2016 recap, 2017 preview
By Chad Murphy
USBC Executive Director
Looking back on 2016, USBC saw a transformational year for the organization thanks to two very important decisions made by our delegates at convention. The membership approving a dues increase, and the mandatory association mergers are game changers for the future of USBC. The financial outlook of the association is now secure for the next decade, allowing for optimism, investment and forward thinking. This will be a sharp contrast to the previous decade at USBC, which saw constant cuts in services, staff and resources leading to insecurity and uncertainty throughout the organization at the national and local level. With the merger issue finally settled, the original vision of USBC as one unified organization now will be realized. A new book now will begin to be written. One of inclusion for all. One of an organization moving forward with pride and purpose.
There is much to celebrate across the entire organization. As we start 2017, I want to share some of the progress we have made together on USBC’s organizational priorities.
The IBC Youth Development team is doing a wonderful job focused daily on two key disciplines – Recruitment and Retention.
Retention programming through high school bowling, USBC Collegiate and youth tournaments are at all-time highs. USBC Collegiate surpassed 200 schools in membership for the first time in history, and the Intercollegiate Singles Championships had a record of 1,215 entries in 2016. High school bowling continues to grow with the states of Alabama and Nebraska newly reaching varsity status. We now have 21 states and the District of Columbia recognized by their state high school athletic associations along with 27 club-level states. An effort toward middle school bowling is next on our roadmap.
On the tournament side, the 2016 Junior Gold Championships broke all records for the fifth consecutive year. The event saw 3,292 competitors on the lanes and the USA Bowling mainstream sports model held its first national championships complete with finals televised on CBS Sports Network. Sixteen regional USA Bowling teams qualified throughout the country to earn spots in Indianapolis as part of Junior Gold week with champions crowned in the U15 and U12 divisions.
Recruitment programs such as Bowlers Ed continue to offer bowling into the physical education classroom and the IBC Youth marketing collaborates with groups such as School Family Media to place bowling with PTA/PTO groups throughout the country. These are examples of the organized effort in support of the motto – “Get a few more kids to go bowling more often”. 2016 marked a record for Bowlers Ed grant applications with a 211% increase over 2015 and the program awarding 44 grants. Inside the schools themselves, 175,000 new kids were introduced to bowling through the classroom in 29 different states! WOW!
A new social media campaign has been launched to call more attention to youth bowling over the next several years. With all of these programs, we are proactively attacking the market where the kids and parents live rather than waiting for them to walk through the bowling center door.
One of the things I’m most proud of over the last six years is our dedication to separating the sport from the recreation at the youth level. The sport takes place through leagues that use tougher patterns, and our tournaments, with scratch competition in a peer-to-peer environment. Recreational youth bowling is standard handicap-based league play as well as handicap local and regional competition. For years, handicap scoring was the norm with some scratch competition only introduced when an athlete got to high school. With the introduction of the new age-based divisions (U15 and U12), scratch competitions for younger age groups are becoming more standard and seeing increased acceptance. In addition to the Junior Gold Championships, the Pepsi Championships, Youth Open Championships and the new USA Bowling National Championships all feature scratch competition. All of the above also feature kids bowling in age divisions, in peer-to-peer environments, which is essential when developing an affinity for anything competitive – including the sport of bowling! The recreation of bowling will always be around and a percentage of those participants will feed the sport. Both are important parts of the ecosystem and will be supported moving forward instead of one, or the other.
I want to give some special thanks to our friends at the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America for their partnership, and Gary Brown, Roger Noordhoek and Kristy Ventre for their staff leadership in this area.
Competitive Bowling/Championship Tournaments
Simply put, our tournaments had a great year. The USBC Open and Women’s Championships showed growth year-over-year for the first time in quite a while. The PWBA followed its comeback season by exceeding all expectations in Year 2. The USBC Masters sold out again and the U.S. Open closed out the year with an incredible TV show including Francois Lavoie rolling a 300 in the semifinal match before going on to claim the title. Youth was served this year as we had five new PWBA champions, a 19-year-old win the Masters and a 23-year-old win the U.S. Open.
Team USA continued its dominance with the Junior Team USA boys team winning the gold medal in team event at the World Bowling Youth Championships. Team USA’s men’s team brought home the gold medal this summer at the PABCON Championships in Cali, Columbia, while Kelly Kulick closed out the year with a gold medal at the World Bowling Singles Championships in Doha, Qatar, this past December. In total, Team USA earned a total of 84 medals in 2016. INCREDIBLE!
USBC produced 23 televised events in collaboration with partner CBS Sports Network in 2016. The USBC Masters was televised on ESPN as part of a partnership with PBA. Our social media reach expanded to 67-million impressions on Facebook with nearly half a million user engagements, while BOWL.com provided information to 3.9 million unique visitors.
We also saw some of the best mainstream media coverage in years during 2016. The success of PWBA and competitive bowling was featured on national news outlets including the Today Show, Fox and Friends, USA Today, HLN Network and Sports Business Journal. It has all been a part of the public relations and marketing message designed to expand the reach of bowling, the sport, USBC, and the PWBA to a new generation of consumers and it’s working.
In 2016, we released a modernized redesign of BOWL.com to meet the needs of our customers who use the site on mobile devices. The launch came and went with no hiccups and shows we have invested in the right team and the right people to lead our technology strategy. A new tournament management system was launched as part of the 2016 women’s championships. The program includes a modern backend system allowing tournament staff to be more efficient serving the needs of the customer and streamlines the process to better ensure data accuracy. Technology improvements also made it possible to deliver prize checks from our tournaments to individuals instead of the team captain for the first time. The tournament management software project has proven to be so successful that we have moved up phase two, which includes a custom registration solution that will make registration smoother for team captains and squad organizers starting with the 2018 Open and Women’s championships. That’s a full year ahead of schedule!
All the above is in addition to the WinLABS 12 project that is being tested and offered to associations throughout the country. About 200 local associations have requested the new WinLABS 12 as soon as possible and our staff will be working to have that group up and running by convention. Our commitment in the WinLABS 12 rollout is quality customer service and we will work closely with local association managers to schedule installations at convenient times outside their tournament dates. This summer, the rollout will speed up with about 100 associations a month moving to WinLABS 12 and all associations will be on the new platform by August 1, 2018. Technology is a huge commitment for USBC. About 30 percent of our staff overhead is allocated to IT. It is an investment for the future and one that is beginning to pay off for our members and associations.
What do I get for my twenty bucks? We hear it all the time and we will continue to preach a simple answer to that question – “A Future For The Sport”.
In a world where “what do I get” reigns supreme, it’s tough these days for people to want to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves. That being said, USBC delivers on its promise daily. The national office supports local and state associations, with local and state associations delivering service to the members. Hundreds of associations now offer an awards program. All associations offer membership processing, tournaments (which support retention), philanthropy efforts, recognition of their members, and in many cases, a Hall of Fame. USBC associations also provide an often overlooked benefit of networking, friendship, camaraderie and the social aspect that comes from working together and serving others.
At the national office, we too, offer many direct services for bowling. The biggest is that we are the National Governing Body. We enforce the rules. This year, examples included addressing leagues that were manipulating the rules of sport league designation to give themselves an advantage in tournaments by competing in divisions they otherwise would not be allowed or gaining more handicap then deserved. Some of those involved knew what was going on while others did not. Regardless, it is our job as the NGB to enforce the rules and so we do. Another example this year took place at our national tournaments where disqualifications were handed out as a result of average manipulation. USBC oversees ball specifications to ensure all bowling balls meet the standards laid out in the manual. In 2016, there were 345 new balls approved for use.
Headquarters added a compliance officer to the SMART program this year. He’s spending his days looking for tournament providers who are not following SMART policies to ensure that when kids are ready for college, the scholarships they earned have been deposited as promised.
USBC always will provide central benefits such as league bonding, recognition of achievements and a Hall of Fame to honor the greatest contributors to the sport. Still, the truest and most important benefit USBC can provide is to ensure the standards of the game are being met and serve bowling as the regulator when offenses occur and rules are broken. The USBC Rules team processed 285 suspensions in 2016 while reinstating 185. The rules department itself serviced 20,406 questions over the phone and another 5,032 through email, all in a timely manner. In 2016, it was demonstrated more than any recent year that without USBC, scholarships would be lost, rules would go unchecked and chaos in the sport would ensue.
I’d like to thank the USBC Board of Directors, the Equipment Specifications Committee and our entire staff at USBC for servicing bowling the way we do. 2016 was certainly a challenging year in this area, but it also was extremely productive.
2017 and beyond
In 2017, our priorities will evolve for USBC. All five current priorities remain with business plans in place to support them. Tactics in each of these five areas also will evolve over the next year as the services mature and, in some cases, grow. USBC also will add some new areas of focus to the top of the list and I am excited to share some details.
Education and Training
USBC recently hired a new Director of Training and Education. It may seem odd that we didn’t have this role already, but the simple reality is we didn’t. The regional managers on the association development team have done an admirable job the last few years picking up the effort, but it’s time for an experienced expert in this space to come in and help us improve bowling with smarter and better activation. Richard Stewart has joined the staff and will be working directly with the associations team to deliver quality education to our grass roots association leaders. Richard holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Houston and a master’s degree from Indiana University.
The execution of this new initiative will come in three parts. The first will be through our standard channels. USBC local and state grass-roots activations such as annual meetings and state jamborees. We really want to visit anyone who will invite our staff to participate and has an interest in the programming. The second is through the USBC national convention. Education always has been a feature at convention, but moving forward it will be the focus. Convention attendees can expect to be offered a variety of new topics. Yes, there still will be a rules seminar and some of the other traditional updates, but also look for new educational opportunities where our volunteers can learn more about leadership, activation, fundraising and marketing the sport to members locally in their markets. Finally, at convention we will announce a new training and education program that will take place here at the USBC headquarters in the International Bowling Campus. We are building a two-day course where association leaders will join our staff here for training, education, networking and collaboration. There will be three to six of these sessions taking place in 2017, with around 60 people in each class. The courses will be offered at no charge for the attendees. Again, more specifics will be released soon, but we know that some attendees will be selected based on need, others will come from associations that didn’t perform well through the performance standards tests, while some will be selected from a pool of people who have a passion to do better for our sport and want the education. It is very exciting stuff as we continue to work together as one organization toward a better USBC and a brighter future for the sport.
A new lane inspection study should be released sometime this year. USBC went into the field and collected data from over 1,000 lane beds in 20 different states. We have been studying the effects on lane topography from seasonal changes along with wear and tear. Soon, we will share that information with the industry. There is cause for concern in this area, and we will need to continue to look carefully at the topography of the lane and the impact it has on our competitions and the sport directly. How we ask proprietors to maintain synthetic lanes will become a topic of discussion for the future and we look forward to that conversation.
The certs and specifications team also has spent time over the last two years researching the bowling ball. Should bowling continue to support newer and newer technology? Should new limits be placed to prevent advances, or even, should a reduction take place? These questions are important. They need to be asked and answered and so, we will. Research is ongoing and should be finished sometime in early 2018. In 2017, we will open some dialogue with our friends who own the centers, the manufacturers who make the balls, and the consumers themselves, who use the balls, to really figure out what bowling collectively wants and needs. As the regulator (NGB), we have been working to collect the technical data and now we will begin to collect the consumer data. Both, combined, will in theory lead us to longer-term strategies. To be clear, I’m not saying that any decisions have been made, I’m saying we will be considering it; and a direction will come through thoughtful planning, discussion and open dialogue with our stakeholders. After we listen to everyone, we will make some decisions in the best interest of the sport.
Building a level playing field for our tournaments has never been more important. In 2016, we saw a few disqualifications at our national tournament and several leagues were adjusted in our database from a standard league to a sport/challenge league. This begins the work that will now become a priority for the organization.
A team was assembled to look at this issue to see if there is a better way. Every center who has ever certified their lanes holds a footprint within our data. Every league and every bowler also has a footprint inside our data. We now are combing the data, looking for commonalities, looking for outliers and I believe within the next few years we might be able to rank centers, rank bowlers and definitively put leagues in the proper classifications per the data. Over 400 leagues are now marked sport/challenge in the system and are subject to the sport conversion chart and that’s a good thing. There is though, a larger piece to the puzzle and that’s how one center, one league, and all bowlers compare to one another. Comparative data ranking of these groups should allow us to build our competitions in a more uniform manner and execute our tournaments in a fairer environment.
Your (our) National Governing Body is hard at work. Know that, and know that this is the true value of your membership.
USBC is one organization that includes local associations, state associations, bowling centers, as well as our members dedicated to building a Future for the Sport servicing bowling for everyone. There always is much to celebrate and 2016 was no different. What will 2017 bring? A continued effort in support of our priorities through thoughtful planning and dedicated execution.
I want to thank President Frank Wilkinson, the USBC Board of Directors, our staff here at the bowling campus as well as the more than 25,000 volunteers that deliver bowling every day.
With pride and purpose, I’ll close with a friendly reminder as to the mission and promise of USBC. It’s certainly an honor and privilege to serve as your Executive Director, and I am very much looking forward to 2017 and beyond.
USBC is the National Governing Body for the sport.
Our mission is to provide benefits and services, resources and standards for the sport.
Our promise is to celebrate the past, be mindful of the present and ensure bowling’s future through thoughtful research, planning and delivery. We will protect and nurture the sport with a mutual admiration and respect for all who enjoy bowling.
Have a great 2017!
USBC Executive Director