Bowling: Popular and Growing at All Levels
23 Mar, 2018By: Chad Murphy
An Interview with the United States Bowling Congress
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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