Why Customers are Happily Bowling

November 2, 2011 No Comments

By Bart Burger

During a period when an increasing number of sporting industries and activities are competing for the attention of time-starved and cash-strapped consumers, Americans are turning to a classic pastime – naming bowling the nation’s number-one participatory sport (activities that typically require more than one individual to be played).  The findings, which are based on 2011 Simmons Research Data that analyzed consumer sentiment among more than 24,000 American adults, once again rank bowling as America’s Number 1 Participation Sport!  Yes, Bowling!
With participation levels at nearly a quarter of the population (23 percent), bowling rolled by such popular sports and activities as basketball (17 percent), golf (13 percent), football (10 percent), baseball (11 percent) and soccer (9 percent) to secure the number-one ranking.  In recent years, bowling has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in popularity that has been fueled by the emergence of family entertainment bowling centers and increasing levels of participation among women and youth bowlers.
The tens of millions of Americans who bowl every year can’t be wrong – and there is no sport more inclusive, welcoming and fun and that has an appeal that spans all ages, backgrounds and genders. More and more Americans are discovering and rediscovering bowling as a wholesome and affordable experience.  From adult organized play and youth leagues to birthday parties, singles nights and good old-fashioned family outings, bowling continues to be a top draw among Americans of all ages.
So, in an age when the “life cycle” of a product is becoming shorter and shorter with today’s ever-advancing technology, how has bowling been about to survive for literally 1,000s of years?  In the spirit of full disclosure, when you ask the question about what sport is the most popular in viewership, then the results are much different.  The Big Three (football, baseball and basketball) are by far America’s pastimes when it comes to watching.  In fact, bowling doesn’t even make the list.  However, when you talk about participation, none can claim the top spot other than bowling.
The result has led many family entertainment centers to include bowling as one of their core product offerings.  Whether it is a new startup or an existing location, it is hard to ignore the participation numbers that bowling brings with it.  I think all of us in the leisure, entertainment and recreation business understand basic human nature has us hard-wired with a need to play and recreate.  We are all in the “experience” business.
The bowling experience is so simplistic is it brilliant.  Bowling has virtually no barriers to entry and is truly a unique activity that anyone can do.  At our industry’s national trade show this past June, Steven Foster, CEO and founder of Lucky Strike, spoke to the industry about the power of the bowling experience.  Mr. Foster reaffirmed my belief of the basic human need to play and recreate.  He went on to articulate the childlike experience that bowling brings participants, and the result of the happiness that follows regardless of the results.  Though it is hard to explain, it is one of the only activities I know of that one can have poor results and still have a positive experience.  And that happiness that the bowling experience brings should not be taken lightly.  A study conducted at the Harvard Medical School proved that happiness is a collective, not just individual phenomenon.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California San Diego found that happiness spreads through social networks like an emotional contagion, according to a study that looked at nearly 5,000 individuals over a period of 20 years.  When an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees.  One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only his friends, but his friends’ friends and his friends’ friends’ friends.  The effect can last for up to one year.  Conversely, sadness does not spread through social networks as robustly as happiness.
Mr. Foster closed his keynote with the belief that bowling is the “Secret Sauce.”  Thousands of years and millions of people has resulted in billions of moments of happiness courtesy of our great sport.  Now you know the Secret Sauce!
(Bart Burger is the BPAA Vice President, Business Development. Reach him at bart@bpaa.com.)

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