What exactly was the cause for bowling going out of favor in the past 30 years?

I was recently listening to “The Dollop” podcast about the history of bowling and while interesting they make a major point at the end to claim the reason for bowling’s demise in America (The United States only has 1/3rd of the bowling alleys it had at it’s peak in the 1970’s despite the fact the US added 1/3rd to its population since then) is solely due to the fact of wage stagnation and the destruction of the blue collar job. Basically they claimed because people in the lower income brackets are now making less money than before like in the 1970’s/80’s they don’t have enough money to spend on “frivolous” fun things like bowling anymore.

This set off all sorts of alarm bells to me because they stated it so confidently but never addressed the other elephant in the room. Maybe the cultural and technological evolution since the 1970’s made bowling less appealing to people, why go out and bowl when you can stay at home and watch a movie, play bowling on your video game console, or do anything else that people seem more interested in now?

I looked up some articles and they basically split the difference, they claim that while bowling is more of a “white-collar” form of entertainment now they also claim increased pressures from other forms of entertainment. So whats the answer?

I went bowling a few years ago for the first time since I was a kid. This was at a small town alley with only four lanes. Had an enjoyable enough time, but I do remember thinking the price seemed very high.

Maybe they’re looking at this from the wrong direction. Maybe the public interest in bowling is now at its “normal” level. The higher interest in bowling during the seventies may have just been a fad.

Some of it probably has to do with the crackdown on drinking and driving since the 70’s. Bowling night was really “getting tanked” night for a lot of the folks I knew back then.

I suspect bowling was even more popular (at least percentage wise) in the 60s than in the 70s. There were all kinds of adult bowling leagues where I lived. There was one every night of the week as I recall.

I suspect my generation started to give it up because it was something our parents did and we were all aghast at what my parents generation did like start the Vietnam war.

I agree. It is expensive.


There are still bowling leagues and professional bowlers so it’s not completely dead. But, yeah, I notice the parking lots aren’t as full as they used to be on Friday nights. The bowling alleys used to be a fun place to hang out at even if one wasn’t bowling. The bar area might have had a band on the weekend, some of them had banquet rooms for weddings and such.

Don’t know why casual bowling has declined though. Maybe because The Flintstones and Laverne & Shirley are no longer on prime time?

Heh. :stuck_out_tongue:

I blame the shoes. :smiley:

The usual text to refer to here is Bowling Alone by Putnam, which blames it all on… spins wheel… technology and social change, but the book’s attracted some interesting replies:

Always good to check to see if the social trend you want to explain at book length is, in fact, a social trend, and not something else, like… nothing.

Now seriously, what I’m seeing where I live is bowling sharing the building with other activities, like paintball and climbing walls and that kind of thing … And reframed more towards kid-centric activities, which is very different from how bowling was marketed in years past, with the bar and etc.

Here’s an example, they have laser tag too … Stars and Strikes.

You joke, but apparently some lanes will now let you bowl in street shoes.

I’m quite sure there are fewer lanes now than they used to be, but the couple of times a year I go bowling the remaining ones appear to be doing fine. There are even “hipster bowling lanes” because I guess you have to be ironic about it to enjoy it; although the one time I went to such a place, the guy one lane over (bowling alone, natch) seemed to be a professional or at least a very talented and dedicated amateur, with game scores in the 220-230 range.

But hasn’t participation in many adult, pedestrian sports declined over the past few decades? I’m pretty sure golf, racquetball, tennis, pool/billiards, softball, and swimming have also had significant declines.

Yeah, that was actually part of the problem. The leagues would have all the lanes reserved during the most popular times throughout the week, so families and party groups couldn’t get in, and eventually found other cheap forms of recreation.

The death of blue collar jobs also had a side effect of killing the defined work shift. When your company wouldn’t let you work after 5:00 (because they’d have to pay time and a half) you were pretty sure you’d be home at the same time every night, which meant you had evenings open to bowl, play softball, or even 9 holes of golf during the summer. Not so much for white collar types who were pressured to work 50-60 or more hours per week.

In other words, “Why spend more money at a bowling alley when you can do something that’s cheaper and easier at home?”

So that’s kind of begging the question in the podcast. Notice that the entertainment center cited in TubaDiva’s post is heavily using price discrimination for off-nights, to get people to bowl. I’m not well versed in this business, but it would seem to me that maintaining a bowling alley in good working condition runs high overhead. If the drinking component is gone, not only is demand down, but probably a good part of the profit.

When I was in grade school (early 60’s) it was your usual go-to for a birthday party. Once a guy showed up with his own bowling ball in a carrying bag and we all thought “what the fuck?!?” Even then I knew we were bowling ironically.

Part of the reason is that over the last 20 or 30 years, the bowling industry has changed. In the past, nearly all bowling alleys courted league bowlers that would fill the lanes for 36 weeks a year and summer leagues that filled them in the summer. They got discounted prices , but a league would sign a contract guaranteeing a certain number of games every week for a certain number of weeks. About 20 years or so ago, there was a shift and a lot of bowling centers began to focus on events and parties which allowed them to charge higher prices than they could get from league bowlers and also to make more money from food and beverage sales than they made from league bowlers. I don’t think this is just a side effect of losing league bowlers- I think it was one of the causes. Because what started to happen was that the bowling alleys would no longer sign contracts with as many leagues, because they need to leave room for the events. That included kid’s leagues- the last season my son bowled as a child, there was only one weekend kid’s league left in my area. * The fewer kids leagues there are , the fewer adult bowlers you will have. And even people who have bowled in multiple leagues for years will stop bowling when they can’t find a league that has room for them, that suits their schedule and is within a reasonable distance.

There are also other factors involved - for example, the bowling alleys in my area that actually shut down didn’t do so because of lack of business. They shut down because the owner of the property either thought another business would pay a higher rent ( and they weren’t always correct about that) or because the owner of both the bowling alley and the property for whatever reason decided to sell the property. But no matter what the reason for shutting down, it’s going to contribute to the decrease in lanes.

*Which ended up being a horrible mash-up of beginners and high school varsity bowlers averaging over 200 that no one enjoyed. It had originally been two separate leagues, but the bowling alley put then together to free up time for other events.

I bet television, cable and AC have all added to the downward trend in bowling popularity, much like they have added to the decreased popularity of going to the movies.

If I can get home from work, turn on the TV and pick from 200+channels or all the on-demand stuff, while sitting in the comfort of my climate controlled house, why would I go bowling instead?

So my interpretation is that too many leagues killed off the casual bowler, and doreen feels that catering to the casual bowler killed off the leagues. Interesting.

Note, I’m talking about the 1960s-1970s, and she’s talking about the 1980s-1990s.

And I agree with her that kids aren’t being exposed to bowling like they used to be.

I think bowling filled a niche of something to do that anyone could do. Now we have other things that anyone can do like the internet.

I think it is just part of a societal change. Bowling was very much a social event. People meeting to hang out, drinking, smoking (weed?) etc. Seems like today there is less getting together in person. Lots of getting to know folk on line without ever meeting them in person.

Bowling died when Earl Anthony retired.