Will the bowling business help PE firms throw a strike?

Consumers can’t get enough of the retro sport, and PE firms have taken notice.

Slippery floors, smelly Velcro shoes, congealed nacho cheese, a broken bone from dropping a 12-pound ball on your toe — the humble bowling alley of our childhoods had it all.

Bowling pins, bowling ball, bowling shoes, and a bag of cash on a dark blue background.

What it has now, surprisingly, are investors lining up to throw their shots.

While we thought that bowling alleys had gone the way of many malls and movie theaters, it appears they’re still attracting customers looking to socialize without a steep price tag, per The Financial Times.

In the UK…

  • Hollywood Bowl Group, the UK’s biggest bowling company with 65 alleys, saw $273.8m in revenue between September 2022 and 2023, up 11% YoY. The business is also expanding into Canada.
  • Ten Entertainment’s 2022 sales were up ~40% from pre-pandemic levels.
  • All Star Lanes saw a 20% YoY jump in revenue in 2023.

The amount UK consumers spent on bowling in December 2023 was 106% higher than the year prior, whereas spending on bars and pubs increased 14% and spending on clothes dipped 4%.

The bowling boom has not gone unnoticed by those who follow the money — Texas-based PE firm Trive Capital bought Ten Entertainment for ~$365m in December.

Back in the US…

… Bowling has become the No. 1 participation sport, with 67m people bowling at least once a year, per the United States Bowling Congress.

And PE groups are pouring funding into an ever-growing bowling giant: Bowlero.

The New York-based company — which is the largest bowling operator in the world, with 325+ locations across North America, many of which it acquired — went public in 2021 through a merger with Isos Acquisition Corp. at a $2.6B valuation.

Since then, it has:

  • Raised ~$450m in funding.
  • Earned $1B in annual revenue.
  • Seen a 48% YoY increase in same-store sales.
  • Welcomed ~30m people through its bowling locations each year.

Now, it’s looking to acquire more of the 3.5k independent bowling alleys in the US to quickly expand its footprint.

But this rapid expansion has its downsides — per The Lever, Bowlero is raising prices and sacrificing quality, all while inching toward a possible monopoly.

The real question, though: Will bowling shoes ever look cool? The jury is out.

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