Some things never change...bowling, and all sorts of leisure sports, make good investment bets. Today it's still as true as it was when this article was originally written.
As a participation sport, bowling probably ranks right behind boating in the number of participants and this makes it a good investment.
The bowling population is expected to increase more than 50 percent from 1960's 26.5 million to 39 million over a five year period, which would require a minimum of 50,000 to 60,000 new bowling lanes in addition to the 90,000 currently in operation.
Bowling has grown and developed with the suburbs, where relatively cheap space is available for establishments. About 50 per cent of all suburban shopping centers now have bowling centers. These are different from the old, dingy, dimly lit alleys and have done much in adding respectability to the sport. This newly acquired respectability is instrumental in making bowling as much a sport for women as for men. It was not so many years ago, you know, when a woman bowler was a rarity.
The explosive growth in the number of bowlers has naturally created a burgeoning market for equipment makers. Until recently, the pin-placing machine field has been pretty much dominated by Brunswick and AMF (American Machine & Foundry). Originally Otis Elevator made, installed and serviced the machines for Brunswick, but then, the latter decided to manufacture itself.
Now AMF and Brunswick face new competition from Bowl-Mor for which Otis Elevators contracted to make new automatic machines for use in tenpin bowling. Tenpins, which involves balls weighing 12 to 16 pounds, is more widely played in the United States than any other form of bowling. Until its agreement with Otis, Bowl-Mor had made only machines for use with ducks and candlepins, which are only popular in the New England and Canadian areas.
The entry of Bowl-Mor into the tenpin field probably will not affect AMF and Brunswick too much. For one thing, most of Bowl-Mor's new business comes from new alleys. For another, the "newcomer" should be at a disadvantage competing with established companies like Brunswick and AMF, which not only offer the machines, but also sell the accessories. Moreover, Otis is not a cheap producer. Bowl-Mor should be burdened with heavier initial cost against the self-manufacturing Brunswick and AMF.
In the bowling-alley field, Fair Lanes, Inc., is the largest U.S. chain operator. A smaller but faster growing factor is American International Bowling which, instead of expanding in saturated bowling areas, is concentrating its operation in densely populated areas of the country where bowling has only begun to penetrate. Another interesting situation is Sports Arenas, Inc., which is a chain operator of about twenty bowling centers. All bowling stocks have experienced sharp declines. Both Brunswick and AMF are near their all-time lows.
As is the case with boating, bowling is approaching saturation in certain areas of the country. If the present rate of construction should hold up, bowling alleys would be almost as common on the American scene as filling stations. There are already 30 major cities in the United States where overbuilding of bowling centers is said to have reached a critical stage. That's why industry leaders are casting their eyes on foreign markets, especially the booming European Common Market.
The domestic bowling boom should have a longer duration, if it could be extended to foreign lands. The European market appears to have a huge potential despite the fact that the number of people there who can afford bowling regularly is much smaller than that o£ the United States "Suppose only one tenth as many people in the Common Market take up the game," Brunswick's Vice President Lester Swanlund said, "that still means an outlet for 15,000 to 20,000 lanes."
This historical look back at a booming leisure industry opens our eyes to the future of recreation. The sports may have changed; the investment potential is still there, as people around the world continue to spend money on their leisure pursuits.