Competitive socialising and the relative industry growth seen during the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down. Although city and seasonal trade has taken a momentary impact due to home working and more transmissible variants, the major bowling chains showing such huge increases on their like for like trade demonstrates the love that the British consumer has for competitive socialising. We’re also seeing retail landlords continuing to offer great deals to leisure operators to drive footfall in traditional retail locations.
With all systems go for the sector, here are some of the trends that we expect to see more of in the next 12 months:
Hybrid venues with multiple activities
Single activity centres in well populated locations have always done well. Although we expect bowling and mini golf to remain the top anchor activities to get people through the doors, consumers need more hooks to keep them there.
The low set-up cost has made axe throwing the fastest growing single activity sites. Time will tell how viable these locations will be as they will rely on repeat custom from enthusiasts. The big single activity brands are continuing to focus on cities and international expansion. Their continued growth will depend on their property negotiations and city workers returning to their offices. To tackle reduced occupancy in the cities and make towns more viable we expect to see more partnerships with casual dining brands and the introduction of additional activities to increase dwell time and spend per head.
Although the single activity site operators may continue to develop new concepts to saturate the locations where they have the strongest operational resource, the fastest growth in the UK will undoubtably come from the multi-activity brands. They have the ability to look at a broader range of potential venues and tailor their offering according to the space they have available, and the demographic that they hope to attract. They can capitalise on the ready audience for bowling and mini golf and have the agility to jump into new trends as they emerge. They can even move activities between venues. We have built successful competitive socialising multi activity centres in venues as small as 10,000 square feet and in towns with populations as small as 40,000 people. There is an appetite for quality right now. Operators who deliver this have a huge amount of potential to grow.
Augmented Reality Projection
The development of augmented reality projection has already seen the technological adaptation of popular games including bowling and darts. In essence AR Projection sees images displayed onto the playing surface which interact with the game play.
Spark AR Bowling is the revolutionary new bowling experience which creates immersive entertainment. Spark enables the bowler to choose the projection on the lane, which may include their own selfie, the projection responds to the movement of the ball and then scoring is displayed along the lane. Furthermore, Spark is compatible with Sync games, which allow guests to play interactive games alongside their game of traditional bowling, for example Boom Bots where additional points are scored by hitting targets on the lanes, as well as the pins.
Augmented Reality Darts is becoming the must-have activity for competitive socialising venues. AR Darts sees the dart board located within a large screen where the projection seamlessly animates both the screen and the board as if they are one surface.
The attraction of AR Darts lies in the thrilling multiplayer games. No longer is darts an activity for two, but large groups are segmented into smaller teams who compete against each other, in engaging games which can be adjusted to suit ability.
It is only a matter of time before AR technology is partnered with other activities to capture the imagination of today’s tech-savvy consumers. Axe throwing with Zombies perhaps?
Where space is at a premium, venues are looking to install activities which make the most of the square footage available with consideration for which activities have the widest appeal and likelihood of attracting repeat visitors. This is where Duckpin Bowling has come into its own.
Duckpin Bowling has a footprint which is around a third of the footprint of a standard bowling lane, making it suitable for smaller, boutique venues as well as larger multi-activity sites.
The generational appeal and repeat custom of bowling has long been established. Duckpin Bowling possesses the same attraction with added benefits such as smaller balls without holes making it even easier for children, those with limited mobility or those wearing acrylic nails.
We installed the first Duckplin Bowling site outside of America in early 2020. Since then we have launched several new venues and created a trend that the rest of the industry are trying to replicate.
Over the last few years, the use of self-service facilities has become a familiar part of our experience at supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. It’s also been pioneered in the sector paired with automated mini golf.
Self-service interfaces are popular with customers as they are a convenient and quick way to browse and order goods and services and they reduce interaction with people from outside their group, which is particularly attractive in the current climate. However, there are additional benefits to venues. Self-service portals increase up-selling, reduce labour and transactions costs, and free up staff. Expect to see this technology in a competitive socialising venue near you soon.
Technology enhancing more games
The development of technology enhanced activities is at the core of the competitive socialising sector. Bowling has been the pioneer in this area having introduced electronic scoring in the 1970s. In fact bowling only became mass market after introducing scoring. Since then, creative entrepreneurs have been developing technologies to reimagine traditional activities for new audiences. The main hallmark of tech-driven activities is that scoring is undertaken by the tech, larger groups of people can undertake the activity and with the tech managing the complexities of the rules and gameplay, the game is not only accessible to a wider audience, but it’s also a lot more fun for people who wouldn’t think they would enjoy it.
Shuffleboard is the latest activity to go digital. Shufflepucks takes the guess work out of scoring the game of shuffleboard. It takes one of the UK’s fastest growing pub games to new levels and creates the first compelling opportunity to make Shuffleboard a commercial amenity.
One winning formula is taking a sport we love, and adding some tech and a bar. We saw Football and Cricket concepts launch in 2021, along with a whole host of shooting and batting brands. We are also seeing golf driving range technology continue to convert traditional public golf courses into competitive socialising venues. If this trend continues to follow the list of UK most loved sports then you can expect to see Tennis, Badminton & Rugby bars opening in a city near you soon… You heard it here first!