A full field & more

by Bob Johnson 0

The 2011 edition of the New Mexico Open, set for this weekend (Aug. 19-21) at Tenpins & More in Rio Rancho, N.M., has attracted a capacity field of 192 bowlers.

Thirteen states — including Massachusetts and Florida — will be represented, and players will be shooting for more than $41,000 in prize money.

What is the secret of this tournament's success? That was the topic of a recent report that appeared in Bowlers Journal International, reproduced here...

BIG BOWLING tournaments do not begin with small dreams, and Steve Mackie is dreaming big about the New Mexico Open, an event he introduced in 2004 at Tenpins & More in Rio Rancho, N.M., outside Albuquerque.

The tournament has grown from 78 entrants in that first year to a record 147 in 2010. Prize money awarded has increased from $14,000 to $34,190, much of it coming from local sponsors.

While other scratch tournaments have seen big drop-offs in entries, mirroring the declining league bowler base, the New Mexico Open is on the upswing. Why?

“I think the word has gotten out that we always pay what we say we will,” says Mackie, who has been running bowling tournaments most of his life, the first big one being the 1973 Australian Open in his native country. He’d later serve as international tournament manager for the AMF chain of centers.

“I never thought I’d run a single unit again,” Mackie confesses. “But it’s nice to have your own center; you can do what you’d like to do without having to justify the budget to the accountants. There are things you can do in a single unit, with experience, that you can’t do with a chain.”

The New Mexico Open is a prime example. Since the event’s founding, Mackie has gradually added features to make it more alluring to bowlers and more profitable for the center. Last year, a side tournament staged just before the main event attracted 120 entries. Each of the past three years, an accompanying Pro-Am has drawn more than 100 entries. The tournament has enjoyed regional television coverage. In 2011, Mackie is planning a full week of action.

“As an owner, the first motivation is revenue, of course,” Mackie says. “We’ve been able to transform a week in August, which is near-death for so many operators, into one of our most profitable weeks of the year.

“But it goes beyond that,” he adds. “We want the sport to be taken more seriously. We want to turn people into bowlers, and we want to create new bowlers. The tournament has received good support from our league bowlers, several of whom came up through our house tournament program. We have some kind of tournament going on almost every week of the year.”

What’s the payoff for creating serious bowlers? Again, Mackie points to both business and sporting benefits.

“Serious bowlers bowl more often,” he explains. “When you run a family entertainment center and cater mostly to open play, you constantly have to find new ways to get people through the doors. It cuts into your profits, and it can be very challenging to stay afloat when going through an economic cycle like we’ve been in the last few years. I’d like to see one of these expensive FECs still around 28 years after they opened.”

But what he’d also like to see is the New Mexico Open contested on an even grander stage — not at a larger center, but as part of the new World Bowling Tour that has been organized by the World Tenpin Bowling Assn. It takes a $100,000 prize fund guarantee to even be considered for the WBT, and although the New Mexico Open has averaged $25,000 in sponsorships the last two years, Mackie knows he has his work cut out for him.

“To get to a hundred thousand, we’d need a major sponsor,” he acknowledges. “But we’ve already begun to pitch the idea. I think we have a shot at making it happen.”

Meanwhile, Mackie is happy that the New Mexico Open  continues to buck trends and grow.

“The best business model for bowling is as a sport,” he says. “If we had more owners who believed that — and ran their businesses that way — we’d all be better off for it.”

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.

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