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Reply with quote  #1 
It has been almost three years since I penned the article that follows concerning the loss of venue. Between 2007 and the start of the 2010-2011 season, is estimated that almost 400 bowling centers in the United States will have closed their doors. This continues a trend that for the last 35 years has seen an unprecedented decline of approximately 60% of domestic bowling centers, an average of 140 to 170 per year for the last twelve, according to the methodology chosen.

By far, the most vulnerable are the smaller rural traditional centers that depend on league receipts for the majority of their revenue. These centers are the glue that hold the industry together. We are simply not replacing these centers at a quick enough pace to hold any chance of an eventual turnaround when the current economic climate rebounds.

All of us must put away our differences now and work together on a solution to this most basic and threatening problem. We cannot let even one more summer go by without instituting a plan to combat this loss. We need reform now. This must include a basic change in the way we market recreationally competitive bowling- away from marketing on purely high scores and toward a blend of the features and value that this great sport offers. We cannot continue the burning and pillaging of the bowling infrastructure towards the pursuit of short term gains.

Loss of venue means loss of jobs, loss of demand for industry wide products, loss of local economic development and productivity and an over abundant supply of heartbreak.

We have offered a six step strategic plan for reform. I ask the hierarchy at Arlington to seriously consider the merits of this program. Reform holds the key to the future for all of us who have made our careers in Bowling. Let's embark on a journey that will allow our great-grandchildren to enjoy our beloved sport.

We truly are running out of places to play!

Integrity vs. Viability

Over the course of the last three decades, all bowling center proprietors that offer ABC/USBC sanctioned competitive league bowling have had a question put to them that as a provider of any product or service regulated by a governing body should never have to be addressed. The question is a choice-- integrity of the sport offered or the viability of the venue providing it. As a proprietor, do I provide a competitive condition with results based solely on the skill of the participants and risk losing a significant percentage of them, migrating to competitors’ houses with artificially high scores? Or do I join a perverse exercise in keeping up with my competitors’ scoring excess, marketing my house on the allure of falsified performance, in the attempt to retain league bowling revenues and remain an ongoing concern?

Make no mistake-- the majority of center proprietors that offer competitive league bowling market their houses primarily on high scores. We see continual evidence of this in the advertising produced by elements of the bowling industry, hailing this product or that as offering a quick and easy way to higher scores. Promotional material and newspaper columns add fuel to the fire. How many weekly bowling columnists in local papers report the plethora of scores and precious little else?

We also see evidence in the ongoing production and sanctioning of forgiving equipment that allows for a virtually mistake free league session. We literally do not know when we miss. The ability to “buy” oneself a game, to purchase superior performance, to short cut the time needed to develop shot making skills erodes the credibility of the sport. Combined with the proprietor’s ability to produce the exact same lane conditions week after week, the advancement in equipment has directly lead to a staggering industry wide decline in practice session revenues. Who needs to practice when I can stand in the same place and throw the ball over the same area and achieve the expected high results unfailingly, week after week?

More evidence manifests itself with the capital expended on obtaining the latest in lane machine technology. We spend tens of thousands of dollars in pursuit of the most advanced lane machines offered. These machines have now taken the guesswork out of lane conditioning and have given the proprietor the ability to reproduce the same soft conditions, night after night, uniformly over the length of the house. We spend dollars on training and employment of the talent necessary to operate and maintain this vital equipment. A good lane person can make a center, a poor one may certainly break one.

The most profound effect of this runaway pursuit of artificially high scores on the bowling industry itself lies in the punishing redistribution of league bowlers away from houses that offer a more normal or traditional scoring environment to houses with ultra high scoring conditions. This phenomenon of flight is more likely to be fatal to smaller or rural centers that rely on league bowling revenue as a major percentage of total gross center revenue.

The culpability of the ABC/USBC lies in the steadfast refusal to regulate a cap on the proprietor’s ability through the ever increasing advancements in lane and equipment technology, to artificially inflate the scoring environment with regards to the typical house shot, to limits that are now bound only by the scoring system itself. This runaway race to achieve the highest scoring house within their individual local markets creates an unfair competitive advantage for some proprietors over their counterparts in the following ways:

The center proprietor who chooses the integrity of the sport first, leaves open the distinct possibility of an exodus of bowlers towards centers with artificially high scores. The very fact that this conundrum presents itself cannot be excused and is indefensible in so far as the ABC/USBC’s failure of regulatory oversight is concerned.

All bowling centers are not created equally with regards to the ability to create and maintain an ultra high scoring environment for the duration of an entire league season. There are just too many variables involved such as the makeup and type of playing surface itself, temperature and humidity variation and climate concerns, availability of talent needed to operate and maintain equipment and other intangibles involved with maintaining such conditions over an entire league season. It is important to note that a proprietor may risk significant amounts of capital in an effort to raise the level of scoring necessary to compete with neighboring centers and still fall significantly short to the proprietor who need not risk nearly as much and can mass produce ultra high scores with comparative little effort at the touch of a button.

The purchase of a center with an existing reputation for a relatively lower scoring environment may place impossible odds for success with league development even though as mentioned above large amounts of capital are infused in an attempt to elevate scores. Rumors and innuendo that have existed for years are extremely difficult to combat. It has been shown that it is much more difficult to draw a bowler back into a house once he or she has left. Magnifying the problem is the fact
that no written record is currently available to the bowler that directly compares individual centers with each other in the scoring environment. All comparison and recommendations of where to bowl come from the posting of high scores in various publications and word of mouth between bowlers themselves.

Because of these inequities, the proprietor that falls behind in the scoring race faces the prospect of not only a poorer league retention rate then otherwise would exist, but also faces an enormous task of drawing former league and tournament bowlers back into the house. The retention loss can be calculated but the number of experienced bowlers that will not return to a center with relatively lower scores is impossible to quantify and over time may very well be the larger number in the equation.

The choice between integrity and viability no provider of a product or service should ever have to face. The fact that this choice has been presented to bowling center proprietors for the past three decades is a stunning indictment of the ABC/USBC’s failure to oversee the sport of their sanctioned competitive league bowling.

The defenders of the ABC/USBC rely on the argument that it can never fully enforce the rules and regulations or police the populations of bowling centers and proprietors that offer league bowling. We must be absolutely clear on this matter of enforcement. Enforcement problems do not under any circumstances absolve the governing body of its primary duty to regulate and thereby maintain the integrity of the sport. It is long past time to hold the ABC/USBC accountable for its gross failure to oversee, regulate and maintain the integrity of its sanctioned competitive league tenpin bowling.

Founder & Executive Director
The American Bowling Consortium, Inc.

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Reply with quote  #2 
I totally agree that the USBC/ABC has been totally inept when it comes to maintaining the integrity of the sport.  Lane conditions *are* a joke.  As most of you guys know, I bowl my winter league in a center with wood lanes that are still oiled by hand, so there's a lot of variation from week to week, pair to pair, and season to season, and that keeps things interesting.  Many people bowl here BECAUSE of this.

The summer league I'm bowling in is in a different center, with synthetic lanes and oiling machines (aka: "the norm").  It took me about 2 weeks to find the right shot for this house, and since then, I haven't moved a single board or changed balls.  Each week, it's exactly the same shot.  And while my scores have been higher than in my winter league, and even though it's not a total walled gimme shot, it's a lot less fun.  Such thinking is probably the opposite of how 90% of league bowlers think these days, but I call 'em like I see 'em.

If the USBC wants to put some integrity back in the game, outlaw oiling machines.  That'll certainly make the sport more challenging.

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