'Starbucks of Bowling' Upends Sport's Old-School Culture

The Lever takes an in-depth, and unflattering, look at the fast-growing Bowlero chain
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2024 7:29 AM CDT
'Starbucks of Bowling' May Be Coming for Your Alley
Stock image.   (Getty / tarasov_vl)

The Lever estimates that 70 million Americans bowled at least once last year, making the humble pastime the largest participation sport in the nation. And it's a safe bet that many of those people did so in an alley owned by the fast-growing Bowlero chain. Though it sprang up only in 2014, Bowlero is now the biggest bowling company in the world, writes Amos Barshad. It owns 350 bowling centers and counting in the US—typically older alleys that were bought and remade in the Bowlero image: "dim lights, loud music, expensive cocktails." Meaning, it's not exactly your father's alley, which is fine with Bowlero. The chain "isn't interested in maintaining the culture of bowling," writes Barshad. "What Bowlero wants to do is become the Starbucks of bowling."

The unflattering piece talks to "hard-core" bowlers who say Bowlero lanes aren't kept up to snuff, and it catalogs low-grade complaints of dingy bathrooms and managers who shrug off complaints. More troubling, Barshad reports on a federal investigation into alleged ageist and discriminatory hiring and firing practices. He also casts doubt on the financial stability of the company, which is fueled by millions in private equity, suggesting that "fawning" interviews conducted by CNBC's Jim Cramer with CEO Tom Shannon present a too-rosy picture of a company focused on fast expansion and maximizing returns. (Bowlero did not respond to the Lever's request for comment.) "Is the company actually a healthy and growing entity?" writes Barshad. "Or is it just very successful at presenting itself as one? And if it's the latter, how does this all end?" (Read the full story.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.