A British psychologist, Pamela Briggs, a member of the British Psychological Society has indicated that:
“Stress is often made worse by the anticipation of an unpleasant event and actually dissipated once you tackle the problem directly.”
Which leads me to league bowling and the stress we have faced for over 34 years in watching ABC,WIBC and now USBC numbers continue to go down.
Where once (1977) there were almost 10 million sanctioned league bowlers out of an adult population of 150 million adults (6.7% penetration), we now have just 1.95 million league bowlers (2011) out of 220 million adults (1% penetration) there is good reason to feel stressed and for the stress to get worse.
Yes, I know centers closed for real estate reasons and I know centers were merged into bigger chains and yes I also know that many centers lagged behind in modernization and didn’t have a ‘happy” product to sell. And many bowlers left because of these reasons. Point being, they still left!
But nevertheless… 6.7% penetration to 1% penetration. YIKES!!
The real question is what are you going to do about it?
Quite obviously for the vast majority or proprietors what has been done in the past 34 years has not helped to stem the tide of the eroding league base.
Many new leagues and formats have been tried with various success rates. premium leagues, short season leagues, shorter season leagues, once a month leagues, every other week leagues and trio leagues to name just a few.
But here’s what really happened.
1. Once we could sell an existing bowler on joining a new league. He or she probably welcomed the idea of another night out, especially the “good bowlers”, who bowled for money. Back then league bowlers were in 1.7 leagues. Today that number is 1.1 So because of the economy, more women in the work force, pressures of time and other competitive activities, existing bowlers left their second or third league. Either they could not afford it, didn’t have the time or developed other interests
2. Because we had fewer league bowlers coming into the center, we had fewer people to talk to about our programs, thus fewer new bowlers
3. Because open play bowlers were initially locked out of most weekend (early) nights, they gravitated toward weekends and late night weekday bowling which attracted “a party crowd” who were not very interested in 36 week leagues with rules, obligations and commitments. so we had fewer bowlers to speak to who had any interest in bowling in a long season.
4. We never really got out of the center. Oh, we made a few shots at it to sell; even hired a “promotional” person” who tried to sell our “existing products” to a market that didn’t want it. When we eventually saw the light and started marketing shorter season leagues, we had some success…inside of the center and thus, we “didn’t have to go outside.” And we didn’t. At least not on any continuous and disciplined basis!
5. Other venues from golf to amusement parks to movies were busy marketing their stuff in many mediums. We pulled back, cut costs, became invisible and sent emails and Facebook messages to OUR EXISTING customers. The 250 million people who didn’t bowl didn’t even think about us. (70 million people went bowling at least once last year)
6. We got rid of the house pro; you know the guy or gal that used to help people improve their game, give them tips and show them how to improve their game. And then we slowed way down on our bowling instruction. LTB was a great league bowler generator, but somehow after the NBC went out of business in the late 80’s, that program was slowed to a trickle. So if new bowlers were not going to learn how to get better, what’s the fun in bowling and why would they return? They didn’t. And 20%+ dropped out every year and we replaced 15% to 17%; thus a short fall of 3% to 5% annually
Left to its own devices, league bowling, of the sanctioned kind, will continue to atrophy. But there are ways to ameliorate this process and get it going in the right direction.
First, people need to try the product again. All these people that “ustabowl” haven’t been in your place for years and they have no idea what’s going on. You need to incentivize people to come into the center over the summer, preferably in August, to try bowling for free and then offer them short season programs like 4 to 8 week sessions.. And let them bowl in small groups, They are NOT interested in big leagues. 16 to 24 people would be fine.
Second, you need to communicate your free party August program not just in emails and Facebook, but explore other mediums as well. Yeah its costly, but so is going out of business.
Third, you need to go door to door to retailers, banks, corner markets, manufacturers, clubs, restaurants and bars… from one end of your market to the other and invite them in to these parties as well.
Fourth, sell what people want. Find out how many weeks they want to bowl or how frequently. The sooner you stop selling what you and your staff want and start selling what THEY want, the more success you will have.
Hope I haven’t been to hard on you today…but its time for massive action and no one will do it for us. Not another industry integer, not a great sponsor and not even our rich uncle…if we had one.
So go out there and sell, sell, sell..