by Frank Weiler

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…the earth was without form and void…then there was light and it was good…then there were the fishes in the sea and the animals on the land…then there were men and women…”

Then the men and women began to bowl! Then the bowlers got together and organized. First there was the American Bowling Congress (ABC) then the Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC) and then The National Bowling Association (TNBA). Then the the ABC and the WIBC merged and became the United States Bowling Congress (USBC).

Bowling Alleys sprung up throughout America and before long they organized as the Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA). Corporations got involved and came to own hundreds of “Alleys”. More and more Americans took to the lanes and before long there were millions of sanctioned league bowlers.

Then Bowling Alleys became Bowling Centers. These centers added game rooms, hosted birthday parties and began to look away from league bowlers as their main revenue source. League memberships dropped and the new USBC reduced its benefits as it raised its dues. More league bowlers dropped out and bowling centers closed their doors in droves. Then the BIG BOWLING Corporation bought up hundreds of bowling centers in America and in other countries.

Now BIG BOWLING has a near monopoly on bowling in many parts of America, including where I live and bowl. As a result, things are changing for league bowlers like myself and my teammates. Unfortunately these changes seem to be for the worse.

BIG BOWLING appears to me to be BAD FOR BOWLING. Everything that is happening and being done in the two BIG BOWLING centers that I bowl in appear to be against the best interests of league bowlers. Changes which affect pricing, services, quality, youth, community, marketing and building the sport all are affecting league bowlers negatively.

BIG BOWLING or corporate controlled bowling is all about profits and the bottom line. Corporate leaders see bowlers as sheep who love to bowl so much that they, myself included, will show up and put up with most anything to get their fix of bowling. They are not worried about losing league bowlers. Like the old Kevin Costner movie about baseball, these corporate leaders feel WE WILL COME no matter what.

The result is what we are experiencing now in my area: increased pricing, reduced services, less quality, less for our youth programs, less community outreach and involvement, less marketing and less efforts to build the sport by supporting USBC. Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas.

At the BIG BOWLING centers I bowl in PRICING is going through the roof. The price of food and drinks are up twenty-five to fifty percent. At the same time the quantity of food is less. I haven’t counted the number of french fries in my latest combo but they sure cover a smaller area on my plate than they once did. The hot dogs look smaller as do the hamburger patties. At the same time It appears that bigger buns are COVERING UP the smaller meat products.

Get ready folks, the seven dollar hot dog is around the corner! Corporate knows there is no problem with that, bowlers are willing to pay for quality. The gourmet pickles and real French Dijon mustard are worth it.

What about the price of bowling? Open bowling is up to six dollars a game with a ten dollar price tag rumored and maybe just around the corner. If the number of recreational bowlers begin to outnumber league bowlers look for league lineage to go up. This season we only experienced a modest increase in league lineage while the independent center I bowl in had no price increase in league lineage.

One of the big reductions in league benefits this year was the reduction in practice benefits for league bowlers. A few years ago all league bowlers received three free practice games of bowling everyday. Now that BIG BOWLING has taken over we get two free practice games a week per league. That’s a big downgrade in our league benefits.

BIG BOWLING is cutting back on employee hours and the number of employees. Hence, SERVICE is down. At one of my centers there is no mechanic on duty during the day, until four in the afternoon. That means if there is a mechanical problem during the daytime it won’t be fixed until later. Bowlers either have to move to another pair of lanes or bowl a make-up. Also, our rest rooms don’t seem to be serviced as often as in the past.

Personnel turnover seems to be greater now with new desk personnel seeming to appear on a regular basis. While most of the new people are cordial the feeling isn’t the same as the old days when desk personnel were around for years and knew your name. The personal touch is being lost.

In addition to many of the problems I mentioned above, the second BIG BOWLING center I bowl at has drastically cut back it’s operating hours. Daytime hours are pretty much a thing of the past. Also, their operating hours sometimes change without notice. One day they will open at eleven in the morning but then change to one o’clock in the afternoon, without notice.

The QUALITY of our lane conditions is way down this season. Ninety percent of our bowler’s averages are down this year. In my leagues half of the bowlers are averaging ten to over twenty pins lower than last year. This includes my scratch league that boasts nearly a dozen PBA bowlers and PBA Champions. It appears that the centers I am bowling in are cutting back on lane maintenance by oiling the lanes less and not cleaning the lanes. Also, there are rumors that the houses are using lower grade oil.

I have also noticed that it seems that less emphasis is being placed on our YOUTH PROGRAMS. One of my centers has no youth program whatsoever and the other has a very small one. The center with a program never uses the youth products available from USBC. Alarmingly, they do not participate in the USBC Volunteer Certification Program.

When it comes to COMMUNITY OUTREACH and MARKETING I see very little at my BIG BOWLING centers. These centers seem to operate in a world of their own. Any events they host which do involve the outside community are a product of their league bowlers initiatives and not generated by center management.

Finally, I see little effort by BIG BOWLING when it comes to BUILDING THE SPORT. They never host local USBC tournaments and they do not allow the local USBC Association to advertise their local tournaments, which are being conducted in independent centers in the area. Cooperation with the local USBC Association minimal.

While BIG BOWLING may be good for business, IS BIG BOWLING BAD FOR BOWLING? Yes, it is beginning to look that way to this league bowler.

As I wrote above, I believe these BIG BOWLING executives are taking bowlers for granted. I also believe that because bowlers love to bowl so much and are so dedicated to our sport these corporate executives will get away with fleecing us.