A Future for the Sport Update - 2017 Recap, 2018 Preview
By Chad Murphy
USBC Executive Director
USBC experienced an incredible year of growth in several important areas in 2017 and there is much to celebrate across the entire organization. As we start 2018, we want to share some of the progress we have made together on USBC’s organizational priorities.
The IBC Youth Development team continues to push youth bowling programs and their commitment to get a few more kids to go bowling more often resulted in record numbers in 2017.
For the sixth consecutive year, the Junior Gold Championships set a new mark. More than 3,500 youth bowlers competed for a record scholarship fund of more than $320,000, making the 20th edition of the event its largest to date. The championship matches in all three divisions were nationally televised on CBS Sports Network and provided great drama when Solomon Salama rolled a 299 game and made history as he successfully defended his title.
Junior Gold has become more than the best national youth tournament – it is a weeklong celebration of youth bowling, complete with opening ceremonies, a trade show and so much more for the kids and parents.
We had 32 teams qualify for the USA Bowling National Championships through regional events and the title matches for U15 and U12 teams also were televised on CBS Sports Network.
Television has given more youth bowlers the opportunity to see the excitement of the team competition and we saw that interest turn into more teams taking part in the regional competitions in the fall.
In 2017, a total of 56 Bowler’s Ed grants featuring mobile bowling equipment and curriculum to teach the sport were awarded to schools and organizations throughout the country. The program provides educators with the tools to engage children in a true bowling experience inside a classroom or gymnasium and reaches children who might never have had the opportunity to experience the sport. Bowler’s Ed has provided approximately 175 in-school bowling equipment grants since 2009.
We rolled out a new Bowlopolis program at the start of the 2017-2018 season, providing youth members ages 8 and under with a free Bowlopolis membership upgrade kit. To further enhance the package, coaches and youth directors were provided tools to improve the experience for children bowling in their first league, including a progress poster for the entire league. Making the first league bowling experience a fun and positive experience can only spur youth bowlers to keep coming back.
USBC Collegiate continued its steady growth, setting records with 213 schools and more than 3,500 collegiate members. High school bowling participation is up for the fifth consecutive year and 48 states have either varsity or club programs.
In 2017, the IBC Youth Development Team worked to build its presence on social media. We need to continue to use the tools that are in the hands of today’s youth, especially Instagram and Snapchat. We’ll look to do more with Facebook Live, more promotions, livestreams and videos to engage youth bowlers and their friends. These platforms also will be important to making our grant and scholarship programs more visible in 2018.
It was a tremendous year for the IBC Youth team and it would not be possible without the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America. Their partnership and support has been, and continues to be, invaluable. A special thanks to the IBC Youth Committee and also to Gary Brown and Roger Noordhoek for their leadership of the youth team.
Competitive Bowling/Championship Tournaments
USBC’s flagship tournaments – the Open Championships and Women’s Championships – are growing again, which is a real positive sign for the organization. Open Championships participation was 40% higher than two years ago, and the Women’s Championships was up 17% over the same time.
The PWBA had its third year since the boards of BPAA and USBC made the decision to relaunch the pro women’s tour. It celebrated more than 100 million digital impressions for the first time and, in collaboration with our bowling campus public relations firm Alday Communications, the PWBA generated another 90-plus million media impressions outside the bowling industry.
The PWBA is showing clear measured growth and getting mainstream media attention. National morning shows have featured PWBA players, national magazines are writing articles and local outlets around the country have taken notice. Liz Johnson once again took home Player of the Year honors with newcomer Daria Pajak earning the Rookie of the Year award.
The PWBA Tour truly has been a collaborative effort of BPAA, USBC and Strike Ten, and is a great example of what the bowling industry can accomplish when it works together.
Some other accomplishments to report:
- USBC governed 45,309 certified leagues this past season
- USBC governed 10,709 certified bowling tournaments this past season
- The USBC Masters sold out for the sixth consecutive year and Jason Belmonte became the first four-time winner of the event.
- The U.S. Open closed out the season with Rhino Page winning his first major title.
- Team USA continued its dominance internationally at the World Bowling Championships, winning gold medals in men’s team, women’s trios, men’s doubles and women’s all-events.
- Team USA’s Jakob Butturff won the QubicaAMF World Cup.
- Junior Team USA earned 11 medals at the Pan American Bowling Confederation (PABCON) Youth Championships.
- Senior Team USA won an astounding 18 medals at the World Bowling Senior Championships in Germany.
- Team USA earned a total of 68 medals in 2017.
In 2017, USBC shifted our communication team’s focus to increasing and enhancing our video production and digital media. Some highlights:
- USBC produced 23 televised events in collaboration with partner CBS Sports Network in 2017. The USBC Masters also was televised on ESPN as part of a partnership with the Professional Bowlers Association.
- Our social media reach is expanding exponentially. USBC and PWBA content had 148.82 million impressions on Facebook, a 76% increase over 2016. This included a 403% increase in video views on Facebook. USBC’s Twitter account generated more than 4.6 million impressions – a 44% increase.
More than 900 local associations were upgraded to the new WinLABS 12 association management software in 2017, as promised. We also saw a new custom online registration system introduced for the Open and Women’s Championships.
These two technology projects were substantial undertakings that required months of planning and complex development. Both were released to the market smoothly with very few bugs or concerns. I am really proud of the IT team here at USBC and their new focus on project management and quality testing. Continuing to invest in these custom tournament and association management platforms is a prime example of how USBC can uniquely provide great value for USBC members and all of bowling.
The start of the new season in 2017 saw a $3 increase in national membership dues. This was a 30% increase and came with skepticism and criticism in some circles. We certainly thank USBC’s member delegates for showing the leadership to approve the increase and move the association forward into the future on solid financial ground. Your judgment has been validated by USBC’s membership trends for the 2017-2018 season.
USBC will provide complete membership numbers for the season as part of our annual report, but with 87% of last year’s memberships processed by late January, we already can project the results. The dues increase has not impacted USBC’s membership trend. USBC will see the same type of modest decline we have seen each year for the last 15 years. At this point, the data shows the dues increase had no measurable impact on the membership. USBC membership has been declining at a rate of 4.9% to 6.4% each year. It looks like we will end this season with a decline of 5.8% or less.
Friends, this is a huge positive statement about the value of USBC as an organization. Members continue to certify at the same historical rates, seeing the value in USBC even with the dues increase.
We learned another important data point about league bowling in 2017, demonstrating USBC’s member value. USBC commissioned an independent research survey into league certification. A third-party research firm was hired to answer two questions:
- What percentage of leagues are USBC certified vs. not certified?
- What percentage of league bowlers are in USBC certified leagues?
We had 2,217 centers participate and the data showed 76% of all leagues are certified with USBC and 78% of all league bowlers compete in certified leagues.
There were some ancillary findings, of course, such as what types of leagues are not certified, but the two answers tell an important story that goes to the heart of the value of USBC to bowling.
Some people choose to look backward at the old days, to lament and paint a picture of negativity by pointing to the nine million members we had years ago. I look at it very differently, because the world has changed in many ways. I state it differently because it’s true – 78% of league bowlers are certified with USBC. Another way, USBC has a 78% market share of organized play.
The data would simply say that bowling finds tremendous value provided by this organization.
Thanks again to our association volunteers and delegates for sharing a vision that progressively looks at the importance of our future. Finally, an additional thank you to each of our 1.4 million members for being part of this great organization.
Education and Training
In 2017, USBC launched the new USBC Association Leadership Academy. Education and training should be core to any association and ours is no different.
USBC conducted the program at both the International Bowling Campus and several locations throughout the U.S. and reached 292 local associations leaders. The seven academies provided association leaders education and training focused on improving the operation of their association, the value of the bowling proprietors, and how they can bring a forward-looking approach to our organization.
As part of the increased level of education, four new lane inspection workshops also were conducted with 164 members in attendance.
USBC announced adjustments to the lane inspection process in 2017. Lane inspectors will be required to measure the lanes at five locations, instead of three, for crowns/depressions and crosswise tilt. With many lanes using synthetic panels, and the fact it takes five synthetic panels to construct a lane, there is a need to have at least one measurement for each panel. The prior specification served bowling and its wood lanes for a long time. With synthetic lanes making up 80% of today’s lane beds, it was time for an update.
We also announced a change for new installations, including overlays on existing lanes. Starting Aug. 1, 2019, the specification for new installations and overlays on existing lanes will move from .040 inches to .030 inches for crowns/depressions and crosswise tilt.
USBC also conducted a large research study in relation to bowling equipment technology. Consumers, proprietors, pro shops and industry professionals all weighed in about the future of the sport and what it should look like. We are preparing to publish this research and it should be delivered in February 2018.
2018 and beyond
In 2018, we will become “one” organization for the first time in the history of the organization. In 2015, we had approximately 2,700 USBC associations working separately in many state and local areas. Throughout 2018, around 300 non-merged associations will come together. A more efficient, effective and unified organization of around 1,700 local and state associations will move forward servicing the needs of our members.
We will, of course, continue to build on the productivity of the last several years. The current priorities do not change. Youth Development, Membership Value, Technology, Competitive Bowling/Championship Tournaments and Marketing will continue to be where we focus our time and efforts. We are a national governing body and a membership organization that crowns champions at all levels. This ties directly into the five areas and in 2018 we will continue to push toward growth in these areas.
In addition to our five core areas of focus, I want to share some additional details about what we are working on in 2018.
The lane inspection program will move forward with Year 1 of the new process. All centers will be grandfathered in and will receive an approval sticker no matter their current lane measurements. All we ask in this first year is that we receive the inspection data with the three required signatures documenting that an inspection was completed.
An expanded schedule of lane inspection workshops also is in the works. The goal is to do 20 workshops with as many as 1,500 attendees.
The 2017 research project on equipment technology has led to a dialogue with bowling ball manufacturers about possible changes to specifications for USBC approved balls. We still are in the discussion phase and do not have anything more specific to share at this time. If any changes are made, USBC will communicate all details at the end of the process. Of course, we will give our members and all stakeholders plenty of notice before any changes take effect. Again, we want to be very clear on this point – no decisions have been made related to ball specifications and the final decision might be that no changes occur at this time.
In mid-January, USBC sent notices to more than 700 leagues that stated, based on 2016-2017 averages, that their leagues may be reclassified from Standard house shots to Challenge or Sport leagues. Average integrity is a major issue for tournament bowling. We all have seen examples of a bowler using an artificially low league average to gain an unfair advantage in a tournament. USBC is using statistical analysis, based on the scoring data of league members, to identify and reclassify leagues that appear to be Challenge or Sport leagues.
Rule changes related to average conversions have taken place over the last couple of years and now we are beginning to proactively enforce the rules. The process will be imperfect. Many leagues and, certainly, most bowlers receiving notice have no intent to manipulate the system. Yet, regardless of the intent, we all should agree the potential advantage is unfair.
All leagues receiving notice have been invited to appeal, if they believe there is an error or justification to remain a Standard house shot average league. With their feedback, we will better learn together why these leagues have data showing statistically lower averages. I believe some still will be reclassified as Challenge or Sport, while others will have successful appeals due to data input errors or other reasonable explanations.
USBC’s goal here is very simply to protect the average integrity of certified competitions and the interest of tournament bowlers as best we can. The team looks forward to working together with associations and proprietors in this area.
The new USBC Tournament Management System and online registration that was rolled out for the Open and Women’s Championships now gets rolled out in the Youth area with the Youth Open Championships. It’s simply the next step in the evolution of this program.
As we have said before, the long-term goal is to offer these resources to our associations, as well. The more tournaments we have inside a common technology platform, the better we can track tournament averages in addition to league averages. In 2018, we will take the next step by incorporating some youth formats in the technology. We also will begin architectural development to offer the online registration system as a resource for association tournaments as the next phase.
Your (our) National Governing Body is hard at work. Know that and know this is creating 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 in our sport and 2017 was no different.
What will 2018 bring? No one can predict the future, but we can promise a continued effort in support of our priorities through thoughtful planning and dedicated execution.
We want to thank President Frank Wilkinson, the USBC Board of Directors, our staff here at the bowling campus, and the more than 25,000 volunteers who deliver bowling every day.
In closing, 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 2018 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 2018!
USBC Executive Director