Generating New Business: Bowling and Local Sports Teams are a Solid Match

Bowling and Local Sports Teams are a Solid MatchWhen it comes to attracting local sports teams for banquets and parties, bowling centers strike out in many different directions.
“There is very little we have done that hasn’t been at least somewhat effective in bringing athletic teams here, whether we’re talking about the youth or adult market,” said Filippo Corradi, general manager of Burlington Bowl, Burlington, Ont. Corradi’s comment appears to be the general consensus among bowling center operators contacted by Tourist Attractions & Parks, all of whom believe the natural correlation between bowling and the fact that they are athletes plays a role in attracting athletic teams to their facilities.
While bowling centers have long been a popular venue for children’s birthday parties, they aren’t necessarily top of mind when athletic coaches are seeking a place to hold end-of-season or victory celebrations, observed Michael Longe, general manager of Champlain Lanes, Shelburne, Vt. Longe said Champlain Lanes has been equally successful in attracting adult and youth teams, attributing this in part to the specific mention of “sports team parties” for both groups in the facility’s newspaper and radio advertising as well as on its Web site.
“It’s not automatic; people need reminding,” Longe said.
But despite the role advertising plays in helping bowling centers to appeal to local teams, some operators find that a more personal approach is necessary to make a connection. For instance, employees of Champlain Lanes are instructed to “talk up” team parties during kids’ birthday parties and adult gatherings held at his facility. The same is true at Franklin Lanes in Franklin, N.C., where most team parties are for the younger set. “We’re mostly a family center, so it follows that a majority of the teams that use us for their events are youth teams,” said Jim Crawford, manager. “Birthday parties are a good time to let parents know what else we can do for the kids. However, because we’re trying to expand our business, we’re looking at the adult side as well.”
Towards this end, Crawford has been attending adult league games and mentioning to the appropriate individuals that should the team win, he would welcome the opportunity to “set them up with some kind of party package.” “There haven’t been that many takers, but I hope they will come with time,” he observed.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, representatives of Spare Time in Colchester, Vt., attended a “mixer” held by the Colchester Chamber of Commerce. Their intent was to meet not only local business owners who would bring their corporate events to the facility, but adults who participate in sports leagues organized by their employers or other organizations.
“We’re just starting out in marketing to teams, primarily to adults because Spare Time lends itself well to that kind of party,” noted Rick Hubbard, manager. “The ‘mixer’ was a great way to make some connections.” Spare Time has since hosted banquets for adult hockey and bowling teams in its 900-square-foot City Sports Grille restaurant, which can accommodate up to 150 people.
Sponsoring local sports teams is yet another means of getting these organizations “in lane” on the party and banquet front. To date, Spare Time has sponsored two adult softball teams. Hubbard said he would be “very amenable” to supporting a baseball team should a coach approach him about doing so.
Burlington Bowl, where youth sport teams account for 75 percent of team party business and adult sport teams, 25 percent, has also used the sponsorship strategy several times and will continue to do so to book additional end-of-season banquets and “bowl-and-eat parties,” Corradi noted. He believes sponsorship proves effective in appealing to athletic teams because coaches perceive it as going the extra mile and, in turn, are more willing to return the favor by holding events at Burlington Bowl rather than at other area venues.
For some bowling centers, “giving back” to the community through charitable donations proves equally effective in making a sports team connection. For example, Oasis Bowling Center facilities in Buford and Loganville, Ga., which specialize in youth team parties, donate 15 percent of the proceeds from children’s team parties to the local park or recreation department of their choice.
Similarly, Stars & Strikes Family Entertainment Center in Dacula, Ga. , donates 10 percent of its profits from team parties to the athletic association or team holding the events. About $15,000 has been returned to these organizations since the center opened in 2007, said Tara Friedman, who serves as event and community relations manager for the Dacula facility as well as for Stars & Strikes’ other two centers in Cumming and Dallas, Ga.  To publicize the program, Stars & Strikes often purchases “sponsorship packages” offered by the parks in which teams play. Sponsorship packages include the right to display the Stars & Strikes banner at the park in question.
In addition, the operator permits coaches and “team parents” to use the facility to hold meetings free of charge. “A lot of parks just don’t have a place for people to meet, or the rooms they have aren’t in good condition, or the people who are participating simply want to be in a place where they can have ‘adult’ beverages while they chat,” Friedman stated. “They appreciate the opportunity, and when it comes to their parties, they think of us first.”
The Dacula operation hosts approximately 300 team parties and trophy banquets annually; of these, the vast majority are given by youth teams. “…The organized parties appeal more to youth than to adults, who more frequently end up eating in our restaurant and then casually bowling a game at the end of their season,” Friedman said.
Friedman added that in her experience, providing sports teams with the same value packages as birthday parties works well, too. “The secret is that they need to be listed on the Web site in a separate area, as ‘team party packages.’ ” she said. Stars & Strikes’ sports team party packages range in price from $10.99 per person for one hour in the party room, party host/hostess services, one hour of bowling, shoe rental and a $5 game card (no food) to $17.99 per person for party host/hostess services, one hour of party room rental, one hour of bowling, shoe rental, a $5 game card and upgraded meal options that extend beyond pizza to include such selections as “Mexican Buffet” and “All-American Picnic.”
Similarly, for youth teams, Oasis Bowling Center touts a “Coaches Package” for $9.99 per guest; it features one hour of bowling, shoe rental, unlimited soft drinks, 30 minutes in the party room for team awards presentation, party host/hostess services and a coupon good for a free game on the next visit. A “Players Package,” available for $14.99 per guest, comes with all the elements of the “Coaches Package,” plus one cheese or pepperoni pizza per six youths attending, use of a decorated party area, all party supplies and eight arcade tokens for every child.
“Cultivating teams may take more work than attracting birthday party business, but it’s worthwhile in the long run,” Friedman said. “Always, but in this economy, especially, it’s a welcome addition.” –

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