Volume 1, Issue 17
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
Fall leagues have started, and after talking to several proprietors and league coordinators across the country as well as bowlers in general, I'm hearing about an ominous trend. Folks are asking "Where have all the league bowlers gone?"
There are a few reasons leagues aren't flooring. Some houses have consciously opted to stop marketing leagues in favor of the one-two of open play/parties. Some houses across the country have even taken the deliberate tact of removing all leagues, either from the highly profitable Friday through Sunday weekend period, or all leagues entirely.
This summer I saw Brunswick houses running Cosmic every day, at $4+ a game. That sure as heck beats anything the leagues are paying, or open play rates for the same period. Let's face it, at $10-15 per child for a birthday party, very little bowling gets done in that hour or two, making it a pretty profitable event. The corporate parties take that one step further by recruiting organizations to celebrate just about anything with a bowling party. The alcohol sales in a "celebration" must clearly outweigh the "beer or two" in league.
League bowlers will confidently boast that a center can't survive on Cosmic Bowling or corporate parties alone. But there are those in management who seem to think otherwise. As one proprietor told me, he'd rather have a bunch of bowlers with averages under 100, than deal with seasoned league bowlers, because the higher the average the more they demand.
In some cases, the drop in league membership appears to be poor planning and marketing rather than an active choice by the house. My son's afternoon league, the parents were gathered in the lounge and told if we each brought a friend with our child next week, both children would receive free game cards. Somehow methinks this type of marketing would have been better done several weeks ago, and not after the kids have started bowling for score.
In the travel leagues that don't have the luxury of a "center" or a league coordinator, they're all down teams and bowlers. In my daytime travel meeting, the league lost two teams in the week before it floored. The one positive note from the travel circuit, the return of the All Stars league to the nighttime circuit, was tempered by the folding of another travel league.
In the centers that still covet leagues, it's the bowlers that want out. Even leagues that have been full for years have finally succumbed to the trend of losing bowlers every year. In one house that had two 24-team scratch leagues, the house is barely 2/3 full either night. Have people finally gotten tired of spending so much money on equipment? Are people confused with equipment that comes out faster and faster and lasts less than a season? Have people considered the league costs, the time, and the season-long commitment, and said no thank you? I'm only guessing here, and I don't work for the industry, but has anyone thought to call and ask WHY people aren't coming back?
Many people are just cutting back. People are saying no to bowling as many leagues. And honestly, I'm part of that trend. Last year I ended the season on four leagues, and timewise, it was too much. This year my husband joined another travel league in the circuit that I left. Now we're each bowling two leagues, and adding in my son's league, that's $80 a week. That's a decent car payment for most folks. The trend has even hit the weekend warriors of our sport this summer. I've seen tournaments and tournament clubs go begging for bowlers. Everything from the pro-level tourneys with added prize funds that drew 30-odd bowlers down to handicap tournaments that have changed their formats to accommodate bowlers that never came.
Regardless of where the loss is coming from, the net result is that fewer people are bowling leagues. I'm not ready to give up on league bowling, just yet. But I think 1998 might be the year we see some major changes, and I don't like the way we're going.