You are currently viewing Are Bowling Alleys Profitable Businesses in 2024?

Are Bowling Alleys Profitable Businesses in 2024?

  • Reading time:10 mins read

Bowling has been a popular recreational activity and competitive sport in the United States for over a century. With over 70 million Americans heading to the lanes every year, bowling remains a staple pastime and entertainment option across generations.

But while bowling participation has remained fairly consistent over the past several decades, the number of dedicated bowling centers has declined steadily since the 1980s. This downward trend has many wondering—can bowling alleys still be profitable businesses in today’s competitive entertainment landscape?

In this article, we’ll dive into the key factors impacting bowling alley profitability, look at examples of successful profitable alleys, and provide some insight into whether bowling centers can realistically thrive in 2024 and beyond.

The Economics of Operating a Bowling Alley

At first glance, a bowling alley may seem like a simple business—all you need is some lanes, balls, pins, and shoes. However, operating a profitable bowling center involves carefully managing multiple revenue streams while controlling costs in an effective manner.

Here are some of the key economic factors today’s alley owners need to grapple with:

Revenue Streams

  • Bowling Fees – The obvious main source of revenue comes from bowling games themselves. Per-game rates along with options like hourly rates and league fees need to be set at profitable yet competitive pricing.
  • Equipment Rentals – Most casual bowlers will need to rent shoes and balls, which represent additional revenue streams. Higher-end ball rentals also an option.
  • Food & Drink Sales – Food and drink sales will account for a significant portion of revenue in a well-run bowling alley. Alcohol sales can be especially lucrative but require special licensing.
  • Party & Event Bookings – Hosting birthday parties, corporate events and other group gatherings can provide chunkier special event revenue.
  • Pro Shop Sales – For dedicated bowlers, on-site pro shops selling balls, shoes, accessories can add income streams.
  • Arcade & Entertainment – Many modern bowling alleys integrate arcade games, laser tag, escape rooms and other entertainment as additional sources of revenue.
  • Merchandise Sales – Selling branded merchandise and apparel can supplement income while also providing marketing.

Operating Costs

  • Facility Rent/Mortgage – For most centers, the fixed cost of renting or paying a mortgage on their facility space will be their single biggest overhead expense.
  • Equipment Maintenance – Keeping lanes, balls, pins, rental shoes and other gear properly maintained comes at a considerable cost.
  • Staffing – From desk staff to cooks to technicians, bowling alleys require skilled personnel, representing payroll, benefits and training costs.
  • Utilities – Major utility costs include electricity for the lanes, lights, and video screens, plus gas for food service operations.
  • Insurance – Comprehensive business insurance is required to cover any injuries or incidents on premises.
  • Other costs – Marketing, accounting, cleaning supplies, credit card processing fees, music licensing, security, etc.

The Key to Bowling Alley Profitability

In analyzing the economics, it becomes clear bowling alleys must diversify their offerings beyond just bowling itself to turn a profit. While essential, bowling revenue alone is usually not enough to be profitable in today’s environment.

Savvy bowling alley owners generate strong revenues from food and drink, events, retail, and entertainment offerings under the same roof. They run diverse operations with bowling at the core.

Maximizing Profitability Factors

Based on the economic realities, here are some key factors that contribute to profitable bowling alley operations:

  • Regular league and group bookings provide predictable recurring revenue. Leagues represent a vital segment.
  • Location near dense residential areas and family entertainment ensures more consistent customer traffic.
  • Strong differentiation through themes, technology, customer service, and other branding efforts in a competitive market.
  • Destination food and drink menu along with beers, wines and cocktails to attract foodie traffic.
  • Fun recreational options like arcades, laser tag, and escape rooms provide entertainment diversity.
  • Events like birthday parties, corporate gatherings, and fundraisers generate lumpier but profitable special event revenue.
  • Effective social media and digital marketing campaigns to drive brand awareness and promotions.
  • Strong customer retention programs like loyalty programs, discounts, special deals, and text messaging.

Modern Bowling Alleys Finding Success

While the total number of alleys is smaller than decades ago, there are certainly modern bowling centers that have found winning formulas to become very profitable. Some examples:

Boutique Urban Bowling

Some of the newest and most profitable alleys are located in busy downtown locations in major cities. With metro foot traffic and decorative retro-chic aesthetics, they attract hip urbanites for bowling nights out. These alleys focus heavily on craft beers and cocktails, quality food, and an upscale social atmosphere.

Examples like Punch Bowl Social attract millennials through branding and entertainment diversity, with concepts spanning bowling, karaoke, darts, ping pong, shuffleboard, and arcade games under one roof. They feel more like nightlife destinations than old-school bowling alleys.

Family Entertainment Centers

Many top-grossing bowling alleys are part of large family entertainment centers in affluent suburban communities. With arcades, mini golf, laser tag, go-karts, and food court dining, they provide affordable fun for families and kids’ birthday parties.

For example, Pinstack locations feature upscale bowling paired with chef-driven menus, craft beers, massive indoor video games and activities for all ages in a vibrant setting with great customer service. Entertainment diversity makes them a popular every weekend destination.

Competitive Bowling Centers

While recreational open bowling keeps the lights on, committed league, tournament and hobby bowlers are the lifeblood for some alleys. Centers with 40+ bowling leagues offer workshops, pro shops, and switch oil patterns to cater to their serious bowlers.

Examples like Bowlmor bowling alleys thrive on competitive social bowling. Partnerships with the PBA and USBC along with hosting tournaments, charity events, and activities like COSMIC bowling make them hubs for avid bowlers of all ages while also appealing to families.

Key Takeaways – Are Bowling Alleys Profitable?

Based on the economics, evolving trends, and successful business models in the modern bowling industry, the verdict on profitability potential is this:

Yes, well-run bowling alleys with the right offerings in the right markets can still be quite profitable businesses today. But it requires much more than just bowling.

The key is viewing bowling alleys as diverse entertainment and recreation hubs, not just places to roll balls down lanes. Controlling costs through scale and operating efficiencies is also critical.

Forward-thinking alley owners will diversify attractions and revenue streams while building loyal communities around their brand experience–remaining laser-focused on delivering that experience in a cost-effective manner.

Those who resist change and rely solely on traditional bowling risk declining into unprofitability. But for those who adapt, provide exceptional service, and make bowling part of a holistic entertainment experience, the opportunity to bowl a strike financially remains very achievable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are bowling alleys good investments?

Bowling alleys can be good investments with the right location, business model, and execution. Alleys in dense areas with limited competition that diversify offerings beyond bowling itself tend to provide the best returns. But extensive research into demographics, costs, and profitability projections is needed.

Do bowling alleys still make money?

Yes, profitable bowling alleys still exist today, especially those that provide a full entertainment experience with quality food and drinks, events, and recreational options alongside bowling. But the bar for profitability is higher than decades past due to competition for entertainment dollars. Adapting to meet modern customer demands is key.

How do you make a bowling alley successful?

Success comes from providing excellent service, differentiating your brand, diversifying revenue streams, controlling costs, actively marketing and promoting, partnering with leagues and groups, and leveraging technology to optimize operations and the customer experience.

How much money does the bowling industry make?

The US bowling industry currently generates around $6 billion in revenue per year. The industry has consolidated with less alleys over time, but remaining centers have found ways to maintain profitability through new business models.

How do I start a bowling alley business?

Starting a bowling alley involves extensive planning and capital. You need to assess target markets, scout locations, understand county zoning processes, choose equipment, evaluate food/drink options, build a business plan, raise sufficient funds, hire quality staff, implement technology, and carefully market and promote your unique offerings.

Who is the target market for bowling?

The target markets include families, young adults aged 18-25, Gen X recreational bowlers, and league/tournament bowlers. Offering an amenity mix suited to your local demographics is key. Urban nightlife bowlers have different needs than suburban families.

How do you value a bowling alley business?

Bowling alley valuation considers revenue metrics like gross profits and cash flows along with intangible assets like brand equity and customer base value. Due diligence on the market, facilities, maintenance needs, and growth potential informs valuation. Rule of thumb is 1-3x Gross Revenue.

Why has bowling become so expensive?

Operating costs from real estate, equipment, staffing and utilities have risen steadily while bowling fee increases have lagged, resulting in thinner profit margins for alleys. Various revenue streams help compensate but bowling does require significant customer spending for an alley to profit.

Do people go bowling anymore?

Bowling participation has decreased from its 1980s peak but around 70 million Americans still bowl every year. Contemporary entertainment trends have impacted leagues but new bowling alley concepts focused on an overall social experience continue attracting recreational bowlers, especially younger demographics.