First and foremost, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year. In many respects, 2020 probably won’t go down as a year that I look back fondly upon. It was a rough year. The bowling industry was heavily impacted in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, but here’s to hoping that brighter days are ahead for all of us in the not-so-distant future.

With the new year finally upon us, I wanted to take a brief look back at the last 12 months or so and give our readers some insight into Bowling This Month’s past, present, and future.

The impact of COVID-19

By pretty much any measure, Bowling This Month was hit fairly hard by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 actually started out great for us, with January and February being our best two months ever. Almost overnight, though, sometime in early March, our business came grinding to a near halt as the bowling industry was essentially shut down in response to the spread of the virus.

Unlike many of our friends, customers, and partners in the industry who saw their revenues drop to zero during the shutdowns, we were very fortunate to be able to stay afloat thanks to the ongoing support of thousands of our loyal long-term customers who generously chose to keep their subscriptions active, despite the fact that there was temporarily nowhere to bowl. To all of those people, I really must thank you for your support.

And to the many of you—I’ve honestly lost count at this point—who have reached out and kindly requested that your subscriptions be canceled due to the challenges brought forth by the pandemic, I want to thank you for your past business. I hope that brighter days are ahead and that we might see you return at some point in the future when things improve.

What’s new

It would be easy to just focus this entire storyline on the negative, but I’d instead like to be a bit more positive and discuss some of the changes and improvements we’ve been working on over the past year or so to make Bowling This Month better.

To start, I certainly must make mention of the addition of Tyrel Rose to the Bowling This Month team. Many of you are probably familiar with Tyrel from his years as the Head Coach of Team Canada, and for his dozens and dozens of Bowling This Month articles over the years, starting back in 2010. Tyrel joined us as our Director of Content in late 2019, and most of the things I’ll mention below came to fruition as a result of Tyrel’s vision and efforts.

New contributors

One of the first orders of business for Tyrel was to recruit some new contributors. We’re very lucky to have a number of long-term contributors who have stuck with us through good times and bad. But, over the last several years, there has certainly been a bit of natural attrition amongst our contributor ranks, helping to make room for some new additions.

I hope I’m not accidentally leaving anyone out, but since the fall of 2019, we’ve been lucky to add the following new contributors to our instructional and technical content team:

  • Ernesto Avila: The head coach for Peru’s national team, a young and very talented program, Ernesto is innovative in his approach to bowling training, always looking at new ways to teach the required bowling skills to all his athletes.
  • Valerie Bercier: As a PWBA competitor and health coach, Valerie brings a unique perspective to her articles, blending her deep knowledge of health, mindset, and bowling to help you improve both on and off the lanes.
  • Josh Blanchard: Best known for his time on the PBA Tour, Josh is also an experienced coach. His articles have demonstrated the depth of his experience and his desire to help bowlers of all levels.
  • Joe Hoenig: As a USBC Silver coach, Joe focuses his efforts on helping intermediate-level league and tournament bowlers improve their scores and better understand our sport.
  • Juha Maja: An international coach with a fantastic resume, Juha joined the team as a contributor in late 2020 and promises to bring a unique perspective and advanced ideas to our readers in 2021.
  • Carl Nichols: An experienced coach and pro shop operator out of the Northwest US, Carl focuses his articles on the intermediate-level player.
  • Andy Penny: A USBC Gold coach, pro shop operator, and former national team head coach in Europe, Andy brings a wealth of knowledge from all aspects of the sport.
  • Jordan Vanover: An expert in ball drilling and an international representative for Brunswick, Jordan’s philosophy is to keep things simple, taking complex topics and breaking them down into easy-to-digest articles for our readers.

I really hope that you’ve enjoyed these new additions, and I want to thank them all—along with our other longer-term contributors like Josie Barnes, Dean Champ, Ron Clifton, Heather D’Errico, Chris Hester, Dean Hinitz, Chris Mesagno, Phil Regan, Tyrel Rose, and Joe Slowinski—for being important parts of the Bowling This Month contributor team. It has always been our goal to produce instructional and technical content covering all of the topics that are important to competitive bowlers, and I feel that our group of writers brings a wealth of experience and diversity of viewpoints to the table in helping us fulfill that goal.

2020’s instructional and technical content

Creating bowling instructional content in the COVID era has certainly been a bit of a challenge. The obvious difficulty for much of the year was that many of our contributors were unable to bowl or coach due to shutdowns, closures, and safety concerns. Beyond that, we knew that our customers also couldn’t bowl. So, the challenge was in trying to create content that bowlers who mostly can’t go bowling would still enjoy and benefit from. We did our best to get creative, and I hope our articles gave you some things to look forward to working on in the future when you return to the lanes.

One of the decisions that we made very early in 2020 was that we wanted to dramatically ramp up the quantity of new instructional articles that we publish. I’m happy to say that we managed to meet that goal in 2020: in the six years prior, we averaged around 40 articles per year, but in 2020 we published 81 articles.

It definitely felt a bit counterintuitive to be increasing our investment in content at a time when interest in our content was plummeting to depressingly low levels, but I’m glad we stuck with it. This puts us in an even better position as the bowling industry rebounds and readers return to find plenty of new content. I hope you’ve enjoyed the more frequent publishing schedule, as we plan to continue this trend going forward as much as possible.

Ball reviews

With respect to our ball testing and reviewing program, 2020 was a year of significant challenges. I must first thank Eric Martinez, the head of our ball testing team, for his ongoing support in helping us navigate the seemingly endless list of challenges that confronted us in 2020. Despite some definite bumps in the road, I like to think that we managed things to the best of our abilities and I’m thankful to have started 2021 on a more positive note.

As many of you certainly noticed, there was, unfortunately, a period of time in 2020 when we were not able to review balls from Brunswick, Columbia 300, DV8, Ebonite, Hammer, Radical, and Track. This was due to a combination of the challenges and difficulties associated with Brunswick’s late-2019 acquisition of the Ebonite International brands and the subsequent challenges and difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, once the dust started to settle in the fall of 2020, Brunswick started sending us test balls again, and we’re now back to testing and reviewing balls from all seven of their brands.

Meanwhile, we spent most of the year battling pandemic-related challenges when it came to ball testing. We found ourselves completely shut down starting in March, only to finally get back to some form of normalcy and resume our testing in late July. Everything went relatively well for a few months until we hit another snag in December, with COVID-19 personally affecting many of the people involved in making our ball reviews happen. This temporarily shut us down for another month or so, but I’m happy to report that we’re currently back to operating on all cylinders—at least for the time being!

Testing challenges aside, we did make some subtle, but hopefully impactful, changes to our reviews in 2020. The most notable change is in how they are structured. For many years, our reviews have been structured by oil pattern, with each main section describing how the ball performed for each tester on a given pattern. We’ve now made the change to structuring the reviews by tester, with each main section covering how the ball performed for a given tester across the oil patterns. Our intent is to make things easier to follow and present the information in a way that is more convenient for the reader, who likely identifies with one of the tester styles more than the others.

Additionally, starting in 2020, we tried to focus the reviews a bit less on things like which board each tester stood on and looked at, and more on things like how a given ball compares to its predecessors and siblings. And finally, we’re trying to make a much more focused effort on highlighting whether balls tended to perform better for us as fresh oil balls, transition balls, or burn balls. Since we do all of our testing starting out on fresh oil, it’s easy to focus too much on how the ball performed on the fresh. But, in reality, there are a lot of balls that are exceptionally good in transition and on the burn, and we’ve made an effort to try to better highlight that.

Feel free to let us know your thoughts on these changes, and whether you’ve found them to be helpful.

Looking ahead

Going forward, it’s hard to say what the future holds, both for the bowling industry at large and for Bowling This Month. My hope—and I’m sure the hope of nearly everyone involved in this industry—is that competitive bowling sees a very strong recovery later this year that puts us back somewhat close to where we were pre-pandemic.

For all fans of competitive bowling who have the financial means, now would be a good time to make deliberate efforts to support the various entities of our industry. Buy a bowling ball from your local pro shop, even if you don’t plan on using it for a while. Stock up on some new accessories. Take advantage of the social distancing rules in many areas and enjoy some distraction-free practice at your local bowling center. Renew your USBC membership for the 2020/21 season, even if you don’t plan on doing any competitive bowling this year. Support the PBA by signing up for a FloBowling membership. These are just a few ideas, but the bottom line is that there is a lot we can do to show our support—even those of us who are staying on the sidelines competitively for the time being. Every little bit we do to chip in and help today improves our chances of having a strong sport to return to once the pandemic subsides.

For Bowling This Month, our immediate plan is to keep doing more of what we started in 2020. We’re extremely excited about some of the instructional content we have planned for the coming months, and we’re optimistically looking forward to a great year of testing and reviewing bowling balls, hopefully with far fewer interruptions and hiccups than in 2020.

If you have thoughts on what you’d like to see more of or less of, new tools and features you’d like to see us develop, or any other suggestions on how we can make Bowling This Month better for you, please feel free to let us know in the comments below. Thank you to all of our customers and partners, and once again, Happy New Year to all of you!

Bill Sempsrott

About Bill Sempsrott

Bill is the founder of BTM Digital Media, LLC and he manages the day-to-day operations of Bowling This Month. He has a graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, he developed the Powerhouse Blueprint ball motion simulator, and he has been an avid bowler for more than 25 years. He also currently develops Bowling Unleashed, a realistic bowling simulation game available now for both iOS and Android devices.