Bowling is arguably one of America’s most popular pastimes with almost 70 million people bowling at least one game a year over the past 10 years. Bowling is a sport with few boundaries to its enjoyment. Whether a person is 6 years old or 106 years old, they can enjoy the game. With a little adaptation, those with physical, aural or sight challenges can play alongside friends and family and not feel left out of the fun. And, getting started in bowling is practically without initial expense. House balls and shoe rentals mean people don’t have to spend a lot of money up front to enjoy the sport. Bowling is truly a game for almost everyone.
League play has shown some declines in recent years as a segment of former league bowlers opt to bowl alone rather than in organized groups. This does not mean that bowling has declined as a sport. It means that league bowling has declined as a driver of the sport.
In his seminal book “Bowling Alone,” Harvard professor Robert Putnam uses bowling as a metaphor to track social interaction and behavioral change in the United States that have led to a decline in social capital, the informal network of mutual aid and information exchange that keeps communities thriving, and the center tent pole for satisfaction and happiness in American life.
In “Bowling Alone,” Putnam uses a real story to capture the essence of social capital, and it just so happens to be a story about bowling, together.
John Lambert and Andy Boschma knew each other only through their local bowling league in Michigan. Lambert, a 64-year-old retiree, had been on a kidney transplant waiting list for three years. Boschma, a 33-year-old accountant, offered to donate one of his own kidneys to Lambert.
“I obviously feel a kinship with Lambert. I cared about him before, but now I’m really rooting for him,” Boschma said.
That they bowled together made all the difference.
In tremendous ways like this, and in small ways, too, Americans need to reconnect with one another, and bowling is a terrific way to compete, engage and form lasting relationships. It is fundamentally a social sport, and bowling centers are often the center of their community.
But that now means that the game of bowling, and the industry, must also evolve to reflect the constantly evolving lives of American consumers in the 21st century. That means taking advantage of new technologies and social media to speak to the social trends identified in “Bowling Alone,” and offer new types of bowling experiences that can once again foster a sense of community, connectedness and interaction through bowling.
This is where Sports Challenge Network and XBowling come into play.
Sports Challenge Network and XBowling were born out of the realization that while many sports-related applications and offerings exist, none were created as an integrated platform to increase the participation in, and connections with, the actual sport or game represented and drive new types of interaction, competition and, yes, social community among players.
Given the extraordinary increase in technology-savvy consumers using social and mobile technologies, it is clear that the bowling industry must harness and take advantage of these technologies in order to speak to today’s consumers and bowlers and reverse the “bowling alone” trend.
For example, one of the fastest-growing and extremely important segments of bowlers is the youth market. More than 15,000 schools now have a “bowling curriculum” in which they set up carpet and pins in their gyms and have access to local bowling centers. This has led to a 17 percent increase in bowling among youth under the age of 14, according to the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America. Significantly, recent consumer surveys have indicated that one out of every two youths under the age of 18 bowls at least once every year.
All one has to do to see how best to capture the attention of this segment of the market is watch their behavior, whether in a bowling center or in your own home. Social mobile technology and applications, through their personal smart phones or devices, are at the center of how they play, communicate, compete and share.
Within this context, XBowling is a natural evolution for bowling. Utilizing social and mobile technologies to create new types of connections and challenges, XBowling eliminates the barriers and boundaries to bowling together and builds deeper engagement and loyalty for players, as well as bowling center operators, sponsors and branded equipment manufacturers.
At the heart of XBowling is a free mobile application, downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android, and connected, live, to bowling center scoring systems, that allow players to play each other, and connect and compete with each other, from anywhere, to anywhere, regardless of geography.
For the first time, bowlers are now able to play other bowlers anywhere at anytime in a live bowling experience through the XBowling app. This allows bowlers to build their own personalized social experiences and participate in new types of challenges within their local bowling center. Additionally, bowlers earn Sports Challenge Network loyalty points and challenge-based rewards for participating, all through actively bowling and engaging with others in new ways.
Bowling today reminds me of a quote by Eric Hoffer, “In times of change, learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Change is happening all around us. It can be unsettling. How does one find the best path forward? It’s best found when we connect with others. Bowling, yes, but not alone. –
(Bill Fasig is the Chief Marketing Officer at Sports Challenge Network (SCN) and XBowling.)
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