Sound, Lighting and Special Effects Keep the Balls Rolling at Bowling Centers

Whether the music is disco or country, the lights black or energy-efficient, adding special effects and sounds to a traditional bowling center can transform a night of pin busting into fun beyond the strikes and spares. Day or night, lanes lighted with black lights create an aura of fun for kids and adults as they roll glow-in-the-dark bowling balls down alleys in an effort to knock down 10 fluorescent pins with one throw.

For Kim Bowers, the manager of First State Lanes in Wilmington, Del., the music is a big part of the draw for her customers. They come back again and again to hear the same dance classics, reminiscent of the type of disco music that used to be played at roller skating rinks, she said.

“We can play any requests our guests might have, as we get our music via satellite, but they always want to hear the dance selections,” Bowers said.
First State hosts regular “Glow Bowling” nights on its 28 lanes, as well as “Cosmic Glow Bowling” birthday parties on Saturday evenings, showing that the appeal of lighted bowling spans generations.

When it comes to where to place the lights, Bowers said they use rope lighting along walls as well as lighting in the bumpers. There are always new ways to add lighting to the lanes, but Bowers said they incorporate new pieces with existing decorations incrementally, rather than making sweeping changes to the setup.

At the 62-lane Bowlerama in New Castle, Del., bowlers can experience the strobe lighting and other special effects that are part of a recently completed $3 million renovation project. Marketing director Steve Gross said that they always had sound and lights, but the improvements included other enhancements that make Bowlerama a family destination. Part of the family atmosphere includes a kids’ zone that can be divided off from other lanes for use with birthday parties on weekends or to host groups of kids during the day.

“We just had hundreds of day care groups here during the day, at the same time we were running our senior league,” he said. “With the ability to separate the groups we can host a variety of bowlers at one time.”

Bowlerama also operates music through a satellite service, but Gross said his customers like to make special requests and they can easily accommodate them.
One consideration when it comes to selecting music is making sure that the lyrics are appropriate for any crowd that might frequent the bowling center during a glow bowling session. Gerald Sammons, owner of Seaford Bowling Lanes in Seaford, Del. subscribes to an Internet music service that provides a variety of selections with pre-set playlists that are family friendly.

“We have all types of playlists to choose from,” Sammons said. “There’s dance music, like the Chicken Dance and the Macarena, as well as things like public service announcements that show the hazards of drinking too much alcohol while bowling.”

Regardless of the music, the sound is always loud, he said, with big speakers blasting the music throughout the center. For smaller groups, Sammons does have the capability to cordon off partygoers from the general population.

“We have a total of 20 lanes – 12 lanes on one side of a wall and eight on the other side of the wall,” he said.

Seaford Bowling Lanes has incorporated Galactic Bowling into its regular offerings for 10-15 years, Sammons said, with wide success throughout the years. Recent tough economic times have cut into the event’s attendance numbers, Sammons said.

“Three to four years ago we would have a full house every night, with people waiting for lanes to open up,” he said. “Now the numbers are down.”

At the Brunswick Perry Hall Lanes in Baltimore, Md., laser lights and music videos light up the place on Friday and Saturday nights. Manager Sam Ashton’s 48 lanes rock at night as well as during the day for birthday parties, particularly during the East Coast’s colder winter months.

Perry Hall Lanes includes both a snack bar and a lounge where alcohol is served. For those areas, lighting remains standard during Cosmic Bowling events.

“It’s important to make it easy for people to be able to see in those areas,” Ashton said.

When it comes to the type of lighting, Ashton is in the process of converting to LED lights. He noted that LED lights are a cost-effective alternative that are energy efficient, better looking and longer lasting. He expects to have his entire operation converted over by the end of the year.

While bowling centers have seen success integrating lighting and music effects into their operations, one facility in Millsboro, Del. has decided to differentiate itself by not offering any lighted bowling options. According to manager Scott Smithson, the Millsboro Bowling Center is busy enough without lights.

“Lights are a tool that’s good for bringing in customers, I can’t deny that,” he said. “However, they’re expensive to install and we have been so successful without them that we have just decided to stick with what we do best.”

Millsboro hosts many leagues, which fill the lanes throughout the day and evenings, but no late-night bowlers for this 24-lane center.

“We have a large base of senior bowlers,” Smithson said. “They come early and don’t want all the flash and noise that would come with lighted bowling.”
He said that adding lighting and sound, which he estimates would cost him about $1,000 per lane, would help the center draw a late-night crowd. However, with that would come added costs to staff those extended hours.

In the end, lighted alleys with glowing pins and disco balls continue to shed light on opportunities for bowling centers to draw new crowds and bring hours of sporting entertainment to bowlers young and old. –

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