Bowling centers are ready for a generation change. Thirty years ago proprietors started investing in black lights and lasers and cosmic bowling became the new craze to attract the next generation of bowlers known as Gen X (born 1965-84). Now Gen X’ers have grown up and having kids of their own, called Millennials (born 1984-2004). This new group craves new experiences. They want to know, What comes after cosmic?

One solution many bowling centers are taking is removing lanes and adding redemption games and family attractions such as laser tag and bumper cars. The new family entertainment center business can be very successful if it is located properly within the center, but the bowling center portion, even with new furniture and huge masking units, still looks and feels ‘traditional’ and has not made the transformation that is necessary in today’s competitive market. In some cases the new games are located in a dead section of the bowling center and even the attraction of the games is not enticing enough to draw patrons to gather in that section of the facility.

The new bowling anchored family entertainment centers and bowling hybrids have significantly raised the bar and the traditional centers need a way to compete, but with a realistic budget. Modernizations are a wonderful approach but can be costly and not appropriate for many of the smaller centers. Bowling centers owners are caught in a quandary. Over 50% of today’s proprietors are in retirement age-60+. They often ask themselves:“Should I milk the business and sell or invest in upgrading, operate a few more years and then sell? Will I be able to recover my investment?” What upgrades make the most sense (cents)?

PJ Rosendahl, General Manager of Zot Pinsetter Parts, one of five companies* that are involved with the ‘ColorSplash’ lighting system, believes his group has a viable solution.

“Any worldwide advancement to bowling must be designed to be done in phases to keep costs within the budgets of thousands of centers. Recall that bumpers were added in phases. Cosmic was also added in phases. A bowler spends 70% of his time looking at the pins, especially following the ball and watching it hit the pins. Adding LED color chasing effects to the pindecks is an easy and inexpensive first step to transform a small group of lanes or all of the lanes across a center and still have the ability to switch back to standard white light for league play.”

“Currently there are approximately only 150 bowling centers of the 10,000 centers worldwide (5000 US & 5000 international) that have added new LED lighting systems. Less than 2% and most of those are the newer centers. Twenty year old lighting is not exciting anymore.” PJ Rosendahl

[Only 20 years ago there were 8 million sanctioned bowlers, today there are 1.8 million. League bowling has been reported to be 13% of what it was thirty years ago.]

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The concept for the ColorSplash system came together due to simple economics. PJ gives the history:

“Five companies were all developing and manufacturing competing individual products. Bowling centers are a finite market. We decided to pool our resources and knowledge and create a ‘system’ rather than a piecemeal product line. The goal is to reduce the cost to the bowling industry and have an expandable system that can be purchased in phases, easily installed and controlled by the purchaser, and be able to download new and exciting lighting and special effects programming in the future.” PJ Rosendahl

DFX Sound Systems is another partnering company in ColorSplash. Mike Bovino, DFX president, emphasizes,

“LED technology provides full color mixing through one lamp, is energy efficient and practically maintenance free. The fixtures do not require a ballast. UV lighting only provides one color. ColorSplash currently has over 16 million possible colors that can produce over 25,000 special effect shows. The idea is to be able to easily transform a bowling center into a nightclub atmosphere.” Mike Bovino

How To Color Splash Bowling Center

I did some research at Bowl Expo 2015 to get the big picture of what can be accomplished and at what current costs. The ColorSplash Lighting System includes 4 individual systems (actually 5 if motorized video masking is included) that can be totally integrated with each other and controlled with one standard controller:

ColorSplash System          Cost/lane
Pindeck Lighting                $650
Lane Wash Lighting          $1200
Cap Lighting                        $600-$800 range
Projector for cap effects    $500
Individual Total                  $3000-$3200
Package Total                     $2500 average

  • Pindeck lights: Replaces the fluorescent lights in the pinsetters. It permits individual lanes to produce more than 16 million colors, 25,000 different lightshows and special effects, including music and video synchronization and ambient lighting.
  • Lane Wash Lights (RGB+UV): Can place a different color on each lane or in pairs/groups. Replaces black light or white fluorescent lamps that only have one color with half the electrical power draw. 50,000 hr. LED tube life (11.4 years at 12 hours/day).
  • LED Cap Light Systems: Over 16 million colors. There are 50 nodes/lane rail with nodes spaced 12 inches apart. Each node has a 60,000 hr. life (13.6 years operating at 12 hours/day). LED nodes have impact protective covers. No need to replace existing capping.
  • Solar LED Effects Projector: Provides thousands of standard and special effects images. Replaces old incandescent single-effects projectors. Average life 100,000 hours (22.8 years at 12 hours/day). Can produce corporate logos, birthday names, events…on any surface.
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When asked, What should a proprietor consider first?, PJ responded,

“The pindeck lights create the most dramatic effect and even starting with 6-lanes can start to transform a center. Lane wash lighting would be my 2nd phase choice, with cap lighting 3rd, and then finally adding the cap light projectors. This would complete the system package for the 6 lanes and then start on the next 6 lanes.” PJ Rosendahl

Glenn Gable, partner in Game Entertainment Management (owns/manages 8 centers), owner of Solon Freeway Lanes, Solon, OH, and president of Don-Rite, another of the ColorSplash partnering companies, decided to follow PJ’s advice. Solon originally installed 8 lanes of pindeck lighting in their VIP suite and Glenn is happy with the results.

“Our goal is to create the next big change for bowling that can make our centers look like modern bowling centers and be able to compete when a new bowling venue comes to town. I will be able to charge another $1/game for enhanced cosmic bowling and on that alone get a 1.5 year payback on my investment.” Glenn Gable

 There are other benefits to lightning up:

  • Cost Savings-The US government has mandated that all T12 fluorescent lights can not be manufactured after July 2012 and the same applies to T12 ballasts after July 2010. The T12 8-foot tubes are getting more expensive as inventory supplies are decreasing. Why replace them with T-5’s when the new LED lights can save up to 50% of electrical costs and last so much longer? Why invest in old replacement ballasts that are no longer required to operate LED lights? Why continue to store fluorescent lights and waste valuable space and risk breakage costs?
  • Government investment rebates of 15%-20% are available. For a 24-lane center at $2500/lane for a complete system ($60,000) that means an instant savings of $9,000-$12,000.
  • Additional Revenue-Attract more customers, they stay longer, and spend additional dollars. The lighting system can affect traffic flow. Use lighting to make people go where you want them to go. More excitement can be drawn to the games and food areas. Birthday parties, events, fundraisers can all be enhanced and increased.
  • Programmability-All effects are controlled by one single expandable remote wireless international standard DMX intelligent controller with a range of 250 feet. You can change the show when you want or have it done automatically by day/time.
  • Increases the evaluation of your center. The different LED’s life spans is between 10-20 years. It makes sense to upgrade now, enjoy the revenue benefits and savings for several years, and then add a prorated portion of the lighting system investment to the sales price.
  • The least expensive way to upgrade the look and feel of your center and ‘wow’ your customers.
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Installing the newest LED hardware that will last for the next 20 years to lighten up the lanes (usually the largest square footage space in the facility) and pindecks appears to be a viable option for even the older centers. Having all of the different products all controlled by one software system is what standardization is all about. If the bowling industry can capture the millennial generation and their kids, the future of bowling centers certainly looks ‘bright.’ Let the lightshow begin!

* The 5 partnering companies in ‘ColorSplash’ are:  Zot Pinsetter Parts, DFX Sound Visions, Tenpintec (Cybernetic Solutions), Done-Rite Pins & Capital, and OPTI Kinetics Effects. For more information go to www.zotcolorsplash.com

Bowling Center Management – Entertainment Center News (Winter 2015)

Written By Frank ‘the Crank’ Seninsky

Amusement Entertainment Management

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