Taking a close look at declining entries in USBC Women's Championship By Dick Evans

    06/04/09

    Column

    ColumnistDickEvans.jpgThere is no question that the 2009 entry is the low point when it comes to women's bowling love affair with Reno, yet this year's event is the most crucial bowling tournament – including ABC/USBC Open – ever held in Northern Nevada.

    The reason the 2009 USBC Women's Championships is so crucial to the Greater Reno area is timing, which is the key ingredient in life.

    Reno, just like other cities that depend on tourists, had seen its economy take a beating until the 2009 USBC Women's Championships opened at the National Bowling Stadium.

    The 2009 entry total is only 42,461, which pales compared to the 1997 Reno tournament that drew 88,279.

    But throw in another 5,000 friends and family members, workers and convention delegates and the 2009 figure grows more impressive especially when factoring in most bowlers remain in the area at least four nights.

    The 2009 figures certainly have impressed Gregg Carano, vice-president and general manager of the 800-plus room luxury Eldorado Hotel/Casino located a block from the National Bowling Stadium, and Ellen Oppenheim, President/CEO of the Reno Sparks Convention/Visitors Authority.

    "The USBC Women's Tournament brings in an awful lot of room nights," said Carano during the USBC Convention. "The women have added a new vitality to the Northern Nevada economy.

    "Before the tournament started, our business was down anywhere from 5 to 10 to 15 percent. Since the women have started bowling, our occupancy rates have gone up and our slots/casino handle has come back. We are close to last year's figures and some days we are even ahead of last year's totals since the tournament started...and that is important in these tough economic times."

    "Women bowlers for the most part love to play the slots, spend a lot of money in retail shops and eat in our restaurants. From a financial stimulus standpoint, everybody is thanking God the USBC bowlers once again are loving Reno."

    Oppenheim virtually echoed Carano's comments.

    "Bowlers always have been a very important element to our economy, especially now," she said. "We love having the bowlers here, it is a big boost to our economy."

    But I came away from Reno with the impression that not all the leaders in the United States Bowling Congress are as thrilled by the 2009 entry as the Reno officials are.

    The USBC leaders are looking at the big picture and wondering and maybe worrying about questions like:

    1. How can you blame today's anemic economy for the downward spiral in Reno entries?

    2003 -- 76,224 women bowlers
    2006 -- 62,295 women bowlers
    2009 -- 42,461 women bowlers

    Still, those numbers far exceed entries when the USBC Women's Championship is held other cities across America, especially when you factor in the declining number of entries in 2008 and 2009.

    2004 -- 48,823 women bowlers
    2005 -- 45,452 women bowlers
    2007 -- 49,330 women bowlers
    2008 -- 40,978 women bowlers

    Compared the USBC Women's Championship decline in entries to the 89,685 bowlers -- second highest ever if I recall correctly -- now competing in the Cashman Center in Las Vegas.

    2. Are the women bowlers, who historically do more sightseeing than they do actual bowling, growing weary of returning to Reno despite the great reception and fantastic facilities and great room rates?

    Reno has done a remarkable job of revitalizing its downtown area by adding interesting facilities like a new baseball stadium, a new convention center and even a kayak course on the Truckee River that runs just outside town.

    The women bowlers who like to gamble seem to love Reno despite the fact that it is very difficult to find an economical flight, especially from the East Coast, into Reno. Flight problems have been a headache for Reno for almost two decades.

    3. Are some of the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 women who also bowl in the USBC Open tournament each year growing tired of the time and money it takes to bowl in both USBC national championships? If so, would most pick the USBC Open?

    4. Will the fact that the USBC Women's Championship feature a handicap format for the first time in 2010 help or hurt future tournament entries?

    5. Will women bowlers be impressed that for the first time ever they will be competing on lanes built just for them inside the El Paso Convention center?

    6. Do female bowlers, or male bowlers for that matter, really understand how difficult it is to find a convention center large enough to hold 50 lanes that is willing to be tied up for say four to six months?

    New conventions centers may want the marathon bowling tournament business, but few established convention centers with annual customers are willing to shut their doors to other events to hold a USBC national tournament that generally runs for at least four months.

    7. Will the combination of possibly a still slow economy and problems in nearby Mexico hurt the appeal of El Paso as host to the USBC Women's Championship next year?

    On June 1, the U.S. Government announced that no one will be allowed back into the United States from either Canada or Mexico without a passport. That new ruling has to hurt women bowlers who like to tour nearby attractions to where the USBC Women's Championship is held each year. A passport is not cheap these days.

    If the lure of its own convention center bowling facility does not result in a flood of entries next year, then don't be surprised if the USBC doesn't take a second look to find ways to streamline the tournament.

    Make no mistake, the USBC's leaders will be trying to find way to reduce deficits and increase revenue next year.

    I am no financial genius, not even close, but I estimate the 2009 USBC Women's Open will result in approximately a $700,000 profit. I have no way to back up my belief, but I think the only reason the 2009 USBC Women's Championship has that healthy of a surplus is due to the generosity of Reno.

    Again, I am only guessing but I fear that generosity quickly could be reduced if numbers stay as low as they are this year but the economy shows an improvement.

    If my figures are right, you will have to subtract from that $700,000 surplus total approximately $150,000 that it costs to run the Queens tournament each year, and another $20,000 that it costs to run the Senior Queens yearly.

    Unfortunately, upgrading the Queens' prize fund over the past decade and adding TV (sometimes live) has not produced a noticeable increase in the number of Queens entries. I worry that a handicap tournament format could produce even a smaller field than normal in future years.

    By contrast, the Masters results in about a $400,000 deficit each year despite an almost capacity entry. But when you stage two Masters on the infield at Miller Park where the Brewers play in Milwaukee then you know your overhead is going to soar The Senior Masters, a separate tournament, adds an additional $20,000 deficit each year.

    I am estimating again, but I figure that the USBC Open this year in Las Vegas will result in only about a $2.5 million surplus despite playing host to 89,685 bowlers. The reason for the fairly small surplus is that the overhead in Las Vegas is much more expensive than say Reno or most other host cities.

    Not to be redundant, but my Crystal ball reiterates that Reno is very generous compared to Las Vegas and the surplus is higher in those years. When a USBC Open is held outside of Nevada, the USBC generally realizes from $1 million to a 1.3 million dollar surplus.

    When I approached Jeff Boje, president of the USBC, about my beliefs he replied: "The Open tournament is most profitable in Reno even with lower entries than Las Vegas. That is a great tribute to Tri-Properties, the Reno Convention and Visitors Authority, the Mayor and to the Carano family -- all of whom are deeply committed to the bowling industry. They have been friends and partners in good times and bad. That is a relationship that has earned and deserves gratitude from all those who love bowling."

    I agree with Boje's comments. I have attended about 50 old WIBC and ABC conventions and in my opinion only a handful have come close to duplicating Reno's efforts when it comes to rolling out the red carpet.

    The bowling industry needs more friends like it has made in Reno.

    Money speaks, especially in rugged economical times, so I have to admit that I am worried about the future of the USBC Women's Championship events when they are not held in Reno.

    The Eldorado Hotel/Casino in downtown Reno features what it calls the "Gold Room" where bowling executives hang out and talk about the past and future.

    Reno officials are doing everything possible to guarantee that its association with the USBC remains golden for another 20 years.

    I predict Reno officials will find new ways to entertain bowlers and even predict that a combined USBC Convention and International Bowl Expo will be held in Reno in the near future.

    The year 2012 looks 'golden' to me for the entire bowling industry to say thanks with combined conventions.

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