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Some thoughts on Brunswick’s bowling sale

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So Bowlmor AMF is buying Brunswick Corp.’s bowling centers. That’s big news, but what does it all mean?

First, some background.

On Thursday, Lake Forest, Ill.-based Brunswick announced that it was selling its 85 retail bowling centers in the U.S and Canada to Bowlmor AMF for $270 million.

Brunswick said it was an attractive, unsolicited offer.

Here’s the first takeaway from the transaction: It shows emphatically that Bowlmor AMF has developed into quite a powerful, aggressive, confident and integrated company in one year’s time. It’s been a remarkable ride for Bowlmor AMF under Tom Shannon, its chief executive, chairman and president.

And perhaps Bowlmor AMF's acquisition shouldn’t come as that huge of a surprise because Shannon has telegraphed that his company had greatly improved its bottom line since buying Virginia-based AMF Bowling Worldwide, Inc. a year ago.

AMF filed for Chapter 11 in November 2012 – the second time that it had declared bankruptcy in 10 years.

Shannon, Bowlmor’s chief executive at the time, said that his company became interested in AMF “as soon as they filed bankruptcy,” citing synergies that would be created with a union of the two.

In the May issue of International Bowling Industry magazine, Shannon revealed that the “integration from a cultural standpoint was much easier than anticipated. We thought it would take a long time to come together. In two months, people acted as if it were one company.”

Another part of Brunswick’s announcement is that the company disclosed that it was leaving the bowling industry completely after entering it way back in 1890. It will also sell its bowling products business by the end of 2014.

“With Bowlmor AMF acquiring Brunswick bowling, two powerhouses are now one,” said Dustin Markowitz, a bowling analyst and Bowling Evolved co-host. “It’s shocking. It’s really shocking.

“I never thought I’d see the day when Brunswick would be out of the bowling business,” Markowitz added, “but things change.”

Brunswick, a bowling icon, said its resources would be better directed to its marine and fitness divisions.

Now for takeaway 2: Brunswick also explained that its sale was related to the industry’s move from bowling leagues to a more “entertainment-oriented experience” that attracts party and casual bowlers.

The party bowler has been the staple of Bowlmor, which before its merger with AMF, was a chain of six upscale bowling houses known for its Vegas-style sports look and its laneside food and drink service. In other words, Bowlmor catered to a party and dating atmosphere, not leagues.

League bowling won’t necessarily be cut back at Bowlmor’s bowling houses. But leagues are fighting an uphill battle for relevancy and their players fully realize it.

Said Markowitz: “It does not bode well for the competitive and tournament bowler.”

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