2023 was a banner year for the US Bowling Congress at all levels.
Let’s start with the membership, where we continue to see a growth trend.
- 2020-2021 - 850,669 members
- 2021-2022 - 1,053,129 (23.8% increase)
- 2022-2023 - 1,093,909 (4% increase)
The data here is exciting. Now as we start 2024, USBC’s membership growth is looking like more than just a bounce back from COVID-19. We saw more new bowlers (8% increase) this past season compared to historical trends.
Congratulations to everyone in the field that has continued to commit to league bowling. I have consistently said that USBC membership nationally is a reflection of the efforts locally. Thanks to all for the outstanding work.
Will the trend continue? We still have several months to go, but the forecast looks encouraging. More to come on that.
Turning to our national events, continued growth at both the USBC Open and Women’s Championships was great to see. Here are those trends:
USBC Open Championships:
- 2021 – 7,609 teams
- 2022 – 9,317 teams
- 2023 – 9,565 teams
USBC Women’s Championships:
- 2021 – 2,522 teams
- 2022 – 3,155 teams
- 2023 – 4,148 teams
As most of you know, membership dues and these two tournaments make up over 90% of USBC’s revenue stream. Needless to say, these were big wins for the association and led to a fantastic year. Thank you to the roughly 65,000 bowlers who supported these championships in 2023!
On the lanes at the USBC Women’s Championships, Melissa Kammerer shot 818 in singles, the highest three-game set of all time. Onalee Kraus became only the third woman to reach 61 years of participation and PWBA professional Liz Kuhlkin made a run at the all-events record, shooting the second highest nine-game total in history with a 2,288 score. Congratulations to all three.
At the USBC Open Championships, Mr. 900 – Glenn Allison – tied the participation record by competing in his 71st event. In addition, we had four new members of the 100,000-Pin Club with Bill Spigner, Dennis Lane, Bob Chamberlain and Robert Brissette becoming new members of this exclusive club.
Professional women’s bowling continues to generate excitement. The PWBA launched a new website and a full regional schedule for the first time. Six of the 10 regionals were sellouts! 2023 also marked the 100th event since the relaunch of PWBA back in 2015. Jordan Richard was crowned PWBA Player of the Year and newcomer Hope Gramly won PWBA Rookie of the Year.
Highlights on the men’s side of our slate included EJ Tackett winning the U.S. Open to complete the triple crown in his home state of Indiana, and long-time Team USA member John Janawicz winning his first professional title at the USBC Senior Masters.
Additional milestones for our USBC national tournaments included:
- USBC Masters sold out 390 entries in 9 1/2 hours.
- Senior Masters sold out 312 entries.
- Super Senior Classic sold out 208 entries.
- U.S. Open and U.S. Open PTQ each sold out 108 entries.
- Team USA Trials sold out 175 entries for the men’s field.
- Senior Queens had 92 entries, the most in over a decade.
- USBC Queens had 217 entries, the most since 2016.
If these numbers seem staggering, it’s because they are. We are thrilled to see interest in competitive bowling at the highest level so strong.
Moving over to the governance side, our equipment specifications team and center certification group did some groundbreaking work in 2023.
USBC completed research and announced a certification standard for string pinsetters. While only impacting a very small number of bowlers, this gives a new option for certified play following a research project that spanned three years.
Our team also published three new research reports on ball motion relating to ball hardness on BOWL.com. We continue to learn and share more about the effect of ball hardness on performance. In addition, the team, with credit to Magnum Bowling Products for collaboration, published a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to measure “footprint” or contact area of a bowling ball. This SOP will help dispel some of the myths of the past about footprint and allow a new SOP for the industry to conduct consistent testing.
The new center certification program saw USBC staff visit over 1,100 bowling centers and measure 23,000 lane beds with our new ACE tool. This is incredible when you consider the new technology and the willingness of our industry proprietors to work with us in this area. Thanks to all involved.
Bowling’s scholarship program impacted more students than ever before. Our SMART program again gave a $7 million distribution. $3.7 million went to 5,237 active SMART recipients who used funds the previous year. Then, SMART added an additional $1 million to the SMART Pell Grant Match program to further support bowling students who needed aid the most! These are all records for the program and no other governing body matches this type of scholarship support for its young athletes’ education.
The 2023 USBC Convention proved to be an amazing experience. We surveyed attendees for feedback. The results:
- 93% said the USBC Convention met or exceeded their expectations.
- 86% rated the education seminars as Good or Excellent.
- Over 90% gave us approval for Overall Satisfaction.
On the youth bowling side, USBC’s Junior Gold Championships had 3,489 participants in 2023, paying out a whopping $500,000 in scholarships. It was the 25th anniversary, which saw a return of the finals being nationally televised on CBS Sports Network. USBC Collegiate’s growth continues to break records. We now have 233 schools in membership with the program. Opportunities for collegiate bowling are better than ever as we now have a record 4,318 student-athletes as USBC Collegiate members.
Bowler’s Ed quietly delivered a holiday gift to over 2,500 proprietors in December. Each received a gift box containing curriculum on a zip drive for teaching bowling in a physical education class. The box came with a request for the center to pass it along to a local elementary school in the hopes of creating new relationships and customers. Hopefully also getting kids introduced to bowling along the way.
The USBC Team USA program and its athletes made our country proud competing internationally. At the Pan American Games in Chile, Breanna Clemmer and Jordan Richard took the gold medal in women’s doubles. In singles, Clemmer claimed bronze and AJ Johnson brought home the gold for the men.
On the Junior Team USA side, Team USA medaled 17 times in 20 opportunities during the PANAM Bowling Youth Championships in Peru. Finally, at the 2023 IBF World Senior Championships, Team USA won 23 of a possible 32 medals. Awesome high-performance results for our Team USA program in 2023!
Bowlers Journal printed a record 252,784 magazines this year. Every Junior Gold member received a subscription as part of this historical offering. In addition, a new USBC membership product called First Frame Powered by Bowlers Journal launched in August to start the season. First Frame is a smaller, digital version of the magazine that every USBC member gets as a benefit of joining USBC.
BowlTV eclipsed 10,000 subscribers in 2023 and streamed more than 120 events to conclude the year. It really is special to see quality content being made available for the entire bowling world to access. Before 2019, only some of the competitions were streamed or even covered. Now, there are significant resources going to cover the sport, and BowlTV is paving the way to showcase athletes of all ages and skill levels across its platform.
In the technology space, USBC delivered a big year of improvements. We launched a modern way to buy membership online that projects to see 100,000 members join through the new platform. That’s up more than 40% from last year, and it’s provided members with a much easier and secure way to renew their membership.
Two additional projects rolled out to select groups for testing. A new Youth League Registration portal is available for centers that process their USBC membership. Secondly, USBC is offering a new “Bulk Membership” processing option for centers to directly buy USBC memberships for their bowlers. Both of these new systems remove the need for a paper membership application card completely. These new ways to purchase membership include collecting dues to support USBC local and state associations in the transactions. We are excited to be moving toward a more efficient and effective digital ecosystem for membership purchases.
Lastly on the technology topic, I’m proud of our state and local association leaders in their willingness to embrace new technology. In 2023, USBC’s online tournament registration system processed more than 100,000 entries and collected more than $5.5 million for state and local tournaments. This is USBC state and local business being aided by a resource provided by national. USBC national doesn’t make a profit here. We built a resource, and now it’s a huge benefit to our associations, really to bowlers, all over the country. Over 4,000 local and state association tournaments were conducted in 2023. Amazing value!