The Spring trade show season has ended, and this year’s events gave us all a lot to think about. Let’s focus on two of my favorites, Bowl Expo and Amusement Expo.

Bowl Expo International 2019

I’ve attended a lot of Bowl Expos, but the 2019 event was the best I’ve seen in a decade. The Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA) and its state representatives are focused on education to assist their proprietor members with marketing support to improve their profitability.

BPAA has made bowling a brand, and it’s getting that message out. The bowling industry is spending millions of dollars on promotion, instructing kids in the fun of the sport and getting “millennials” interested.

Somewhere between 50 and 70 million people bowl at least once a year in the U.S. That seems like a lot, but in reality, it is less than a quarter of the population (not counting infants and those who do not have the ability to bowl or are homebound). That means that more than three-quarters of Americans have never bowled, or choose not to bowl anymore, so there’s ample opportunity here for additional market penetration.

Over the decades, bowling – like all very popular recreations – has had its ups and downs. In working to keep the sport relevant, the industry has been developing the concept of a “bowling entertainment center.” Like other site-based recreation enterprises, bowling is an appealing “magnet attraction” for a family entertainment center, and the industry is deploying a good deal of the new technology found in other amusement segments to make play more stimulating. Bowling’s own impressive technology has applied computer controls to many tasks traditionally handled by large, complex mechanical installations. This has made it easier to add bowling to an existing facility and to realize a quicker return on investment.

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Efforts also are underway to widen the appeal of the sport. QubicaAMF’s HyperBowling adds illuminated colored targets on the lanes’ bumpers; in some versions, these are animated. This offers additional scoring opportunities by banking the ball off a flashing target, and it appeals to infrequent bowlers. Projection video games also are enlivening the action on the lane.

Brunswick, through a software licensing deal with TouchMagix, has announced “Spark,” the latest enhancement to its Sync Invicta scoring-and-entertainment system. It’s designed to turn the player’s favorite Sync games into interactive augmented reality experiences.

I don’t think it takes an extreme stretch of the imagination to imagine a bowling game played in virtual reality. If your virtual world is a bowling alley, you can save space by making the lanes much shorter or perhaps not even need lanes at all, when augmented reality is further developed!

It’s useful to remember that local bowling centers always have contracted with local vendors for refreshments (and, at one time, cigarettes), as well as for amusement games. They did this long before the term “family entertainment center” became part of the language. Bowling center proprietors today are taking a closer look at food service as their #1 priority. In my experience, an average BEC today is generating about one-third of its revenue from bowling (including shoe rentals), a third from food and beverages and a third from games and family attractions. That is a good financial model to follow, even if the percentages shift a few percentage points in either direction, depending on the number of lanes and space availability.

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BPAA really works hard for its proprietors. Its next show, International Bowl Expo 2020, will be held from July 2-6 (Thursday through Monday) at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center (Denver, CO). This is the July 4th weekend, and the proprietors are on board with this unusual schedule. The event will offer two days of education followed by two days of exhibits. We should see more staff attending this holiday weekend event.

Amusement Expo International

This year’s Amusement Expo International, held March 26-28, also continued its sponsoring organizations’ emphasis on education and on spotlighting today’s wide variety of amusement operations. The full day of educational seminars before the two-day trade show is very well attended as are the Laser Tag Convention seminars that take place at the same time. Foundations Entertainment University that took place 2 days prior to AEI, was also very well attended.

Amusement Expo International is cosponsored by the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA) and the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA), both of which formerly held separate conventions/expositions for many years before combining with the Fun Expo (later bought out by IALEI to form a three-way trade association partnership). In 2009 after IALEI was absorbed by IAAPA), AMOA and AAMA agreed to continue their partnership with a single three-day trade show event held in the spring. They were soon joined by the National Bulk Vendors Association and the Laser Tag Museum.

Five years later, they changed the format to a full day of education followed by two days of exhibits. This schedule, which makes the event a true hybrid of educational conference and exhibits, has proven very popular.

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It’s worth noting that the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, which draws 40,000 people, also has become a hybrid of education and trade show. Operators of all sorts increasingly realize that they can’t grow (or perhaps even survive) if they just keep on doing what they’ve always done. Those who understand who their target customers are – and how to retain their loyalty in a highly competitive environment – will have the best chances to survive and thrive. Hard work and long hours do not guarantee success. Knowledge is the key. Our industry associations are right on target!

Vending Times – July/August 2019