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Not many magazines can claim a 100th birthday, but Bowlers Journal International — the world’s oldest monthly sports magazine — just celebrated that milestone with a 300-page commemorative edition.
But times have been tough for the sport. Competitive bowlers in America have dropped from nearly nine million in the eighties to about two million today. Bowling journalism recently suffered a blow as 20-year-old Bowling This Month magazine published its final issue in October.
However, Keith Hamilton, president and co-manager of Luby Publishing, which publishes Bowlers Journal International, spins the situation in a different light.
“Bowling’s not what it was in terms of being in the forefront, mainstream media, but bowling has evolved from a lot of organized play [and] league play. There’s still millions who do it, but there’s a lot more casual bowling going on,” Hamilton says.
Hamilton attributes the rise of casual bowling to the creation of more family and youth orientated bowling centers, which was not the norm back in the sport’s heyday.
“When I was growing up as a kid, I didn’t bowl. But one reason why I didn’t was because I couldn’t. Every time I went to the bowling center, they were packed. They turned me away. So I didn’t bother, but today’s proprietors are trained differently. They are trained how to go after that youth market and how to cultivate them within a bowling center family,” Hamilton says.
This means arcades for the kids and “martini bars and lounges and deck areas” for the adults.
Hamilton also says the sport has adapted the changing times by entering school athletic systems.
“There’s 3,000 high schools out there that offer bowling as a letter sport. There’s more college programs embracing bowling. Title IX has really kind of paved the way for women bowling,” Hamilton says.
As for the continuing popularity of the magazine, Hamilton credits the company’s dedication to high journalistic standards and its loyal subscribers.
He also notes how advertising factors in the magazine’s content.
“Next time you go into a bowling center… look around. You got the lanes…you got masking units on the wall, you’ve got the pins, you’ve got electronics, you have the bar area — there’s so many different industries that go into building of a bowling center that there is an advertiser for each one of those products.”
Although bowling culture has drastically changed from the fifties and sixties — no more celebrity status bowlers or Saturday afternoons watching tournaments on TV — Hamilton sees America’s greatest indoor pastime successfully rolling into the present.
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