As the social debate over what to do about child obesity rages on, one thing seems pretty clear. Getting involved in initiatives that encourage kids to exercise is an excellent way to spiff up one’s corporate image these days. And Brunswick Recreation Centers is well-positioned to help kids entertainment players take a stab at the issue in a fun way.
The Chicago-based company owns 109 bowling centers across North America and has been running licensed bowling leagues for the last five years, involving properties like Spider-Man, MLB, NASCAR and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Its latest program with Fox Licensing and Merchandising centers around The Simpsons – a perfect fit given Homer’s well-chronicled penchant for bowling. Starting in January, kid-and-parent teams can sign up to participate in a four-month, non-competitive league, at the end of which they’ll receive a limited-edition Simpsons bowling ball (manufactured by Brunswick) as a reward for participating. Brunswick’s centers will broadcast Simpsons footage during the league bowling nights, and staff will be outfitted in T-shirts and funky retro bowling shirts featuring the show’s characters.
Don Jones, Brunswick’s director of retail marketing, estimates that the promo will touch about 10,000 kids and parents, and the idea is to get them hooked on league bowling, which has seen its numbers dwindle at a rate of roughly 7% each year over the last 15 years.
But Jones adds that it’s not bowling as an activity that’s less popular; it’s the traditional league structure. ‘Total participation has gone up every year for at least the last five years,’ he explains. ‘In 2001, 55 million people in the U.S. went bowling at least once; last year, it was between 70 million and 90 million, depending on where you draw your numbers from. [The problem is that] people are just not able to commit to long time frames anymore,’ which is why Brunswick’s licensed leagues are only four months long at the most.
Jones prefers to run just one premium league at a time to avoid the problem of signage schizophrenia, so the greatest number of kids entertainment licenses that Brunswick would sign in a year is four (one per quarter). Jones was in negotiations for a new one at press time, and he’s also looking for a nutrition partner to come in on a health-focused after-school program.
Although Brunswick has a formidable direct competitor in AMF Bowling Worldwide, which owns 485 bowling centers globally and runs licensed leagues similar to Brunswick’s (in fact, it’s currently hosting one called the Disney Magic Bowling League), Jones is more concerned about the threat posed by other entertainment venues like movie theaters and malls. He feels that securing hot entertainment licenses that are fun and have widespread kid appeal affords Brunswick its best chance at keeping bowling on the kid radar.