February 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts February 1999 Current Issue
February 1999
Short Cuts:

In the not-so-distant past, bowling was considered the sport of the regular guy (and gal). It was how working class heroes like Ralph Kramden, Fred Flintstone, Homer Simpson and Laverne and Shirley spent their precious off-the-time-clock hours.

Today, bowling has taken on a retro chic appeal you’re just as likely to find a group of hip Gen-Xers or thirtysomething attorneys hanging out at the alley as a bunch of Local 111 Wednesday-night regulars. The game has become so popular across all age and socioeconomic groups that it’s increasingly catching on as a corporate group activity, says Don A. Harris, CEO of the Arlington, Texas-based Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America. “You can bowl in any season, in any kind of weather and at any time of day and people don’t find it as intimidating as golf; it’s less competitive.”

One key to the sports’ new status is that many facilities have spruced up and offer a classier ambience than the lanes of yesteryear. “We’ve spent billions of dollars modernizing bowling centers [he prefers that term to alleys] and they have very little in common with their dingy counterparts of the past,” he says. Now, he adds, bowling centers have sophisticated lighting and sound systems; the scoring has been computerized and, in some cases, the game has been made a bit more user-friendly groups can request to have bumpers lining the lanes so there’s no chance of rolling a humiliating gutter ball.

Also, modern facilities’ snack bars have more choices than hot dogs and fries. At New York City’s Chelsea Piers Bowl, for example, bowlers can munch on chicken wraps or steak Marsala; the 80-lane center (where 40 percent of the business comes from corporate groups) also has special catering menus and packages for parties. Most of the 7,000 facilities in the United States have liquor licenses.

Themed bowling is another enticement of the lanes. Among the most popular themes at bowling centers: cosmic bowling, where bowlers play in the dark with fluorescent pins and balls, and Rock ’n’ Bowl, where the sound and lighting systems create a club atmosphere.

Another draw: Bowling is a bargain. Typical costs for a group outing, according to the BPAA’s Harris, are $25 per person, including food and beverage and rentals of balls and shoes. Parties can be as small as 10 bowlers (two teams, one lane) or as large as 240 at 24-lane centers.


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