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A British psychologist, Pamela Briggs, a member of the British
Psychological Society has indicated that:
"Stress is often made worse by the anticipation of an unpleasant event and
actually dissipated once you tackle the problem directly."
Which leads me to league bowling and the stress we have faced for over 34
years in watching ABC, WIBC and now USBC numbers continue to go down.
Where once (1977) there were almost 10 million sanctioned league bowlers
out of an adult population of 150 million adults (6.7% penetration), we now
have just 1.95 million league bowlers (2011) out of 220 million adults (1%
penetration) there is good reason to feel stressed and for the stress to
Yes, I know centers closed for real estate reasons and I know centers were
merged into bigger chains and yes I also know that many centers
lagged behind in modernization and didn't have a 'happy" product to sell.
And many bowlers left because of these reasons. Point being, they still
But nevertheless... 6.7% penetration to 1% penetration. YIKES!!
The real question is what are you going to do about it at your center?
Quite obviously for the vast majority or proprietors what has been done in
the past 34 years has not helped to stem the tide of their eroding league
Many new leagues and formats have been tried with various success rates.
Premium leagues, short season leagues, shorter season leagues, once a month
leagues, every other week leagues and trio leagues to name just a few.
But here's what really happened.
1. Once we could sell an existing bowler on joining a new league. He or
she probably welcomed the idea of another night out, especially the "good
bowlers," who bowled for money. Back then, league bowlers were in 1.7
leagues. Today that number is 1.1 So because of the economy, more women in
the work force, pressures of time and
other competitive activities, existing bowlers left their second or third
league. Either they could not afford it, didn't have the time
or developed other interests.
2. Because we had fewer league bowlers coming into the center, we had fewer
people to talk to about our programs, thus fewer new bowlers
3. Because open play bowlers were initially locked out of most weekend
(early) nights, they gravitated toward weekends and late night weekday
bowling which attracted "a party crowd" who were not very interested in 36
week leagues with rules, obligations and commitments. so we again had fewer
"perspective bowlers" to speak to who had any interest in bowling in a long
4. We never really got out of the center. Oh, we made a few shots at it to
sell; even hired a "promotional" person" who tried to sell our
"existing products" to a market that didn't want it. When we eventually
saw the light and started marketing shorter season leagues, we had some
success...inside of the center and thus, we "didn't have to go outside."
And we didn't. At least not on any continuous and disciplined basis!
5. Other venues from golf to amusement parks to movies were busy marketing
their stuff in many mediums. We pulled back, cut costs, became invisible
and sent emails and Facebook messages to OUR EXISTING customers. The 250
million people who didn't bowl didn't even think about us. (70 million
people went bowling at least once last year)
6. We got rid of the house pro; you know the guy or gal that used to help
people improve our customers' game and give them personalized tips about
how to improve their game. LTB was a great league bowler generator,
but somehow after the NBC went out of business in the early 90's, that
program was slowed to a trickle. So if new bowlers were not going to learn
how to get better, what's the fun in bowling and why would they return?
They didn't. And 20%+ dropped out every year and we replaced 15% to 17%;
thus a short fall of 3% to 5% annually
Left to its own devices, league bowling, of the sanctioned kind, will
continue to atrophy. But there are ways to ameliorate this process and
get it going in the right direction.
First, people need to try the product again. All these people that
"ustabowl" haven't been in your place for years and they have no idea
what's going on. You need to offer incentives for people to come into
the center over the summer, preferably in August, to try bowling (for free)
and then offer them short season programs like 4 to 8 week sessions. And
let them bowl in small groups, They are NOT interested in big leagues. 16
to 24 people would be fine.
Second, you need to communicate your free party August program not just in
emails and Facebook, but explore other mediums as well. Yeah its costly,
but so is going out of business.
Third, you need to go door to door to retailers, banks, corner markets,
manufacturers, clubs, restaurants and bars... from one end of your market
to the other and invite them in to these parties as well.
Fourth, sell what people want. Find out how many weeks they want to bowl or
how frequently. The sooner you stop selling what you and your staff want
and start selling what THEY want, the more success you will have.
Hope I haven't been to hard on you today...but its time for massive action
and no one will do it for us. Not another industry integer, not a great
sponsor and not even our rich uncle...if we had one.
So go out there and sell, sell, sell!!!
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