There's a lot more to the bowling business these days than some funny-looking shoes, a collection of bowling balls and a joint selling burgers and beers off to the side.
Like XBowling, for example.
The smart-phone app developed by Sports Challenge Network of Dacula, Ga., is expected to draw big interest from the 4,000 bowling center proprietors trolling the exhibit hall at the annual International Bowl Expo in Reno next week.
XBowling allows bowlers to compete against themselves or against other XBowlers in real-time or on-demand contests.
The bowling industry sees the application as an important tool to draw in the next generation of bowlers, says Stu Upson, executive director of the United States Bowling Congress.
"We see tremendous potential for this breakthrough technology to expand organized bowling," says Upson.
And the ability of the bowling business to reach a new generation is a matter of big interest to the Reno-Sparks business community, which has linked a significant portion of its tourism future to bowling tournaments and other events at the National Bowling Stadium.
Steve Johnson, executive director of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, says the business is healthy. About 71 million Americans bowled last year, and bowling is the largest participation sport in the country.
On the other hand, proprietors of bowling centers are looking to widen the sport's appeal beyond stereotypical bowling leagues filled with middle-aged guys.
Women and children are fast-growing segments of the market, Johnson says, and bowling proprietors increasingly are successful in attracting casual bowlers who drop in occasionally rather than committing to weekly league play.
Children's birthday parties, for instance, draw about 10 million kids a year to bowling centers. Among teens 13-17, bowling these days ranks higher in participation than baseball or soccer.
Among adults, a full 30 percent of today's bowlers earn more than $100,000 a year.
But attracting and holding that changing demographic takes a different sort of bowling center.
Nearly a third of all bowling centers now have a full-service restaurant rather than a snack bar, and Johnson says those restaurants increasing are moving upscale.
Automatic scoring systems have removed one drawback to the sport, and increasingly sophisticated graphics entertain bowlers who are waiting their turn behind the foul line.
For younger patrons, about 30 percent of bowling centers these days feature laser tag, batting cages and the like. In fact, the Bowling Proprietors Association says that nearly half the revenue at most bowling centers these days comes from sources other than bowling.
Exhibitors at the International Bowl Expo trade show, which runs June 26-27 at the convention center, reflect the changing face of the industry.
Brunswick, Jack Links Beef Jerky and Budweiser will be there. But so will 5 Hour Energy, Industrial Lighting and Sound, golf-simulator firm Visual Sports and a couple of laser-tag outfits.
Johnson says the bowling industry's decision to bring its convention and trade show to Reno reflects the growing ties between the region and the business.
"It's a way for us to pay back Reno," Johnson says.
The relationship deepened last week when the City of Reno and the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority agreed to host United States Bowling Congress' Championship Tournaments to the National Bowling Stadium through 2030.
Reno agreed to a $15 million upgrade to the stadium as part of the deal.
That work will include new video boards above all 78 lanes on the fourth floor of the National Bowling Stadium, as well as the construction of the Showcase Lanes, a 10-lane bowling center on the first floor which will be used for instruction and side-tournaments. That work will be completed before the 2013 tournament.
Future upgrades scheduled for completion before the 2018 tournaments include replacement of all 78 lanes on the fourth floor, expanded bowler squad rooms, major renovations to the public space on the fourth floor and a facelift to the exterior of the National Bowling Stadium.
The new contract has the potential to generate more than a million room nights, representing an estimated economic impact of more than $750 million to the Reno-Sparks economy from 2019 through 2030, RSCVA officials said.
And some of those room nights will help pay for the bowling stadium upgrades. The Nevada Legislature passed legislation in 2011 that allows for a $2 surcharge on hotel rooms to fund improvement projects at public facilities.
As it promoted the annual expo to its members, the Bowling Proprietors Association spotlighted the Reno area's affordable hotels and meals in comparison with other markets. The Silver Legacy is host hotel for the event.
Along with the trade show, participants in the International Bowl Expo will participate in a week filled with seminars. Among the subjects: New focus group research on the reasons that bowlers drop out of leagues and strategies to boost the profitability of bowling-center bars.