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THE WORLD'S ONLY MAGAZINE DEVOTED EXCLUSIVELY TO THE BUSINESS OF BOWLING
6 THE ISSUE AT HAND
24 COVER STORY
The Solemn Column
The Next Big Thing? Will string machines become the new normal?
By Scott Frager
By Fred Groh
8 SHORTS • Bumperz – More than Fun • 2021 PWBA Schedule • Bowlero Atlantic Station opens • Storm’s Evolution Staff Program Recipients • Virtual Amusement 360 • Redemption Plus partners with Rhode Island Novelty Co.
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46 REMEMBER WHEN
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Right Back Where We Started
Bowling’s awareness campaigns are bringing us right back to where we were
By Mark Miller
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THE ISSUE AT HAND
The Solemn Column My team threatened mutiny if I didn’t share a few words with you this month. So, it’s with incredibly deep reverence, I want to share some of my thoughts. It is my hope these words are received with the same intentions in which they were written. It’s hard hearing or wishing anyone a happy this or merry that this year. The thoughts of continued closures and restrictions on our businesses, as well as the personal toll that COVID-19 has placed on us, are almost too much to bear. With all my internal power and might I will try to be positive and put on a brave face for the world to see. My internal fire to fight has dwindled, but it’s not out. I think of my dear proprietor friends in California and elsewhere who have suffered so much these past nine months with virtually complete closures and COVID-19 restrictions: strong, healthy, and vibrant businesses for decades only to be wiped out seemingly overnight. With so much pain going around, I know of no industry stakeholder, including myself, taking victory laps with the closure of their competitors. I’ve spoken to many proprietors who all wish for the same thing: a return to the stability of 2019 and solid, healthy growth for everyone. With all the turmoil and turbidity in our lives, I am heartened to see and hear how our industry is doing its best to maintain our collective heart and soul. The bowling proprietor spirit has never been, nor ever will, be broken.
Our industry has done commendable acts of goodness and thoughtfulness for staff, local communities, and for the industry at large. We featured many of these noble acts within the pages of IBI magazine and will continue to do so. I watched, with deep pride, Go Bowling’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade entry float by on my TV screen today. It would have been perfectly understandable to cancel. I am thankful for the Strike Ten Entertainment leadership for having the fortitude to move forward. I also felt the love when it was announced the BPAA would provide complimentary 2021 membership for current member centers. It’s been quite a while since I was the executive director of the Bowling Centers of Southern California, but I was proud of the BPAA’s demonstration of commitment to its members. I have great concerns for our industry this upcoming year as our businesses and industry at large will take time to recover. I do maintain faith and confidence that our collective spirit will continue to pull us through. I know we will work together, supporting each other and our communities, so that in 2021, we can once again wish everyone A Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year. Until then, be safe and well. – SCOTT FRAGER, PUBLISHER AND EDITOR email@example.com
EXPANSIONS, OPENINGS & NEW BEGINNINGS
TALLAHASSEE WELCOMES DISTRICT 850
Developer Nil Patel has recently opened a commercial entertainment venue in the residential community of Canopy in Tallahassee. The 44,000square-foot venue features 16 bowling lanes, with six additional lanes set aside for a VIP/private suite, multiple escape rooms, a two-story laser tag arena, a ropes course, and arcade games. To further enhance the experience, there is a patio with a fire pit and private party rooms.
BUMPERZ - MORE THAN FUN Entertainment is good, but entertainment with education is even better. That is what Pueblo, CO, is getting with the remodeled Bumperz which reopened in July. Trinity Smith and Jeremy Carter are the co-owners and have mixed fun and learning in their offerings. “Education is important to us. We want schools to be able to have field trips here and actually learn while having a good time,” said Smith. “We wanted to offer a place for kids to come out, have fun but also learn history, geology, and use math skills.” He has a history degree and almost became a teacher. Much of Bumperz’ theme is mining as Colorado has a rich mining history. There is even an area that is a replica of a mining town with an old jail and an authentic town bell. Since fourth grade is the year Colorado students learn their state history, Smith said they plan on having programs tailored to help educate kids on Colorado mining towns. Learning is everywhere. There are windows on both sides of the bowling lanes which allow students to see how the machines work. “You can see the different ways balls react on the lane,” Smith said. “You can teach about centrifugal motion, about force, RPMs, and impact. You can learn about inertia and a lot of things by using a bowling ball.” One can find just about anything that is interactive and fun. There is a miniature golf course, a golf simulator, and an escape room. There is an XD theater that is much like a virtual roller coaster, plus banquet and conference rooms and a place for birthdays and weddings. There is live music and a bar and restaurant. Bumperz’ tagline is “A Better Way to Social” and it looks like it is on its way to achieving that.
BOWLERO IS BUSY Bowlero opened its door recently at Atlantic Station in Atlanta, GA. The 36,000-square-foot space, the thirteenth in the state, was built from the ground up. It features black light bowling, an arcade and food and beverage, plus lounge-style seating, hi-definition video screens at the end of each lane, and a hi-tech arcade with more than 45 games. It, of course, offers a sports bar. It is not the first bowling center in Atlantic Station. When the area first opened up 15 years ago, there was a Ten Pin Alley. This new venue should be a keeper.
In Boca Raton, there once was Strikes. On the now vacant space, opening in 2021, there will be a 62,000-square-foot Bowlero. The high-end venue will include blacklight bowling, interactive arcade games, and an imaginative and extensive menu and signature cocktails catering to a busy nightlife in Boca.
ACROSS THE POND IN MANCHESTER Lane7 is on the move—albeit in a temporary holding pattern now that the UK has gone back to lockdown. Just prior to that, Manchester’s All Star Lanes in the Great Northern Warehouse became a Lane7. The site offers ten pin bowling, karaoke, pool, ping pong, shuffleboard, mini golf, and retro arcades. All of the accoutrement to bring people out and enjoy themselves. It will reopen early 2021. Mark Schofield, director of the Great Northern Warehouse, said: “We know that this brand of fun is something the city sorely misses after months of staying home to stay safe, and we’re sure the venue will prove popular with all of our visitors.” Lane7 was founded in Newcastle and also has sites in Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, Middleborough, and Aberdeen. Manchester is just one of the expansion plans for the Lane7 brand. There are also plans in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin. In future issues, IBI will take an extended look at the new Leicester Lane7 which is in the process of refurbishing the city’s historical train station. Let’s get bowling up and running!
EXPANSIONS, OPENINGS & NEW BEGINNINGS
Stars and Strikes recently opened its 15th location in Concord, NC. It boasts the largest arcade space in the area, plus bowling, laser tag, and bumper cars. There is also a restaurant to round out the offerings.
All Play Family Entertainment Center, in Belfast, ME, is an eight-lane candlepin center. Owner Don Benson retired and leased, with an option to buy, the center to Paul and Lynne Dyer. The Dyers will expand the hours of operation and introduce a takeout window and curbside pickup for the kitchen, plus new menu items.
Lexington, KY, is about to be the lucky recipient of a multimillion-dollar project, Lex Live, which has been four years in development according to owner and CEO George Krikorian. The 90,000-square-foot complex has a virtual reality arcade that can host Esports tournaments, bowling lanes, a corner bar with a stage for live entertainment, a sports bar, and ten movie theaters. One of the theaters has an 80-foot-wide screen and Dolby Atmos sound. An added perk – the seats are heated, can recline, and have adjusting headrests.
Wildhorse Resort & Casino outside Pendleton, OR, has opened its new, 24-lane bowling center, food court, and arcade – Quaking Aspen Lanes. The name is a nod to the history of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which owns and operates Wildhorse. The name of the area, Nixyaawii, which was the winter encampment for the Cayuse, translates into groves of quaking aspens. The center will include both open and league play, as well as eight boutique lanes that can be reserved for private parties and events.
You can’t help yourself. Once you say the name of this new 16-lane bowling center in Delray Beach, FL, Penny Lanes, you will be hard-pressed not to hum a few bars of the Beatles’ “Penny Lane.” Penny Lanes replaces the Frank Theaters’ CineBowl and Grille.
FOLLOW UP TLC network will air a two-hour special, Dec. 23 at 9 p.m. EST, on Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss, and his journey to heal his hand which had been injured in a home accident with the pinsetter in his home bowling lane.
2021 PWBA SCHEDULE INCLUDES 20 TOURNAMENTS The 2021 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour schedule will feature 20 tournaments, highlighted by the introduction of Classic Series events and an increase in the season’s overall prize fund by nearly $40,000. This is the first time since 2001 that there has been an increase to 20 events. The three Classic Series events on the 2021 schedule will be a combination of national and regional competitions. The first will be the PWBA Kickoff Classic Series at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, TX, from Jan. 18-26. To take the tour to different venues, four new cities and centers have been added to the program: Farmingdale Lanes in Farmingdale, NY; Kingpin Alley Family Fun Center in Albany, NY; Smyrna Bowl in Smyrna, TN; and Lilac Lanes & Casino in Spokane, WA. The expansion and Classic Series will help increase the overall prize fund for the season from approximately $920,000 to more than $1.3 million. USBC Executive Director Chad Murphy said, “We made a decision with this year’s tour to invest additional dollars toward the players and increase the number of titles being earned. The players will be competing for part of the largest overall prize fund since the relaunch of the PWBA Tour in 2015, and the introduction of the Classic Series events will allow us to crown additional champions and continue to build toward the future of the PWBA Tour.”
INDUSTRY AT LARGE 8 BOWLERO LAUNCHES MOBILE ESPORTS GAME Bowlero Corp has launched Strike! By Bowlero, a first-of-its-kind mobile esports bowling game developed by Touch Mechanics, using the Skillz platform. It is currently available for iOS and Android users through bowlero.com/downloadstrike. Strike! By Bowlero will connect the 40 million registered Skillz players around the world with Bowlero’s 300 bowling centers and 28 million annual guests nationwide. Players can compete in live tournaments both inside Bowlero centers and at home. Touch Mechanics is a UK-based studio that has created Skillz-powered games since 2014. Through partnering with Skills, Bowlero Corp has become the first hospitality company to brand a dedicated esports game.
8 BETSON’S NEW INSTALL AT CYPRESS LANES Cypress Lanes in Winter Haven, FL, is the recipient of a 71piece game room—The Game Zone—by the Betson installation team. The Game Zone occupies over half of the 10,000-squarefoot addition to the center’s existing 40-lane bowling center. The arcade features the latest video arcade games like Nitro Trucks, Extreme Air FX, Mario Kart DX, Tomb Raider, Ultra Moto VR, and Virtual Rabbids – The Big Ride. The center will also feature redemption games that guests of all ages and skill levels can enjoy. Michael Ducat, owner of Cypress Lanes, has worked with Betson for many years in multiple locations. “Betson is a great company to work with,” he shared.
8 BOSTON BEER COMPANY IS NOW BPAA’S OFFICIAL PARTNER BPAA has signed into partnership with Boston Beer Company and will take its portfolio of quality products, such as Samuel Adams, Truly Hard Seltzer, Angry Orchard Hard Cider, Twisted Tea Hard Iced Tea, and Dogfish Head to BPAA’s member centers throughout the U.S. The Boston Beer Company began in 1984, starting with Samuel Adams, which is recognized as one of the leading independent, American craft brewers that helped start the craft beer evolution.
8 LIGHTLIFE , BOWLERO CORP, AND THE 2020 PBA TOUR Bowlero Corp and Lightlife®, a plant-based protein brand owned by Greenleaf Foods, SPC, announced a partnership that will put the Lightlife Plant-Based Burger on Bowlero menus nationwide. As Bowlero’s official plant-based food partner, Lightlife also sponsored the 2020 Go Bowling! PBA Tour Fall Swing.
CREATIVE WORKS HOSTS VIRTUAL During a pandemic, virtual seems to be a positive solution. Creative Works recently concluded its second virtual Amusement 360 Event. Normally held in-person, over 300 operators registered, making it one of the largest Amusement 360 events. “We were blown away by how many business owners registered and engaged with the content,” said Danny Gruening, VP of marketing. The program covered three days with the first day focused on timerelevant topics to help businesses improve their operations. The second day was filled with industry expert and operator interviews, covering a variety of topics related to running an entertainment business. The third day ended with a Q&A session followed by an operator round table where operators could address their business challenges on a more personal level. The 2021 Amusement 360 Event dates have been announced and will take place on February 23-25 and August 24-26, 2021. For more information, go to amusement360.com/event. 12
A NEW PARTNERSHIP FOR REDEMPTION PLUS Redemption Plus is partnering with Rhode Island Novelty Co (RINCO) for fulfillment and logistical operations. The new agreement will help Redemption Plus continue to serve its customer base as the industry begins to open up. The decision to move fulfillment and logistical operations to Rhode Island Novelty Co was based on its state-of-the-art fulfillment center and the synergies between the two companies. This change will allow Redemption Plus to focus on what it does best in helping its customer base through exceptional service and product selection. Redemption Plus customers will notice shipments coming from Massachusetts but will not see any other major changes. Continued on page 40...
RIGHT BACK WHERE WE STARTED 3 4 6 6 6
By Mark Miller
Bowling’s awareness campaigns are bringing us right back to where we were Bowling is Back Restrictions Same guidelines for both Phase 2 and Phase 3.
hether due to bowling’s long-standing, negative stereotypes, lack of knowledge, or simply a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ bowling centers remained closed in a handful of states more than five months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But thanks to the proactive efforts of bowling communities in those areas, from August through October things began to change – until another wave of the virus hit in November and shut them back down. First with New York, and later with Washington and Michigan, governors were finally convinced bowling could provide a safe, clean, healthy environment. The hope was that their success also would move the needle for states like California, North Carolina, and Oregon sooner rather than later. Through various in-person and social media activities, plenty of noise was created to let government officials know how the industry felt about the shutdown. While communication and PR hadn’t been a problem in other states where bowling returned earlier in the summer, most in the straggling group didn’t even know why they had to remain closed; the local and state governments gave no feedback to the initial inquiries. Interestingly, the reasons why bowling centers needed to be shut down actually went beyond the pandemic.
NEGATIVE STEREOTYPES Bowling long ago shed its Fred Flintstone/Ralph Kramden/smoking image including calling facilities alleys. Yet too many people in powerful business or government positions still think of the smoking and drinking recreational side of bowling where people share bowling balls and rental shoes. They don’t understand bowling is also a competitive sport where athletes use their own equipment. “There is a misperception among government officials, not only in our state but likely in the other states where bowling is closed, of who we are as an industry,” said Bo Goergen, executive director of the Bowling Centers Association of Michigan. “They are completely out of touch [with] where the industry has moved [from] that perception.” “We don’t know for sure but that same prejudice is against us and not being vetted in
FEATURE any way,” added Phillip Huffman, owner of BAM!, a 29-lane family entertainment center in Holland, MI. “Places rated a higher risk than bowling have been allowed to open.” “We always fight the [image] battle of smoky bowling alleys. Once we get people in the door and they see what we have [to offer], that [image] goes away,” said Joe LaSpina, vice president of the New York State Bowling Proprietors Association. In many states, casinos, barbershops, restaurants, and beauty salons were allowed Bo Goergen to open. Bowling was allowed to do the same in the northern part of Michigan and for a time in California before dialing back. Depending on the state, bowling was included in the so-called “nonessential” recreational and/or entertainment businesses like arenas, movie theaters, arcades, amusement parks, gyms, swimming centers, roller skating rinks, and museums. The bowling industry did its best to explain that centers are not like those businesses. Many centers spent large amounts of money to upgrade their facilities both in general and for the pandemic. Upgrades included adding new settee floors, upgrading ventilation systems, replacing ceilings and wood approaches, installing glass partitions, painting, cleaning, and other general housekeeping. That was okay in the summertime which typically is slow especially in the northern tier of the country. But once the vital fall league season was approaching, it became paramount that the bowling centers open again. That’s when proprietors started to get into some “good trouble” (the motto of the late House of Representatives member and civil-rights leader John Lewis) and politically flexed their muscles. Here are what three states did and the results of their efforts.
NEW YORK What legendary proprietor John LaSpina believes turned the tide in his state was a series of press conferences featuring a combination of bowling officials, state representatives, and youth bowlers explaining the nuances of the bowling business. The first press conference in the New York City area was organized with the help of Rachel Hines, a bowling mom at LaSpina’s Coram Bowl who also just happens to be the chief of staff for a Republican state senator. “We hosted as many press conferences as we could,” LaSpina said. “The more politicians who come and we can get them on camera the better. It’s good for the politician and good for us.” Obviously, the PR worked, because on August 12, 2020, the New York Bowling Proprietors Association met with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s representative — whose mother was a league secretary. She told LaSpina to give her a couple of days to address the situation. And, just like she said, Gov. Cuomo announced Empire State centers could reopen on August 17 at 50% capacity, with every other lane in use, staff and 16
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FEATURE competitors wear masks, plus extra cleaning and sanitizing protocols. “My takeaway is every local business in every community across the country should make sure they know and create a relationship with their local legislator, because you never know when you need them,” said LaSpina. “You can’t be a stranger. And that means doing the right thing. Let them shake hands with your customers. Maybe you help them with fundraising. Maybe you write a check. Do something for them to promote their campaign. I can’t begin to tell you how many proprietors, even in small areas, have no relationship with their reps. When they understand what it is you do, they can help you and that’s exactly what happened. Think of it as a great big pile of paper: I think bowling was way down at the bottom of that pile and I think they just finally got to us.” John’s son and business partner, Joe, helped put together a 30-page reopening manual featuring the safety protocols that the 300 state bowling centers would follow once they opened. It was noted that those centers employ between 9,000-10,000 people combined. Until the days before Gov. Cuomo announced bowling centers would open, bowling leaders had not heard anything from the administration on their pleas. But they made a conscious decision not to file any lawsuits unlike in Michigan and North Carolina. The LaSpinas know that open centers don’t mean business as usual; their Clearwater, FL, center was allowed to open in midMay but with reduced capacity and mask wearing when not on the lanes. The result was a 40-45% drop in revenue compared to the previous year. But, all things considered, these numbers are still better than being completely closed as in their New York centers, and losing customers to centers in New Jersey and Connecticut which were allowed to re-open much earlier. Another New York proprietor losing business to neighboring states was Frank Wilkinson, owner of Rab’s Country Lanes on Staten Island. To keep bowling and his center top of mind with
Legendary proprietor John LaSpina with his son and business partner Joe 18
BAM! proprietor Phil Huffman of Holland, MI
his customers, he and general manager Nazareth Laursen hosted more than 120 episodes of “Live from Rab’s” on Facebook. They thought about doing something like it well before the pandemic to create a video library. But when they saw that two of their bowlers – Joe Calendrill and Jesse Bruno – doing a 15minute “Facebook Live” show before their Monday night league, the idea clicked for a talk show. “The idea was to tell our story and build a social library,” said Wilkinson, a past president of the United States Bowling Congress. “We got shut down March 18. We sent (pro bowler) Bill O’Neil a text explaining how we wanted to launch a talk show on Facebook and asked if he would do it and he said absolutely, and it kind of grew from there.” “Live from Rab’s” aired almost daily at 2 p.m. until June, then went weekdays at the same time before moving to weekdays at noon until ending its run once the center re-opened. “We just wanted to connect with our customers and community on a regular basis,” Wilkinson said. “It was a way not only to tell our stories, but we’ve also had local professional bowlers, professional baseball players, community leaders, politicians, food editors every Thursday focusing on local businesses, and it’s been great to give some folks some exposure while staying relevant. We didn’t want people to forget that we’re here. We wanted to have fun with it. What we thought would be a half-hour show became an hour show daily and in some cases two hours.” The show created more than 1,500 new likes to Rab’s Facebook page and 160,000+ overall views. As many as 200 people watched the show live in any given day with some viewing religiously every day. The most popular show was when pro bowler Jason Belmonte appeared. Segments also featured behind-the-scenes looks at the pro shop and pinsetting area.
Brave Frank Wilkinson has his hair dyed for charity while livestreaming om “Live from Rab’s”
“Live from Rab’s” during those early months of the pandemic proved so successful it has continued after bowling returned on a once-a-week schedule. “It is now weekly on Thursdays at noon,” Wilkinson said. “We even live streamed the show from the hair salon when I dyed my hair for charity in October. Who knew what 2020 would bring!”
MICHIGAN Centers in the less populous Upper Peninsula and upper part of Lower Michigan were allowed to open in June with restrictions. But that entailed less than 10% of Michigan’s 300 centers. All others have been closed the entire time and were in virtual radio silence mode after being ignored by state officials on why they couldn’t re-open. “If you have to throw a brick to get noticed, maybe that’s what we need to do,” said Huffman, a national BPAA director and past BCAM president. “We debated how long we were going to stand on the sidelines waiting and waiting. What’s the strategy here?” The strategy culminated with an August 13th rally attended by more than 300 people on the steps of the state capital in Lansing. It was widely publicized with the hope of convincing Governor Gretchen Whitmer to change her mind. “We wanted to focus on the reasons why we feel we can open,” said Goergen, manager of the 24-lane Northern Lanes in Sanford. “We wanted to know the data that was keeping us closed because the data we were reading was saying differently. I think we did a very good job. We kept politics out of the conversation. I want to thank all the TV stations that were there to share our 20
story. It was all over the state in all the various markets.” BCAM also mailed 25,000 postcards to the governor plus employed calls, emails, and letters to state legislators. It partnered with the Michigan athletic high school sports association, local and state chambers of commerce, and Michigan small business association. Goergen testified before a state oversight committee looking into the Whitmer administration’s response to businesses like bowling that have been shut down. On August 6, the BCAM and five member centers filed a lawsuit against Whitmer seeking an emergency injunction allowing bowling to start immediately. The suit pointed out that bowling returned in 45 states. The association also allocated funds to be part of the Unlock Michigan group seeking 500,000 signatures by October 31 to propose legislation to rescind a governor’s executive powers. “I think we’re being heard at least by the general public,” Goergen said. “There’s an awareness. In Michigan we have more than 120,000 league bowlers, a lot of whom want to make plans. Some are driving to Indiana and Ohio to bowl for now.” Like New York, Michigan proprietors also provided a guidebook to their governor but initially received no response. But the persistence finally paid off when on September 25th Whitmer said centers could open on October 9th with similar restrictions to New York.
Had bowling remained in Phase 3 of the recommended
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FEATURE restaurant opened for about 10 weeks from the end of May until early August while under state regulations, but it wasn’t sustainable. “[Legislators] definitely seemed more receptive to bringing our club and league bowlers back than for open play. For us, that’s fantastic, since that is our bread and butter,” Hoff said. “It’s not great for everyone but we’ve got to find creative ways to make sure to get these open-play driven centers league and club bowlers so they can survive.” The pandemic has not been even, fair, or just. But with resolve, organization, and open communication, proprietors were able to have their voices heard; mandates were either changed or lifted so bowling centers could get back to business. The struggle against the ravages of COVID-19 — both financial
Washington state proprietor Jason Hoff with his wife Sarah
Centers for Disease Control guidelines as originally intended, centers in Washington would have opened about the same time as other states. “The governor (Jay Inslee) moved us from Phase 3 to Phase 4 which is when we can go to a U2 concert or a Seahawk football game or when everything is back to 100%,” said Greg Olsen, executive director of the 64-center Washington State Bowling Proprietors Association. “For us Phase 4 is a death sentence. The bowling industry could never survive Phase 4.” So Olsen’s group led a concerted effort to change the equation through its “Bring Bowling Back” initiative at the start of August. In addition to sending 6,000 email campaigns to their congressional delegation in Washington, DC, urging them to pass legislation to help small businesses, they engaged in statewide rallies that netted nearly two dozen online, television, and print stories. The rallies featured people with signs urging bowling to be allowed back. They also promoted the large number of high school bowlers in the state who compete for college scholarships and eventually the pros. That led to a meeting with the Governor’s Covid Protocol Committee on August 11th, with the hope bowling could be reclassified as a club under Phase 3 rules, allowing league bowlers to return to the lanes. Just 10 days later, bowling was granted that wish and league bowlers returned to the lanes. But with a new spike in cases, Inslee on November 15th ordered bowling centers and indoor fitness facilities, gyms, and movie theaters to close, and restaurants to cease indoor service for four weeks. Before the pandemic, business was booming with an impressive 27 leagues for Jason Hoff, owner of the 20-lane Evergreen Lanes in Everett and a rookie member of the Washington Bowling Proprietors Association board of directors. He had an impressive 27 leagues on his 20 lanes. His center’s 22
and health — has changed our country. The awareness of and gratitude for our freedoms and our responsibilities has never been more clearly felt. ❖
Mark Miller is a freelance writer, editor, and public relations specialist from Flower Mound, TX. He's the author of Bowling: America's Greatest Indoor Pastime available at Amazon.com.
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Will string machines become the new normal?
THING? By Fred Groh
y the numbers, string pinsetters are almost a no-brainer for proprietors. When David Breen remodeled his Milford, MA, house, Pinz, three years ago he replaced 20 lanes of free-fall pinsetters that “were running perfectly—fantastic machines” and installed string machines. Initial cost of string compared to free-fall: “Very similar,” he related. Installation/setup for a string machine: “Two guys can lift it and put it into place.” The cost of parts, where string machines have as few as 60 moving parts and free-falls up to 1,000, is “a lot less.” Pins: “They don’t rotate like in a free-fall machine where you have 20 pins, but I find I’m not replacing all ten pins in the machine as much as
I’m replacing maybe the first couple of rows.” Overall, roughly twice the service from pins on string machines. Power: “Electricity consumption went down 30% on average in the building.” (Saving on pinsetters alone can’t be isolated because Breen gets a consolidated bill.) Time required for a staffer to learn the basic operation: “Fifteen minutes.” Time required to become proficient in the machine: “An hour.” David Breen Maintenance: “A monster difference. Every day when the manager shows up, [he does] a quick calibration [on the strings], which takes about a minute per machine. We just make sure everything is running right. Probably 15 minutes a day.” He has no mechanic on staff. “When I converted Milford, I looked at what I was spending weekly on a mechanic, what I was spending annually for my parts, my energy
COVER STORY consumption. Once I tied those three numbers together—and I included on busy nights having a pinchaser behind the lanes to babysit, if you will—I save about $6,000 a month by going to string pinsetters.” Breen calculates that the changeover is costing him next to nothing, because the purchase is running per
month just about the same as he is saving. And once his contract is paid off, he’ll be putting about $70,000 a year in his pocket at current business levels. The figures reported by other proprietors we spoke with were different, of course. But all the numbers ran in the same direction, especially when it came to mechanics, except for one number if you are a league-heavy house: the number of hardcore bowlers.
PLAYER’S SHOT Bumpers and glow were innovations that everybody welcomed. The public was enchanted and proprietors made money. Nobody was hostile. Not so with string bowling. String machines typically have a mask in place of the sweep that shields the resetting from view, and the back-end area is in darkness to hide the strings. But the very fact that these seemed good ideas testifies to the skepticism, even downright hostility, that bowling purists often voice about string machines. Comments from various websites: “Just found out my only local bowling alley is converting all the lanes to pins on strings. Honestly, it sounds terrible.” “RIP your local bowling alley. I can’t imagine any center that’s taking the sport of bowling seriously would make that move.” “I just feel that while I’m not a traditionalist in the strictest sense, I think having the pins on strings is definitely against the
spirit of the game at a fundamental level.” “As a pinsetter mechanic I find them stupid. As a bowler, I think they are an insult to the game. For example, if a pin slides off spot on a [free-fall] pinsetter lane, you shoot the pin where it ends up. [A] string pinsetter picks it up and puts it down where it was originally on spot, so you’re not making the same shot, which could affect the outcome of the game.” “Attaching nylon cords to the top of pins has a whole host of negative effects on pin action, which, for any installation that intends to be a competitive bowling facility, is unacceptable.” “It isn’t ‘true’ bowling, and the pins will have different physics.” “It sucks.” qqqq Cassandra Leuthold would talk physics with her professor when she was in college ten years ago. Dr. Tim Gay, professor
COVER STORY of physics at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (UNL), recalls “many interesting discussions about the motion of the ball on a differentiallyoiled surface.” “It is scientifically impossible,” says Leuthold, “to exactly duplicate on a stringpin machine the flight and fall of pins on a free-fall pinsetter.” Cassandra Leuthold is also a bowler. NTCA Rookie of the Year (2006), Junior Cassandra Leuthold Team USA member (2007, 2009), NCAA Championships Most Outstanding Player (2009), all told 11 singles titles between matriculation in 2005 and graduation in 2010. At the start of her senior year her coach, the renowned Bill Straub, called her “as good a player as there is in the country.” Leuthold practiced on six string machine lanes at the UNL campus 15 to 20 hours a week. Free-fall machines, she knew from age four, when she started in the game. With string, “I didn’t notice that much of a difference, other than the pins falling a little bit flatter,” she told us. “Our machines were prone to leaving corner pins. It was very hard to knock out the 10 pin, for a right-hander; for a left-hander, the 7 pin, [but] I believe that was due to the distribution of weight in the pin,” she explained. In order to attach the string, the top of the pin has to be cored. This slightly alters the weight of the pin at the top, making it a little bottom-heavy, which alters the center of gravity. “Bowling being a very technical sport, that slight shift in weight can have an impact on your score,” Leuthold said. “Is it going to be noticeable? It depends on how powerful a bowler you are. If you are powerful, it will be less noticeable because you will have a higher chance of knocking it over. That’s just pure physics—force = mass times acceleration.” If you’re not so powerful, it may be very noticeable and seem very deserving of criticism. But supposing pins were counterweighted for string machines, which would Leuthold prefer to bowl on? “For higher score, I would go for the free. For challenge and skill, I’d go with string.” Which seems counter-intuitive. Strings will sometimes tangle or clip other pins, either way taking them down. That’s why people think the strings do the bowling for you, at least some of it, one reason the hardcore are suspicious of string bowling. “The pins are harder to knock down on a string machine,” this superb bowler said again. “The other unique thing about string machines I noticed the first time I walked into the UNL campus lanes was [that] the lane machines were on but you 26
couldn’t hear them. Not as noisy. You can actually hear people. “I’d tell a person walking in, it’s a different experience. Go in with an open mind. The pinfall might be a little more challenging but if you welcome it, it will be a good teacher. People think that the string [will] interfere with pinfall, but, really, it doesn’t.” The key to hardcore bowlers’ accepting string machines would seem to be the challenge in a string game. A serious bowler plays the lane, the ball, and the pins. Together these make his signature game. If he can transfer most of that game successfully to string lanes—if, say, only five percent of the game can’t be used with a string pinsetter or if he has to learn a new five percent for string—so that the challenge of the game is the same, he would probably be a happy camper, er, bowler on string. Would Leuthold agree? “Yes, absolutely.” qqqq “If a good portion of your business is USBC leagues, the business case is still there, it’s just that your model is not going to lend itself easily to moving to string. You could save the money, but you [might] lose customers,” said Neil Pennington, director of product management for performance equipment at QubicaAMF. Hence a two-day tournament promoting string bowling, “Some Strings Attached,” hosted by QubicaAMF. The event was held July 25-26 at HeadPinz in Naples, FL. Twelve invited pros who had Neil Pennington never bowled on string and 53 firstcome, first-served open-play bowlers rolled about 600 games. Lanes were evenly split between string and free-fall. Players rotated so that each bowler rolled
COVER STORY an equal number of games on free-fall and on string. Game differences, from pro and competitive bowler observations, reported by Pennington: u “Strikes are slightly harder to carry than on free-fall. Specifically, good solid pocket hits carry well and are rewarded with strikes, just as with free-fall. Light pocket and half-pocket hits don’t carry as well, resulting in fewer of these types of strikes than typically seen with free-fall. u “Spares and splits are a little easier to pick up than on freefall. This is due in part to strings sometimes knocking down other pins. Also, pins sometimes rebound from the pit a little more easily than they can on free-fall. u “The easier spare and split conversion behavior seems to make up for fewer light hit and half-pocket hits that don’t carry to be strikes, resulting in similar overall scoring between string and free-fall.” Highly similar scoring. The average score was 203.43 on freefall for the two days of play, 204.76 for the string lanes. The difference is 1.3 pins. Is game score a good way to compare the challenge on the two machines? Yes, says Pennington. “At the end of the day, that’s what everybody is competing for. That’s how you know who the best bowler is.” Bowlers will tend to evaluate string versus free-fall that way, he added. Yes, says Leuthold. “Whatever you hit counts as what is knocked over, and the goal is to knock down as many pins as possible.” The theory seems to be that the signature game in
combination with the playing conditions (lane, ball, pins) creates the challenge in a game. That also produces the total game score, so the score can serve as a measure of the challenge. If the scores are virtually the same, so is the challenge.
FUTURE SHOT Whether string machines are going to be the next big thing in bowling doesn’t depend on hardcore bowlers. There are too few of them. But for some proprietors, they are all-important. Brent Pfluger, director of scoring operations and chief technology officer for US Bowling, sympathizes with the hardcore. “I understand the old-school bowling. There are going to be those bowlers, moms and pops—my grandparents were [among] them— that refuse. ‘A string machine, why?’ “The strings don’t interfere with the play as much as most people would think. The strings are slack. Even if you were to have two pins fall over and pull
Brent Pfluger 28
the string, there’s enough string in there to take the headpin all the way to the back of the machine. It’s going to be: either you like it or you don’t.” Resistance to string is something of an old story in the experience of Mike Resterhouse, mechanical engineering product manager for Brunswick. “I’ve heard similar stories about all the products in bowling, like going from a wood lane to synthetic lanes, and talk about the balls, the reactive components, and the lane conditions. ‘Oh, they ruined bowling by making these balls’ or whatever. I think you just adapt and overcome. If they love the Mike Resterhouse
COVER STORY sport, I don’t think they’re going to leave the sport.” “You love what you love the way it is,” Jen Waldo, Brunswick’s global marketing manager, agreed. “They’re competitive and they want to keep that purist element of their game. I think there is probably some perception out there based on older technology, [but] we’re seeing a lot of activity and application [of string] in different environments. Hopefully people will begin to change their perceptions.” “It comes down to, how do you educate the league bowler?” said proprietor Breen. “It’s going to have to come from the top, BPAA, USBC.” Anthony DeCotis, owner of Gametime in Amesbury, MA, thinks along the same line. He has more than 500 league bowlers in his “very competitive house” and most of his leagues are sanctioned. “Every time I invite people to come see it [string], they walk away with a really good feeling about the machine,” DeCotis reflected. Still, “we are looking for the help of the USBC in getting these [machines] sanctioned.” Breen offered a prediction: “If these bowlers don’t adapt and change with what’s going on—because it’s going to happen [string dominance]—the sport dies. But ten years from now, the younger generation will have bowled on strings and I don’t think
it’s going to be that big a deal. The bigger deal right now is the older player. The older demographic is really struggling with it.” Pennington is unequivocal. “I think string is going to be the next big thing for bowling. It’s good for bowling, for the sport
Gametime, Amsbury, MA
of bowling, because it allows centers to be more competitive with other types of entertainment—FECs, Top Golfs, movie theaters, a myriad of things—and that’s good for the longevity of bowling. I think the competitive side will take a little time. They’ll need more experience on the machine.” ❖
Fred Groh is a regular contributor to IBI and former managing editor of the magazine.
WHIRLYBALL: A WHOLE NEW GAME
BOWLING TEAMS UP WITH WHIRLYBALL IN THE TWIN CITIES By Patty Heath
he British electrical firm Ventola Projects Ltd has been working with their U.S.A. based distributor, Kook Amusements, at the Whirlyball Twin Cities entertainment facility in Minneapolis to install a state-of-the-art lighting system. And, that they did! Santa couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have done better himself lighting up the lanes. Initially, Whirlyball wanted to install the VAvR LED lighting in the eight-lane bowling center only, but after meeting with the Ventola team, it was decided that the VAvR should go across the entire facility, which includes laser tag, an escape room, event and meeting rooms, a restaurant, and an outside bar terrace. â?&#x2013;
SHOWCASE PRIMO SOFTWARE
Brunswick Bowling Products has announced its worldwide launch of Sync Prima™, the latest software, and Crown Advantage™, an all-inclusive center operating subscription service. Prima offers the Open Lane app, along with OrderNow for online ordering. There is also FloorPlan, a customized restaurant and center layout for best-in-class management and service. Crown Advantage’s updates brings Brunswick customers the latest and the best in business building technology and 24/7 technical support. Crown Advantage is available in multiple subscription tiers. Existing Sync customers will enjoy a complimentary trial of Sync Prima with Crown Advantage Platinum through the end of 2020, and all new Sync purchases will include a oneyear subscription to Crown Advantage Platinum. www.brunswickbowling.com/bowling-centers.
COLORFUL LIGHTING SYSTEM
ZOT ColorSplash is a leader offering truly unique LED lighting and control systems that are changing the way the industry thinks and markets business. This programmable LED lighting system provides new and existing businesses with the ability to create custom light shows comprising a myriad of colors for an all new entertainment experience, thus promoting revenue and profit. Proprietors have discovered that ColorSplash is much more than a lighting system; it’s a marketing tool that can be tailored for virtually any promotion ranging from birthday parties, corporate team building events, holidays, and major sporting events to name a few. For more information, contact Steve Szabina at (877) 236-8505; Steve.Szabina@zotcolorsplash.com, or go to www.zotcolorsplash.com.
EXPAND ONLINE SERVICES
Booking software is traditionally a one-trick pony that does one thing – book. Partywirks says, “Retire the pony!” Partywirks’ multi-function, all-in-one software includes options such as Book-Now, Shop-Now, Inquire-Now, ShareNow, and Invite-Now. It brings the power of ecommerce and instant gratification to any webpage or Facebook post and delivers more ways to entice, inform, and encourage people to take action. Try Partywirks risk free. No credit card or contract required. If Partywirks delivers the results, special BPAA Smart Buy pricing is available. Sign up for a product tour at https://calendly.com/partywirks/partywirksproduct-demo. For more information, call (877) 345-4012 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DOWNSIZING IS A GOOD THING
CHRISTMAS STOCKING STUFFERS
Expert Hosiery, the leading footwear specialist, is offering great Christmas stocking stuffers. Neon green with bowling pin, available in women/teen size and available in our North Carolina warehouse. There is something for everyone in each dozen: 6 pair with rainbow stripes and 6 pair with blue stripes. New novelty bowling socks color coordinate with Expert Hosiery assorted fashion glow crew socks with rainbow dots. Expert Hosiery (919) 799-7707; email email@example.com; or go to www.funtimefootwear.com.
Steltronic has done it again! Its Vision-NEX lane computer is downsizing, with a height of only 4 inches (10cm) tall, it still packs the punch of our patented, exciting 3-D graphics over HDMI cables with HD video. No spinning hard drive; Steltronic uses the 100X faster solid state drive which means no moving parts to fail over time. Existing customers with VGA connections can upgrade to the new Vision-NEX computer for the higher resolutions to bring the exciting new HD graphic system to the next level of entertainment. We are YOUR bowling center management specialists. Call (800) 942-5939; email info@SteltronicScoring.com; or go to www.SteltronicScoring.com. 34
IBI December 2020
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CENTERS FOR SALE ILLINOIS: 24-lane, recently remodeled center w/ new parking lot. 40,000 s/f on 1.67 acres. Qubica scoring and POS system. Strong leagues w/ 900+ bowlers, also pool leagues. Sports bar & grill, pro shop, video gaming, & banquet hall w/ lots of room to convert. Owner retiring. Call (847) 613-5020 for price & info. NEBRASKA: 32-lane center, land & building. Features Brunswick A2 pinsetters, Brunswick Pro Anvilane lanes, Brunswick 2000 ball returns. Also, large lounge seating to 250; party room seating up to 80; game room, cafÃ© with established catering service. Center caters in-house and to other locations year-round. For more information, call Don Mehring, Action Holdings Real Estate, office (308) 384-3777 or cell (308) 380-0444.
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SHORTS ...continued from page 12
PEOPLEWATCHING Anthony Colangelo of Meridian, ID, has joined the Bowlers to Veterans Link (BVL) board of directors. He was previously on the board from 2014 to 2016. He is an Army veteran who served from 1984 to 1988. His grandfather served in the Army during World War II. Colangelo is also on the USBC board of directors. He previously served as the Idaho State USBC manager and was involved in leadership roles with the New Jersey State USBC BA and the Central Jersey Middlesex Anthony Colangelo County USBC. He is currently the IT manager for Boise Center, Idaho’s largest convention center. Gary Mage has served as PBA West Regional Director since 2004 and the Northwest Regional Director since he founded it in 1979. Mage announced his retirement from the PBA after 40+ years of service. “I’ve been a bowling center owner, pro shop operator, and touring player. You have people you’ve built relationships with over a span of many years. It’s hard to let go, but it’s time,” Mage said. Josh Blanchard, a threetime PBA Tour champion, has been selected to replace Mage. “It is a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Gary Mage,” said Blanchard. He isn’t easily replaced, but I hope to continue many of the long-standing events he developed over his tenure.” As the new tournament director, Blanchard will be Gary Mage and Josh Blanchard responsible for PBA regional operations in the West and Northwest, including developing the schedule of tournaments, pro-ams, and overseeing onsite tournament logistics. Reggie Fils-Aime, former president and COO for Nintendo of America, Inc., has been elected to Brunswick Corporation’s board of directors. “Reggie’s experience in consumer-facing initiatives and digital technology will make him a valued addition to our strong and experienced board of directors,” said Manuel A. Fernandez, Reggie Fils-Aime Brunswick Corporation’s non-executive chairman of the board. Fils-Aime retired in 2019 after 15 years 40
at Nintendo, his portfolio is comprised of many leadership roles at a variety of global companies such as Procter & Gamble and Pizza Hut. He currently serves as a director on the boards of Game Stop Corporation and Spin Master Corporation. Storm Products has introduced its Evolution Staff Program. Gary Hulsenberg, VP of business development, describes it this way, “This program is the next evolution in our brand’s purpose to grow the sport of bowling. It is designed to connect the top athletes with our team as they work towards their goals to compete professionally in the sport, one day in the future. In addition, they have the ability to communicate the positive impact bowling has had on their lives and introduce the sport to those who might not be aware of the opportunities.” Those chosen to participate in the program have exceptional grades, are involved in community service initiatives, and successfully compete in local, state, and national youth events. The first two athletes who have been named to the Storm Evolution Staff Program are Spencer Robarge of Springfield, MO, and Jillian Martin of Stow, OH. “Spencer and Jillian are two of the best youth athletes in the sport of bowling right now,” Hulsenberg said. “Beyond their dedication on the lanes, they are committed to their academics and are Spencer Robarge (left) and Jillian Martin (right) respected by their peers.” Applications for the Evolution Staff Program are reviewed monthly. To begin the application process, click this link: http://bit.ly/EvolutionStaff Dr. Razan Baker of Saudi Arabia has been appointed the chairperson of the International Bowling Federation’s (IBF) Women in Sport Committee. Dr. Baker currently serves on the Saudi Bowling Federation Board, while also the director of international communications for the Saudi Olympic Committee. She is also a sports columnist of the Arab News. Over the past two years, the Saudi Bowling Federation (SBF) has more than quadrupled its athlete membership numbers helped by its women in sport initiative. Dr. Razan Baker
Well, 2020 certainly didn’t lend itself to much celebration but that’s why … We need a little Christmas! Right this very minute! Candles in the hallway; carols on the spinet. This is what our 2018 wish to you looked like. We still mean it!
ere is another gem from the holiday card collection of the late, famed bowling writer Chuck Pezzano. Holiday Lanes, illustrated by Miles Kimball, a master card creator since 1935, is Santa’s respite and his off-the-clock go-to.
The message: timely The sport: universal The best of the Season from all of us at Bowling Industry magazine.
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