It was a busy year for the bowling business in 2019, so it was fairly easy to develop a “top 19 stories” list. As for the order of the stories on that list, well, all we can say is: Let the debate begin…
1. Bowlero Corporation purchases the Professional Bowlers Association.
It had been the worst-kept secret in bowling for years: The PBA was for sale. Two of the three Microsoft ex-pats who had purchased the association had already left the fold, and Mike Slade was looking for an exit strategy of his own. Bowlero Corporation, operator of approximately 300 bowling-based entertainment centers, attempted to purchase the PBA a few years ago, but the dotted line ultimately remained unsigned. This time, however, after much due diligence, a deal was struck. Now, after years of barely staying afloat thanks to the hard work of a bare-bones staff, bowling’s highest-profile entity finally is on solid financial footing, backed by a company with reported annual revenues of approximately $600 million.
2. Brunswick Bowling acquires the brands of Ebonite International.
The names Brunswick and Ebonite have been synonymous with bowling for more than a century. So when Brunswick Bowling acquired the brands of Ebonite International, it was a big deal. The deal happened because competitive bowling, which drives the bowling ball market, has continued a decades-long decline, and there simply no longer was enough demand to warrant the existence of three major ball manufacturers. Plans call for the Ebonite International brands — Ebonite, Columbia 300, Hammer and Track — to live on, with manufacturing taking place at Brunswick’s plant in Mexico.
3. Bowling makes an encore appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving Day 2018, there was greater concern than usual among those in the bowling business about the weather in New York City. Forecasts caled for wind speeds that could keep the balloons from flying in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and bowling had a unique entry in the event: a hybrid balloon and float contraption known as a “balloonicle.” As it turned out, the balloons did fly, just a bit lower than usual, and the giant bowling ball, six bowling pins and two bowling shoes could not be missed by parade watchers either lining the streets of New York or watching on TV. The bowling spectacle returned for the 2019 parade, and once again generated priceless top-of-mind awareness for bowling as the parade was viewed by 22.1 million Americans on NBC.
4. An investment group led by Robby Spigner acquires 10 centers in Minnesota.
Triple Shift Entertainment, LLC bought 10 centers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area from the Anderson Companies: Andover Lanes in Andover, with 24 lanes; Classic Bowl, Coon Rapids, 24; Colonial Lanes, Rochester, 20; Concord Lanes, South St. Paul, 32; The Mermaid, Mounds View, 32; Park Grove Bowl, Park Grove, 24; PINZ, Oakdale, 34; River City Extreme, Monticello, 32; Sun Ray Lanes, St. Paul, 24; and Super Bowl, Ramsey, 24. “After evaluating investment opportunities in the bowling center space for several years, we are delighted to be entering the industry with an extraordinarily strong group of centers, which have been built through the integrity, dedication and expertise of the Anderson family,” said Spigner, President of Triple Shift Entertainment.
5. The PBA experiences a ratings increase of 100% after moving to FOX Sports.
It’s a statistic difficult to fathom, but the “FOXification” of PBA telecasts, which heralded the return of Rob Stone to PBA play-by-play, clearly struck a chord with America’s sports-viewing public. The PBA had been taken for granted by ESPN for years — just as it had been in the waning years of its long-term deal with ABC Sports — so the time was right for a change. It proved to be a wise move for both the PBA and for FOX Sports.
6. The U.S. Open and the USBC Masters will join the FOX Sports lineup in 2020.
Two of bowling’s majors should enjoy considerably higher viewership this year as they’ll become a part of the PBA’s FOX Sports schedule. From a business perspective, that will mean more exposure for the Go Bowling! message and website.
7. The South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and the USBC extend their agreement through 2033.
The extension will have the USBC Women’s Championships taking place at the South Point Bowling Plaza in 2029 and 2032, while the USBC Open Championships will visit the venue in 2030 and 2033. The extension keeps each event at the venue every third year. The Open Championships also will visit the site in 2021, 2024 and 2027. In addition to 2029 and 2032, the Women’s Championships will return in 2020, 2023 and 2026. South Point always will be best known for the dozens of equestrian events it hosts each year (not to mention its 1,200 climate-controlled indoor horse stalls), but the business it generates through the Bowling Plaza is becoming increasingly significant.
8. A shooter murders three people at a Southern California bowling center.
The incident took place even though the center had security on duty that evening. The BPAA later developed online training to help centers prepare for an active shooter and other emergencies, and a seminar on the topic was offered at International Bowl Expo.
9. Mike Logan is named BPAA Proprietor of the Year.
Logan, a third-generation center owner, transformed a failing bowling center into a thriving family entertainment center. Rather than removing lanes in order to free up space for new attractions, he closed an adjoining roller skating rink and used that space to add a large arcade, laser tag and other attractions. “I’m not a trendsetter by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “But I know how to follow the trends.”
10. Cathy DeSocio receives BPAA’s Victor Lerner Award.
The award is emblematic of election to the BPAA Hall of Fame. With 11 past recipients in attendance at Bowl Expo, DeSocio gave a heartfelt acceptance speech that credited much of her success to her family and staff members. “I’m thankful every day that I’m a bowling proprietor,” she said.
11. The Go Bowling pin car makes high-profile appearances around the United States.
From the Chicagoland Bowling Proprietors Association’s Bowlers Day with the White Sox, to New York for National Bowling Day and an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” the car garnered attention for bowling wherever it went. Massive exposure was realized at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, where 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars from around the globe were on hand.
12. A bowling proprietor hikes the Appalachian Trail to raise funds for the Bowlers to Veterans Link.
David Kellerman, co-owner of Mel’s Lone Star Lanes in Georgetown, Texas easily eclipsed his fundraising goal of $50,000 and was presented the inaugural BVL Helen Duval Award.
14. The 2020 Junior Gold Championships switches cities.
Las Vegas was named to replace Indianapolis as the host of the event. The Orleans will serve as the headquarters hotel and site of the opening ceremony. The event is scheduled for July 11-18.
15. Jim Decker will become the next President of the BPAA.
Decker, owner of Double Decker Lanes in Rohnert Park, Calif., was elevated to President-Elect at Bowl Expo.
16. The National Bowling Stadium undergoes a multi-million-dollar renovation.
With its 25th anniversary looming, the stadium was “spruced up” to prepare for the 2020 USBC Open Championships.
17. Sam Weinstein is added to WGN’s Walk of Fame.
He was known as “The Tenpin Tattler” during his 60-year run on Chicago’s famed radio station, and family members were in attendance when he was honored with a special plaque on Sept. 13.
18. A new bowling-based entertainment center achieves LEED certification.
Ocean5 and its Table 47 restaurant in Gig Harbor, Wash., received the Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) recognition for its green building design that’s energy and environmentally friendly.
19. Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers appears at Bowl Expo.
Rodgers touched on a number of topics, including his investment in the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, noting that after being a player for so long, it was fun to be on the ownership side. Then he added with a grin, “I own a couple of NFL teams, too. They know who they are.”