Wonder If The Lack Of Bowling Alleys Means That Bowling Is Near Its Demise?


When was bowling most popular?

Bowling was a very popular sport to play and watch in the 1960s. Due to bowling being televised and people becoming familiar with the superstars within the game, this gave a massive boost to recreational bowling. In the 60s, over 12,000 bowling alleys were constructed throughout the decade. Bowling in the United States peaked at 4.6 million recreational members. 

The number of people bowling in leagues increased from less than three million to seven million in this time frame. One of the reasons bowling became more popular was because of the introduction of the automatic pin setter which helped save a lot of time when bowling and made the game significantly shorter. Also, around this time, action bowling became popular.

 Action bowling was a high-stake form of gambling in which bowlers competed against each other for thousands of dollars. All this increased popularity was evident in the stock prices of bowling companies such as Brunswick corporation, which apparently increased 1,590% between 1957 and 1961. 

Bowling stayed popular in the 1970s as well because Richard Nixon, the president of the United States at the time, had a bowling alley installed beneath the White House. In the 1960s and 1970s, top bowlers were earning twice as much as NFL stars and other athletes, which proves how popular the sport was.

When did bowling start to decline?

Bowling started to take a big decline in the 1980s. A small factor to why bowling declined was due to how the sport changed. Another reason was due to other sports becoming more popular and demanding. The biggest reason however, was that Americans became increasingly socially disconnected to each other over the past 50 years.

 This was mainly due to the rise of technology. People used to have to get together to be entertained whereas, now people can watch television, use their smartphone and play video games to stop their boredom. Another reason was due to a heightened concern for health and physical fitness. Bowling isn’t a very active sport so people who were concerned about their own wellbeing would do more intense activities to get them in shape. 

All these problems resulted in many bowling alleys closing down. Most alleys were individual or family owned, so there was no one to take over the business. In the peak of bowling, there was over 11,000 bowling alleys. In 2019, there were only 4,100 bowling alleys with over 300 centres closing down in the last three years. Another reason bowling alleys had to close is that league play only accounts for 35-40% of an average US bowling centre’s business, which is down from 75% in the 1980s. Bowling alleys that are still open had to expand their offerings by adding in; arcades, later tag, go-karting, bumper cars, climbing walls, mini golf, and so on. Due to these changes, the alleys had to reduce the number of lanes to accommodate the new offerings. 

Another reason bowling lost popularity was due to the decline in bowling leagues in the 80s. This led to bowling television ratings to drop and ABC, which hosted the national bowling tournaments, to stop broadcasting bowling in 1997. Other networks were also reluctant to give broadcast time and pay the broadcast right fee for a sport that wouldn’t bring big ratings.

 This resulted in the sport of bowling have less money to fund tournaments. Since 1997, bowling has only appeared on cable channels which receive fewer views. The decline in sponsorships and television rights money led to PBA to reduce the number and size of its tournaments as well as reducing the size of the prizes given out. Smaller prizes have made it nearly impossible for professional bowlers to make a living out of just bowling. This is why most of them have another job on the side. Smaller prizes have also made the sport less attractive to amateurs. 

Bowling did have a bounce back in 1997 when Tom Shannon made significant changes to a bowling centre. He added video screens, glow in the dark lane and balls, and upscale food and drink, but eliminated it’s bowling leagues. This changed the alley from an alley for serious bowlers to the first party bowling centre. These changes were made to make the sport more attractive and appealing for people who play recreationally. By 1999, it was the highest grossing bowling centre in the United States. 

Will bowling make a comeback?

Bowling has already made a comeback from the 1980s. Back then around 90% of the bowling business was league bowling. This was because there weren’t many opportunities to play the sport recreationally. Nowadays, it’s the complete opposite. Bowling is used for a fun day out with family or friends and is not perceived as a competitive sport as much. 

Many bowling alleys are not found alone anymore. There are usually other activities that are offered at the same site such as; pool, laser tag, arcades, food and drink places, rock climbing and so on. This is because alone, bowling cannot attract enough people. Also, bowling alleys have become more attractive due to technology which has made it appealing to children and family. Now there are different weighted balls and equipment that can be used to allow younger children to find success within the game. Many alleys offer to run events for parties and gatherings to attract more people. 

The bowling industry has grown from $4 billion in 2014 to $10 billion in 2018. The number of US bowlers increased from 39 million in 2018 to 69 million in 2018, and being one of the fastest growing variety sports, popularity is growing. 100 million people of all ages in over 80 countries are now bowling.

To answer the question, bowling has already and will carry on making a comeback. Due to the increasing use of technology and funds available, bowling alleys can always add new forms of entertainment to keep people interested in the sport. Doing this, businesses with bowling alleys can keep them open even if they are not used often because of the profit made from other forms of entertainment at the place.

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