I’m Still Not Watching Football – But Bowling Is Booming!

by Dave Williams

Last year I wrote a series of articles about my displeasure with professional football and the politicalization of the sport. It started with Part One and my memories of Bob St. Clair, a Football Hall of Fame member that worked as a salesman for Clover Dairy near my childhood home of Sebastopol, California. You see, in those days football players had to subsidize their football salary in the off season in order to survive.

Part Two of the Why I Stopped Watching Football saga centered around our family decision on where to eat after the football game, and my personal vote for Mels Drive-in… the actual site used for the filming of American Graffiti (1973) on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

Next, I focused in Part Three on Mels Bowling Centers, an offshoot of the drive-in chain; and how it later affected my life when I joined American Recreation Centers, the eventual owners of the remaining Mels Bowling Centers in San Jose, Hayward, Redwood City and Alameda.

Part Four brought attention to some of the lifelong friends that I made during my affiliation with the Mels Bowl properties… two of which I am still associated with today through my 300 Bowling Creations, LLC consultancy.

Finally in Part Five I reminisced about all of the bowling centers that have closed, and how markets such as San Diego, San Jose and Los Angeles represented some of the highest potential for growth in the bowling industry.

Bowling Is On Fire!

Less than one year later, it looks as though some of the hot new conglomerates in bowling may have taken a long, hard look at Part Five, because bowling is booming in the USA! Just take a look at some of these releases from the top trendy bowling chains:

Round 1 Entertainment: Hayward, comfortably nestled between Oakland and San Jose in the East Bay Area, has been announced to open in 2018 at the Southland Mall, joining seven other Round 1 locations already open in California (Salinas, Concord, San Jose, Santa Ana, Lakewood, Moreno Valley and City of Industry).

The Round 1 folks have also announced no less than seven other openings outside of California in 2018, including Chicago (North Riverside), Louisville, KY, Portland, ME, Albuquerque, NM, Erie, PA, Salt Lake City (Sandy) and Milwaukee (Greendale).

Then in 2019 the Round 1 chain have already made plans for new locations in Burbank, Roseville and Temecula (all in California), Tucson, Las Vegas, Reno, Baltimore (Towson), Boston (Holyoke) and Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s nice to see so many locations from Round 1 Entertainment opening in the next two years, because they seem to focus more on youth and family activities than the other groups.

Punch Bowl Social: Although not as aggressive as Round 1 in the announcement of new openings, the Punch Bowl set have addressed possibly the best opportunity of all, with a new location slated for San Diego in 2018. Other new sites planned to open in 2018 by Punch Bowl Social include Arlington, VA, Dallas, TX, and Fort Worth, TX.

Six new sites are on the books for Punch Bowl Social in 2019, including Milwaukee, WI, Austin, TX, Miami, Salt Lake City, Washington, DC and St. Louis. For the record, Punch Bowl Social already has two established locations in California at Sacramento and Rancho Cucamonga.

Bowlero (formerly AMF, Brunswick and Bowlmor): While Bowlero’s focus is centered more on the reconfiguring of existing properties, the conglomerate has announced plans for new ground up locations in Arcadia, CA, Scottsdale, AZ, and Dallas (Fairview), TX in 2018. At press time there were no plans for new ground up locations in 2019.

Lucky Strike: California is well represented with 4 of the 20 Lucky Strike locations in Hollywood, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orange County. Their website lists only one new site for 2018 in the Boston suburb of Somerville. Like Bowlero, Lucky Strike lists no plans for new ground up locations in 2019.

Splitsville: This chain recently opened their 7th location in Disneyland. They also have a site in Disneyworld, as well as Miami, Tampa, Fredericksburg, VA, Foxborough, MA, and Ontario, Canada. There was no mention of any prospective locations in 2019 on their website.

Dave & Busters: Not all of their locations include bowling, but it’s worth the drive to check out the video and food attractions, even without the bowling. Among their plans for 2018 are new locations in Northridge and Torrance.

While no new sites are listed on their website for 2019, they do already have 8 existing locations within California at Daly City (near San Francisco), Hollywood, Los Angeles, Arcadia, Orange, Ontario, Irvine and San Diego.

Main Event: One of the most active multi-unit operators is Main Event, with 43 locations nationwide. But they have yet to enter the California market, with their closest location to the west coast in Phoenix.

Main Event Exterior: The latest exterior design from Main Event is reminiscent of a multi-screen theatre, and that’s not a bad thing. We only hope that one will be opening soon in California. Photo courtesy of Main Event Entertainment.

Main Event Interior: Their slogan says “Eat, Bowl, Play,” but I would rather bowl, eat, play (never liked to bowl with a full stomach). Photo courtesy of Main Event Entertainment.

Their plans for 2018 include new sites in Austin, TX, Baltimore (Columbia), Avon, OH (near Cleveland), St. Louis (Chesterfield), Knoxville, TN, Houston (Humble), and Wilmington, Delaware. We can only hope that a Main Event will open soon in the Golden State, for their properties are very well constructed with an incredible attention to detail (see accompanying photos).

Weekends Are For Bowling!

What all this says to me is that the declining NFL ratings are having an effect on bowling… a very positive effect. If my mathematics are correct, there’s a total of 41 bowling centers listed in the paragraphs above, with 26 being constructed in 2018 and 15 in 2019 (so far).

Having been involved with new site selection during my days at AMF, I only hope that the powers that be have thoroughly investigated their locations, because it would appear that more than one facility is going up at the same time in Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Boston, Dallas, St. Louis and Austin, Texas.

The saving grace could be the reduced number of lanes attributed to each site. In the heyday of bowling, the typical bowling center accommodated a ratio of 1 lane for every 2,000 people, with 40 lanes being the ideal size to maximize personnel and other operating factors.

Today’s new trendy centers rarely exceed 30 lanes, with most ranging from 10 to 20 lanes. So the population to lane ratio of yesteryear is probably not as important as the number of bars, health and recreation centers, and theatre complexes in a given neighborhood.

Speaking of the heyday of bowling, I remember that AMF’s famous slogan in those days was “We Make Weekends!” Borrowing upon that slogan and all of the new bowling clubs being constructed across the nation, in addition to the negative ratings of professional football, I think that it would be appropriate to say that “Weekends Are For Bowling!”

We’re back baby!