This industry includes establishments known to the public as bowling centers or bowling alleys. Such establishments frequently sell meals and refreshments.
Approximately 53.3 million Americans visited a bowling alley at least once in 1997, making tenpin bowling the most popular indoor participation sport in the United States, based on participation of once or more per year. There also were 8 million "frequent bowlers," or those who bowled more than 25 times per year.
Bowling boomed following the invention of the automatic pin setter in the early 1950s. By the mid 1960s, approximately 12,000 bowling centers were built in mostly blue-collar, urban areas of the United States. Due to demographic and lifestyle changes, however, the bowling market collapsed during the 1970s. As of 1998, there were only 6,542 certified bowling centers in the United States, the lowest total since 1954. In response, the bowling industry tried to redefine its image, with the hopes of attracting the affluent middle class and their children. By the mid-2000s, new centers had been built in better market locations with state-of-the art facilities. Operators renovated their existing centers to include computerized scoring, upscale dining, entertainment, and even child care.
Many forms of bowling existed, but tenpins became the most widely played version in the United States and throughout most of the world. According to rules specified by the American Bowling Congress (ABC), tenpin bowling is played indoors with 15-inch pins arranged in a triangle at the end of a wooden or synthetic lane. The game consists of ten frames with two rolls of the ball per frame. The goal is to knock down all ten pins with the first ball, which earns a strike. If pins are left standing after the first roll, the fallen pins are removed and a second delivery attempted. Knocking over all the remaining pins earns a spare. A perfect game totals a score of 300 and consists of 12 strikes in a row (two additional rolls are granted on the final frame).
The traditional strength of the bowling center industry was its highly organized, competitive league structure. Men's and women's leagues consisted of teams with up to five players each. The total number of teams per league depended upon the number of lanes per bowling center. Three bowling associations determined the rules of league play. They also handled the prize money collected from bowlers' entry fees.
Most bowling alleys relied upon the steady revenue of league bowling instead of walk-in traffic. Approximately two-thirds of revenues came from bowling fees, so it was critical for centers to attract large numbers of customers to their lanes. Demographic and lifestyle changes triggered a decline in bowling leagues. In response, some operators instituted flexible leagues, while others shortened their seasons to 20 weeks, or offered league play every other week.
The modern game of bowling probably originated in ancient Germany as a religious ceremony. As early as the third or fourth century, most Germans had kegels, or clubs, that they used for both sport and self-defense. Some Germans would take their kegels to church in an attempt to rid themselves of sin. They would place the kegels at the end of a long lane, similar to the modern bowling alley, and roll a stone toward them. If the kegels were knocked over, the owners were absolved of sin.
Dutch settlers brought ninepin bowling to the United States in the seventeenth century. The game quickly grew in popularity but was soon taken over by gambling interests. So strong was gambling's hold on bowling, some states outlawed the game altogether. In fact, some sources claimed that the tenth pin was added to the game in the early eighteenth century to circumvent the prohibition of bowling, which applied only to the...