Is Milwaukee Still the Bowling Capital of the World?

Oct 22, 2015

The soul of Milwaukee has taken a few hits in recent years.  The end of Midwest Airlines and its iconic chocolate chip cookies, the sale of Bucyrus to Caterpillar, and the merger of Miller with Coors and the potential sale of the combined company to Anheuser-Busch.

But throughout Milwaukee’s long history, there has always been our status as a Mecca for bowling. But as with the examples we mentioned above, even that constant may not be a constant anymore. The sport has seen a precipitous decline in participation nationally, but perhaps nowhere more than in Milwaukee. 

Reporter Rich Rovito charts the phenomenon in the current issue of Milwaukee Magazine, starting with bowling's prominence in the '50s into the '70s. Considered the height of blue collar sponsored leagues, bowling lanes stayed open all hours of the day to serve factory workers from every shift.

"It's been about a three decade decline. It's been somewhat gradual at times, a little steeper at other times. But I think the loss of a lot of factory jobs/factory work here plays a part in that," says Rovito.

With the rise of video games and the internet, bowling alleys are competing for consumers. And, the closing of nearly 140 AMF lanes in a two-month span during the recession also contributed a major blow to the Milwaukee's bowling scene.

With the decline of leagues, the US Bowling Congress moved their world headquarters from Greendale to Arlington, Texas during the recession. These major events and people's reluctance to commit to a league today has perhaps demoted Milwaukee's status in the bowling world.

Today, bowling lanes are pinned in either the direction of a club-like entertainment atmosphere or remain old school to appeal to an older and more loyal customer base.

"Milwaukee was always kind of looked at as the bowling capital of the U.S. and I think maybe people are looking at that a little differently now," says Rovito.