Volume 1, Issue 6
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
The cover story for June's Bowler's Journal is "Consolidation," and several takeovers in the last few weeks have made the story a topic of discussion and concern. Buyouts have become the norm, so bowling is actually late to the party. As a stockholder, buyouts usually mean increased efficiency (read profits). In the banking industry, it meant more in-network ATMs and fewer employees. In entertainment, it meant more crossover hits tying blockbuster movies to theme park rides to newspaper and magazine articles.
What good do these aquistions do for bowling? Clearly, we don't know all the long-term effects. In bowling terms, collaboration could yield better equipment in the future. The smaller companies have commonly outsourced the actual making of the balls. With companies under the same umbrella, there will be more sharing of information, and perhaps more specialization in certain equipment lines. In my experience, the chain centers do a great job with junior leagues--the future of our sport. The advertising budgets of the corporations can better reach nonbowlers than the mom-and-pop centers.
What are the risks for bowlers? For employees of newly acquired centers, benefits are disappearing and experienced co-workers are fleeing, causing a form of brain drain. These companies operate strictly from the profit angle. No longer are they looking to appease league bowlers. If glow bowling reaps higher profits, then watch league play be minimized and glow bowling offered every day/night. In terms of the pro tours, as the smaller ball companies are gobbled up, the tournament-sponsor pool gets smaller.
When the dust settles, there might only be AMF and Brunswick. But I've given some thought to the "acquisition wars." Things could be a whole lot worse. When the mega-corporations discover bowling, just think of the possibilities:
Given a "family fun" angle, I'm waiting for the day that Disney gobbles one of them up to make another outlet for the mouse and his crew. Look for "Goofy Bowling" to replace glow bowling. Expect long lines and high prices. "It's a Small World" would drone over the speakers as you snake your way to the counter to pay $10 a game. Then you could wait in another line to spend $4 for a bottle of water. Food products would be shaped like bowling balls with ears. But hey, since Disney owns ABC and ESPN we could hope for a commercial to air, and maybe an occasional tour stop--The Mickey Mouse Open. If the shareholders balk, then we could rename it The Scrooge McDuck Open.
Then Microsoft should have a crack at it. All leagues will be bundled with the ball, bag, and shoes. If you think the balls wear out fast now, just wait! At least the automatic scorers SHOULD work. But during a bad game, the scorers would conveniently crash, and you could rebowl. If the Justice Department gets involved, prepare for a long wait for your prize fund.
If the banking industry buys into bowling, getting a lane would be done by machine--it would cost more if you insisted on seeing a desk person. But just think of how much they could save if they transferred a few of those employees from the teller lines to the bowling centers on the silly holidays that only the banks and school kids get off. I smell free babysitting!
If AT & T or MCI acquires bowling, expect discounts on weekends and holidays. If your center doesn't yet have telemarketers calling you about leagues forming, they will now. Since they'll charge by the minute, think of how fast the early league will get off the pair when they're charged a dime a minute!
It's only fair if Coke buys one chain, then Pepsi buys the other. Free refills on soft drinks isn't so bad. I'd expect some form of "New Coke" to make one chain look more like the other. When the customers balk, they'd bring back REAL bowling. Hey, wait, that might just work......
Seriously, I'm going to look at the bright side for now. It may be a small world, but at least it's stilll a bowling world.