Bowling: Popular and Growing at All Levels | Sports Destination Management

Bowling: Popular and Growing at All Levels

Mar 23, 2018 | By: Chad Murphy
An Interview with the United States Bowling Congress
All photos courtesy of the U.S. Bowling Congress (USBC)
At all levels and across all age groups,
things are going well in bowling. Here at the U.S. Bowling Congress (USBC), we get to see that firsthand. The numbers for our tournaments are up across the board. A quick cross section of those tournaments shows that participation on the youth level is increasing. In fact, our Junior Gold Championships will bring 4,000 boys and girls to Dallas this year, competing in U12, U15 and U20 divisions. On the adult side, we’ll have roughly 4,500 teams in Reno this year for our Women’s Championships, which means roughly 18,000 bowlers altogether.
What is the Perfect Facility for a Championship Event?
To put it really directly: With numbers like we just mentioned, it’s not often possible to find appropriate venues for our biggest events. We actually can build a custom facility if certain factors are in place: the right amount of space (at least 105,000 square feet), the right ceiling height and so on. We’ve used convention centers, old unused supermarkets and a variety of other facilities.
For example, our Open, which runs from late March to early July, will be held this year in Syracuse. We’ll arrive around the end of December to start building the venue – it takes about three to three-and-a-half months all told. By the beginning of March, it is done and ready to host the 39,000 bowlers who will compete there.
Our website,, has a full list of our national events. Destinations interested in learning more about those can start their research there. For more detailed information on hosting, we recommend you e-mail Greg Moore in our office at
What is the Economic Impact of a Championship Event?
Our biggest events, like our Open, can be $60 million plus, but obviously, that depends on the destination. We always get a big bump when we land in Las Vegas. Casinos and bowling are a good combination, and Vegas built a custom facility for us, which opened in 2016. We’re set to be there a few times in the next decade.
What Does USBC Look for in a Host City?
In addition to the facility (or for the big events, the place to locate a big facility), we’re looking for things like access for travelers, parking and subsidy money, restaurants and hotels.
Why Does Bowling Continue to be so Popular?
Whether you’re an avid bowler or whether you just bowl recreationally, you continue to do it because bowling is fun. We like to say, ‘We were social media before there was social media’ because bowling centers have always been community gathering places. If you’re bowling for fun, you’re always with either your family or your friends. If you were to stand outside a bowling center and ask people who were leaving, ‘Hey, did you have a good time?’ it would be rare for someone to say no. In many cases, a love of bowling has been handed down generationally; people grew up watching their parents and grandparents bowl, and they followed them into the sport. They might be competitive or just recreational, but they enjoy it.
Why isn’t Bowling in the Olympics Yet?
That’s a question we’re asked a lot, and obviously, there’s nobody at USBC who wouldn’t want to see it included – but there’s no one reason; it is complicated. Olympic inclusion is a pretty heavy challenge and there is a lot involved with it. One answer we can provide is that if bowling were as popular all over the world, and with the younger audiences, as it is in the U.S., it would have a better shot.
Our statistics show that between 65 and 70 million people go bowling at least once a year in this country. Worldwide, Japan is the second-largest bowling market. Bowling is popular across Asia and South America, and it’s emerging in China. It’s also growing in Korea. Australia has always had bowling as well.
Three years ago, we had women from 12 different countries competing here in our women’s pro championship. The sport really is developing around the world. We were on the short list for inclusion for the 2020 Games in Tokyo and we just missed out, so obviously we still believe there is some opportunity there. World Bowling is the sport’s international governing body, and while we’re not in the Olympics, the sport is included in the World Games and the Pan American Games.
What’s the College Bowling Scene Like?
College bowling is also as big as it’s ever been, and we’re seeing great participation in our Intercollegiate Team Championships as well as our Intercollegiate Singles Championships. Both events will be held in April, at Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Nebraska.
NCAA also holds championships of its own, and the NAIA has made bowling an emerging sport for both men and women. They are working toward developing their own national championships as well, and we have seen a number of good schools in the NAIA that have taken on bowling.
Are High School Kids Participating?
At the high school level, there are varsity teams and also bowling clubs in schools across the country. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), there were 56,753 high school students who participated in bowling. That’s up from just over 55,000 the year before, which was up a little over the year prior as well. We’ve been on the fastest-growing sports list, along with lacrosse.
Are there Bowling Scholarships?
One of the great benefits of USBC Youth membership is the chance to earn college scholarships. More than $6 million in annual scholarships is awarded to youth bowlers each season based on academic, leadership and on-lane performances. Colleges may award their own individual scholarship money, as well.
Is there Adaptive Bowling?
Adaptive bowling is actually a pretty wide term but there certainly is plenty of it. In fact, Al Uttecht was our first wheelchair bowler to be inducted into the USBC Hall of Fame in 2012. The NFHS also recorded more than 2,400 high school students who participated in adaptive bowling during the course of the school year.
Bowling is a sport that has traditionally been offered in the Special Olympics, and USBC has an exclusive membership for Special Olympic organizations and other athletes with special needs. Athletes, partners and coaches can become USBC members in partnership with the national governing body of the sport.
Is It a Sport that Appeals to Both Genders?
Bowling seems to have a fairly even male/female split. It’s about 55 percent male and 45 percent female, and that’s a division that has held steady for us over the years.
Do People Stay in the Sport for the Long Term?
It’s definitely a sport that people stay in. We actually have people in what we call our 100,000 Pin Club. That means they’ve been bowling for 50 years and averaging 2,000 pins for nine games. We have some bowlers who are going to be participating in their 60th championship, and this year, we’ll see one who will have participated in 65 championships. Of course, you have people who are just starting and it’s their first championship. The USBC has been around a long time, so when we look at the average age of our bowlers, we might skew a little older than we used to. At the same time, though, we’re seeing all that growth at the youth level.
Is Bowling a Safe Sport?
There’re not a lot of injuries in bowling. Honestly, it’s one of the safest sports around. We like to tell people, ‘Here we are. We give out over $6 million in scholarships – and zero concussions.’ SDM

About the Author