A Future For The Sport - 2019 recap, 2020 preview
By Chad Murphy, USBC Executive Director
From equipment specifications research, to championship tournament growth, Team USA gold, the new BowlTV and expansion of online tournament registration, 2019 provided some great developments for the sport of bowling. All of our partners and association leaders played a huge role in USBC’s progress in the past year.
As a new decade starts, let’s take a moment to review our priorities and celebrate the success of bowling during the past year.
It was another record-setting year for youth programs with great efforts from the IBC Youth Development team.
The Junior Gold Championships broke the 4,000-participants barrier, and the new U17 Division turned out to be the largest division of the 2019 tournament with 868 boys and 446 girls. Nearly 11,000 bowlers, friends and family attended the annual Trade Show, and more than 6,800 were in attendance for the Opening Ceremony to kick off the event.
USBC Collegiate had a record season in 2018-2019 with 220-plus teams and more than 4,000 members, capped off with the finals of the Intercollegiate Team and Singles Championships televised on CBS Sports Network.
The USA Bowling program introduced our sport to more than 4,000 young bowlers through local blast-off events. USA Bowling Regionals continued to see growth, leading into the national championship matches televised on CBS Sports Network.
Bowler’s Ed grants went to 34 schools and organizations in 2019, providing educators the tools to engage children in a true bowling experience inside a classroom or gym. Bowler’s Ed reaches children who might never have had the opportunity to experience the sport, and, since 2009, has awarded more than $500,000 in the form of Bowler’s Ed kits to schools and organizations.
Our sport took a major step with the move to lower the maximum age for USBC Youth membership to 18, starting with the 2020-2021 season. This aligns bowling with the standard of other national youth sports and is an important move for the future of our sport and the industry.
The IBC Youth Development team’s continued success is possible because of the ongoing support from the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America. Their partnership is vital to ensure our programs and efforts in youth bowling remain strong. I also want to thank the IBC Youth Committee for their guidance and support, and thanks to Gary Brown, Roger Noordhoek and Zach Barton for leading the way.
Competitive Bowling/Championship Tournaments
Our efforts to provide a competitive and fun experience for all bowlers at our largest annual national events, the Open Championships and Women’s Championships, continue to draw positive responses for competitors.
The 2019 Open Championships in Las Vegas saw the event’s largest turnout in seven years, with more than 52,000 competitors, and the post-event survey showed more than 90 percent were either satisfied or neutral in regard to key operations of the event. The 2020 event at the newly renovated National Bowling Stadium will have more than 9,600 teams, a 19 percent increase over the last visit to Reno, Nevada.
The Women’s Championships celebrated a truly fantastic milestone in 2019 – the 100th edition of the tournament. Research showed satisfaction with event operations is at an all-time high. A majority (53 percent) of the bowlers told us they would prefer use of the Women’s Championships tournament average for the event’s entering average. We will put that change in place for the 2021 tournament in the Chicago area.
The Professional Women’s Bowling Association saw another year of exciting competition. Shannon O’Keefe delivered an epic season as she took home five titles, while Dasha Kovalova gave the sports world a moment for the ages when she rolled the fourth nationally televised 300 game in PWBA history. The PWBA Tour will continue its mission to reach more grassroots fans in 2020 and expand its reach with visits to four new cities.
In 2019, the PWBA Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 16 years, and the PWBA regional program launched with five events. We plan to double that total in 2020.
Team USA produced some impressive performances in 2019. At the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, Nick Pate won gold and Jakob Butturff took bronze in singles, the duo teamed for gold in doubles and Shannon O’Keefe and Stefanie Johnson brought home the gold medal in women’s doubles from the quadrennial event. At the World Women’s Championships, Danielle McEwan took gold against O’Keefe (silver) in singles, while Liz Kuhlkin, Missy Parkin and Jordan Richard teamed to win gold in trios.
Additional highlights from tournaments included:
- USBC Masters sold out for the seventh consecutive year with 449 competitors
- Super Senior Classic had a record 198 competitors
- Senior Masters had 300 entries for the second time in the last five years
- A record field of 152 women and 175 men (sold out) took part in the 2019 Team USA Trials
- PWBA.com traffic jumped 18 percent, and the PWBA generated more than 16 million social media impressions
We appreciate and thank every USBC member who took the time and made the commitment to participate in these national events. Special thanks to Greg Moore and the tournaments team for delivering outstanding events and Tennelle Milligan for her leadership of the PWBA.
USBC kicked off a major initiative with the launch of BowlTV.com. A priority in the USBC Strategic Plan was to diversify revenue streams, and BowlTV allows those interested in livestreamed events, instructional videos and extra bowling content to subscribe and support the production of more events and content.
BowlTV featured almost 275,000 hours of livestream and on-demand content, with more than 165 videos specifically produced for on-demand channels. We had 25,000 people create BowlTV logins leading to over 16,000 paid transactions. It already has proven to be a great complement to the news and information on BOWL.com, which had more than three million users and 22 million pageviews.
We showed our major events to a national audience in 2019, thanks to some great industry collaboration. The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA), BPAA and USBC partnered to have the USBC Masters and U.S. Open added to PBA Tour’s television package on FOX Sports through 2022. PBA ratings show fans are watching in large numbers, and it’s a perfect fit to have these events as part of the PBA Tour on FOX Sports.
Other notable efforts included:
- 17 shows nationally broadcast on CBS Sports Network, with approximately 100 re-airs
- Nearly 14 million video views on Facebook and YouTube
- Made more than 8,000 posts to social media platforms
- Total media impressions of more than 92 million (up 43 percent) and USBC doubled its following on Instagram
- New blog platform produced 65 blogs
The BowlTV, social media and BOWL.com platforms are important in the engagement of bowlers, telling their stories and showing the great experience of taking part in USBC events.
USBC continues to make a significant investment in new technology, providing more features and better usability for our members.
USBC’s Community Login now provides a single login for BOWL.com, Find a Member, BowlTV.com and USBC’s tournament registration system.
Our IT team worked diligently to integrate the new SafeSport online training and Registered Volunteer Program (RVP) requirements into our data systems. We are proud more than 20,000 members took SafeSport training, USBC has more than 15,000 Registered Volunteers and Find a Member now displays when a member is RVP- or SafeSport-trained.
SMART Scholarship portal users saw more upgrades to the system in 2019, including new functionality to upload bulk scholarships and enhanced automation of notifications.
The most significant technology development in progress involves USBC’s custom tournament registration system. In 2019, we began piloting a program to offer this registration system, which is used for the Open and Women’s Championships, to our USBC state and local associations for their tournaments. Our team has developed an export function, so USBC associations easily can take tournament entries online and then send entries and rosters directly to WinLABS. More than a dozen associations have participated in the pilot and are helping our IT team perfect the systems so more can take advantage of this system.
Each year, a satisfaction survey is sent to our membership, and it has been very encouraging to see more and more members who are extremely satisfied with USBC. I believe our association volunteers deserve tremendous credit for this positive trend. In recent years, association volunteers have embraced merging USBC at all levels and engaged with training opportunities such as the USBC Association Leadership Academy.
Another positive sign is the slowing of membership decline. The 3.5 percent membership decrease for the 2018-2019 season is the lowest in decades, and, with almost 90 percent of membership in for 2019-2020, the percentage is on pace to improve again.
The membership services team and rules staff at headquarters take great pride in their customer service. They answered more than 42,000 phone calls and 11,000 emails in 2019. We strive to answer all member inquiries within one business day, so bowlers know USBC is always there to assist.
Education and Training
The Association Leadership Academies, two-day education and training seminars, have proven to be a very powerful way to engage and interact with local association leaders. With nine ALAs held last year, we’ve had 897 participants from 441 associations attend one of the 23 ALAs over the last three years.
We also had our first leadership event for state association presidents and association managers, with 59 participants taking part in the two-day session at the International Bowling Campus.
The ALAs are a wonderful resource for the associations and our team, providing a great way to interact, network and learn from one another. I want to thank every association leader who took the time to attend and share your thoughts at an ALA. We hope those who have not been able to join us at an ALA will take advantage of the opportunity in the future.
In addition to the ALAs, Regional Managers attended 36 state meetings, connecting with 2,500 attendees to provide consultations on topics such as RVP/SafeSport, board service and assessment and new bowling ball rules and specifications.
USBC began compiling data from lane inspections three years ago, and the analysis of the data prompted the USBC Equipment Specifications Committee to implement a center certification program featuring tiered levels of certification and a national staff of lane inspectors.
Full details will be announced at the 2021 convention, as there is still work ahead developing this program. It also means all bowling centers will be certified until the national staff begins center inspections in 2022.
The committee also decided to suspend the three-unit rule, as research on lane dressing and how lane oil is applied showed the three-unit rule instituted in 1992 no longer was applicable, and set specifications for any hole drilled in a bowling ball. This is an important spec to have in place with balance holes going away Aug. 1, 2020.
Research and testing by the Equipment Specifications team is central to our role as the National Governing Body for the sport. We will continue to strive in this area, so bowlers know they have strong governance, and consistent rules and equipment, when competing in USBC leagues and tournaments.
There is a tremendous amount for our association to be proud of. We are evolving and improving in many ways. Bowling’s tournament offerings and participation continues to diversify and grow. Our governance and technology continue to modernize in order to meet the needs of the future. Thanks to all of our partners and volunteers for your support in making it happen.
2020 and beyond
In the new year, and new decade, our efforts will continue to focus on our core priorities, though Youth Development now will focus on Youth Program Development, along with Membership Value, Technology, Competitive Bowling/Championship Tournaments and Marketing.
An additional organizational priority is Athlete Development. A future for the sport is dependent on those who compete, and promoting, supporting and developing athletes across all levels is a core value.
Open Championships participants can expect a totally new experience at the National Bowling Stadium, which just completed significant renovations, including an expanded settee. The 2020 Women’s Championships heads to Las Vegas – always a great experience for bowlers – and we’re already looking forward to the Chicago area in 2021.
Compliance with SafeSport and encouraging RVP participation, along with SafeSport training, will continue to be important. Local support and engagement are key to youth safety.
As previously mentioned, developing the Tiered Center Certification Program will be a priority for the Equipment Specifications team as we prepare to take on the responsibility of inspecting more than 4,000 centers and nearly 90,000 lanes.
Youth Program Development
With the maximum age for USBC Youth membership moving to 18 with the 2020-2021 season, USBC is working toward the implementation of the change and will address the impact on the 2021 Junior Gold Championships schedule and divisions.
The PWBA Las Vegas Open finals taking place as part of the 2020 Junior Gold Opening Ceremony at The Orleans Arena already was announced, but there will be other special events as we celebrate youth bowling this summer.
BowlTV and Digital Media
BowlTV will expand its reach in 2020 with plans to livestream more than 80 events. It also will continue to build its library of on-demand content and already has launched a new video player to improve the mobile-viewer experience.
Television exposure will continue at a high level through our partnership with CBS Sports Network and the PBA Tour on Fox Sports.
USBC will expand use of its tournament registration system to more state and local associations across the country. Our goal is to onboard every association interested in using the system. While the system can’t accommodate every tournament format, it can handle most. If an association is interested and willing to consider some format adjustments, our staff will help you make a big step forward using online registration.
Bowling Ball Specifications
New ball specifications will go into effect Aug. 1, 2020. With the start of the 2020-2021 season, balls with balance holes will be prohibited in USBC competition. Also, new manufacturing specifications governing oil absorption will be required for all ball approvals.
Our National Governing Body is moving forward and improving in many positive ways, and all of us can take pride in our accomplishments.
I want to thank USBC President Karl Kielich and the USBC Board of Directors for their leadership, support and quality strategic direction. A huge thanks to the thousands of association volunteers who dedicate countless hours in support of bowling. Finally, thank you to our entire staff here at the International Bowling Campus for their efforts and passion.
I’ll close with a friendly reminder as to the mission and promise of USBC. It’s certainly an honor and a privilege to serve as your executive director, and I am very much looking forward to 2020 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.
USBC Executive Director