Are League Bowlers Being Pushed Out of Centers?
By Michael Valanzano
After listening to the podcast with Mike Flannagan, CEO of Insidebowling.com, he mentioned about how bowling is struggling in the St. Louis area. STL has produced many great bowlers thru the years, and has been one of the greatest bowling cities in the country. If you listen to the podcast on our site, you will hear about the number of centers in the STL area that are closing, and the struggles that the great sport of bowling has. Well in fact, bowling on the east coast, New Jersey and New York City has also taken a huge hit.
Living and growing up in New Jersey, we always had a lot of bowling centers and from what I thought, they always did well. The one plus that our centers had was that they were privately owned and did not have the corporate backing from AMF or Brunswick. The private centers were great because they catered to the league bowler, they would give a reduced rate for practice, and would cater to the league bowler FIRST!! In recent years, the independent owner has been replaced by AMF and Brunswick. Of the 14 centers that were in my area growing up, 6 are still standing, and 4 of the 6 are owned by AMF and Brunswick. Now I understand that bowling is indeed a business, but the corporations have ruined our game. One center, Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes, which hosts the US Open, is an 82 lane center that is located in North Brunswick, NJ. This is by far the nicest center in NJ and probably in the tri-state area. The classic league they run takes the lanes on Friday evenings at 8pm. Now for those who have never heard of or stepped foot in Carolier, allow me to give a brief description of the center. When you walk in, you have 48 lanes upstairs, along with the main control desk, snack bar, lounge, game room, etc… You then walk down a few steps and downstairs you have the remaining 34 lanes with the party room and snack bar. Now, the league runs on basically the last 14 pairs upstairs. It is a 5 person league, and has a prize fund of $5,000 PER PERSON if you win the league, so the money is REALLY GOOD!! By 9pm, Carolier has a line out the door with people looking to open bowl, and start the cosmic bowling experience. They will start filling the downstairs with the open bowlers, but here is the kicker….. They will turn cosmic bowling on for half the house upstairs as the classic league is still bowling!! Are you kidding me Brunswick??? I am sorry, but if I was to bowl in that league, and I saw that, I would lose it. From the people I know that bowl in that league, they have addressed it to the league officers and to management, and the answer they get is always the same, we can’t turn away open bowlers. WOW!! I can see putting open bowlers on the same level, but to have half of the level in the dark with laser lights and music going, with drop down screens playing music videos, I know as a competitive bowler I wouldn’t bowl there again.
Bowling is also in trouble on the east coast. Listening to what Mike said about tournament bowling thriving in STL, in NJ and NYC it is the opposite. We can’t get a tournament in an AMF or Brunswick house because they do not want to give up the lanes that could be used for birthday parties and open play. Not to mention that the lineage that they would charge is thru the roof. Why? Because they would have to make up for the loss that they would be taking by not having a birthday party. I am all for birthday parties, and will try to talk my daughter into having a bowling party when she is older, but in this bowlers opinion, the birthday parties RUIN bowling centers. The food all over the floor, the food that gets on the approaches, and also the care for the lanes. For example, if you say parties are always on lanes 1-12, you know that the lanes on the low end of that house will always play different and a little more funky then the lanes in the middle or high end. The management doesn’t care about that. Another reason why tournament bowling struggles here is lane conditions. Yes, I know this is an ongoing debate, but again, bowling is a business. How do you get league or tournament bowlers to come to your center. You wall them up. You make the lanes as easy as you can, get the most numbers, and Joe Pro will say, oh Center X is walled, I am bowling league there next year so I can get some of that free USBC jewelry. Well, that’s great, but come on, if you see that Center X is hosting an 8 game marathon, and you know it’s on the house shot, you know you have to average at least 240 to win it. Who wants to go front 8, stone a 9 and know you’re already eliminated from winning the game pot with 279?? Who wants that? But flip the coin, if you put out a kegel pattern, or a PBA pattern, you’ll have 15 bowlers show up. Why, because the house pros can’t bowl on anything by the wall!! When the wall is flat, Joe Pro is 175, and he knows it, and that is why he would be in the building, but wearing a pair of Nike’s, not a pair of Dexter’s.
People on the east coast have large ego’s, and a lot of us can back the ego’s up, but what is there for us to do? Bowling is struggling, and struggling bad. I always wanted to open up my own center, and said if I had one the Mega Millions a few weeks ago that I would build it. My center would be owned and operated by me, and would be a place that would give back to the bowlers. I would cater to the league bowler, I would try to bring what the best bowling cities in the country, STL, Milwaukee, Erie, Detroit, etc… and get the excitement that each of those cities have and bring it right to the NYC Tri-State Area. I would give the league rate for bowlers to practice, I would host scratch and handicap tournaments to cater to bowlers of all skills. I would even have a VIP area that could be JUST for parties and would not interfere with the lanes that are in use each day by my league bowlers. After listening to Mike Flannagan, he said what could he do to spark bowling in STL? Mike, the answer is simple, just keep doing what you’re doing. It is people like you, and people like us at Above180.com that are going to bring the spark back to bowling and get interest back in the greatest sport in the world!! What can I do personally? I will keep buying my Mega Million lottery ticket each week and pray my numbers come out J
That long line of open bowlers out the door are all potential league bowlers. I would treat them better than laegue bowlers. The league bowlers should know enough about the lackluster participation in bowling to understand that open bowling will lead to more leagues. And then more leagues will lead to less open bowling. At that point, the bowling center can concentrate more lavishly on the league bowler. Turn away open bowlers, as I have seen in privately-owned centers, and the leagues will dry up. And they have.