowling products will look in twenty-five years. Think about Bowling 2035, describe in the clearest detail how Bowling will fit in people’s lives in 2035. Send me your thoughts and we will begin to build a collective vision, a picture and not a statement, of Bowling 2035.

Joe Schumacker

May 2010

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