AMF Bowling Center
AMF bowling centers offer multi-lane ten-pin bowling for all ages, plus food and beverages. Bowling may be purchased per game, per hour, or as part of a birthday party or corporate event package. Most locations offer Xtreme Bowling at certain hours of the week, when a bowling center's regular lighting is dimmed, black and strobe lights are turned on, and the music is turned up. Many locations support bowling leagues.
The AMF brand for bowling centers originated with centers owned by the American Machine and Foundry Company. The brand is currently used:
- In the United States and Mexico, for some of the centers owned or operated by Bowlmor AMF.
- In Australia, for centers owned by Ardent Leisure.
- In the United Kingdom, for some of the centers owned by Electra Private Equity.
The AMF brand (as well as the QubicaAMF brand) is also used for pinsetters, automatic scoring equipment, and other bowling equipment. Because many of the AMF-branded bowling centers were acquired from other parties, some centers use by bowling equipment manufactured or distributed by other companies such as Brunswick Bowling & Billiards instead of AMF-branded equipment.
The American Machine and Foundry (known after 1970 as AMF, Inc.) moved into the bowling business after World War II, when AMF automated bowling equipment and bowling centers became profitable business ventures, and in subsequent years into many other businesses. Aging production facilities and increasing quality control problems in some product lines caused sales declines in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The company's vast diversified output proved difficult to efficiently manage, and the company began to experience losses. Bowling remained quite profitable, however, so the company began a campaign of expansion in this area, spending nearly $100 million on acquisitions of bowling centers in 1984 and 1985.
In 1985 corporate raider Irwin L. Jacobs’s Minstar, Inc. bought AMF Inc. and began to sell its various business divisions. Commonwealth Ventures, a group of private investors in Richmond, Virginia, paid $225 million to purchase the bowling center and bowling products divisions, forming AMF Bowling Companies, Inc. (later known as AMF Bowling Worldwide). The new owners spent nearly $500 million revitalizing the bowling center business with a focus on expanding the appeal of bowling to league and casual bowlers. By 1986 AMF Bowling owned 110 bowling centers in the United States and abroad. In 1991 the company hired former PepsiCo executive Mark Willoughby to head the bowling center business. Willoughby set out to make AMF Bowling the “McDonald’s of bowling.”
The company became the largest owner of bowling centers in the US in 1995 with the acquisition of Fair Lanes, Inc., which the year before had been through a leveraged buyout, filed for bankruptcy, and then emerged from it as it struggled to get the cash needed to renovate its centers. The addition of Fair Lanes's 106 bowling centers brought AMF Bowling’s total to 205 centers in the US and 79 overseas.
In 1996 Goldman Sachs paid $1.4 billion to buyout the company from Commonwealth Ventures. The company’s strategy at the time was to clean up purchased properties and create a national chain of amusement complexes. That year, the company bought Bowling Corporation of America from closely held Charan Industries, adding 50 more bowling centers. In that same year it purchased 43 centers from American Recreation Centers. In 1997, the company acquired 15 centers from Conbow Corporation. By the start of 1999 AMF Bowling operated 421 centers in the United States, 46 in Australia, 37 in the United Kingdom, and 41 in eight other countries.
AMF Bowling went public with its listing on the New York Stock Exchange in November 1997. In 1998 its stock price plummeted as losses mounted, so expansion plans were put on hold. In 1999 the decision was made to downsize. By 2000 the company was more than $1 billion in debt and was delisted.
AMF Bowling entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the first time in April 2001, stating that it had “overextended itself by acquiring 260 additional bowling centers that it had struggled to manage,” and that the demand for bowling products had decreased.
Private equity firm Code Hennessy & Simmons bought the company in 2004 for $670 million to bring it out of bankruptcy. The transaction was financed in part by a $254 million sale and lease-back of 186 bowling centers to iStar Financial. Shortly after, the company began shedding its “non-core, foreign assets” to focus on improving the operations of its remaining centers. The company sold its centers in Australia and the United Kingdom in 2004 and 2005. Fred Hipp, the former California Pizza Kitchen top executive who became President and CEO in 2004, said the strategy would now be to “bring as much focus as possible to the management of our core U.S. center and bowling products businesses."
AMF Bowling went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in November 2012. In its filing the company cited the challenge of adjusting to “the marked shift in the average bowling customer.” “In the 1960s and 70s… the typical bowler was a blue collar factory worker who belonged to one or more bowling leagues. Today’s typical bowler comes from a broader swath of the middle-class, and is unlikely to bowl in a league. Non-league bowlers bowl less often. And when they do bowl, they expect nicer amenities – automatic scoring, a variety of food and beverage options, and more attractive facilities.” As evidence of the shift, the company noted that, “according to the United States Bowling Congress, in 1998 the nation’s three largest league bowling organizations had over 4.1 million members. Just a decade later, membership had declined by 36% to 2.6 million.” To respond to the change in the average bowling customer, AMF constructed nine upscale 300 Centers with “high-end bars and lounges designed with a modern décor” that drew “significant business through group events.” However, the Great Recession of 2008 eroded AMF’s ability to maintain and enhance its 262 existing US bowling centers and meant that people were bowling less often. At the time of the bankruptcy filing, AMF owned 27 bowling centers, leased 186 bowling centers through agreements with iStar Financial, and leased 57 under agreements with various other parties.
In July 2013 AMF Bowling was reorganized and combined with Strike Holdings LLC (doing business as Bowlmor Lanes, an upscale bowling center operator). This merger brought the remaining US and Mexico centers under the control of a new entity, Bowlmor AMF, making it the world's largest owner and operator of bowling centers in the United States. In the three years prior to the reorganization, AMF Bowling had closed nine owned US centers and 33 leased US centers due to "declining operating performance, unattractive options to renew leases, or an attractive sales opportunity." That left 257 AMF bowling centers in the United States and eight in Mexico passing to Bowlmor AMF at the time of the reorganization.
American Machine and Foundry (AMF, Inc.) began a joint venture to manufacture pinspotters in Australia in 1959 in view of the growing popularity of ten-pin bowling in the country. By 1964 1,600 bowling lanes existed in Australia, but the popularity of the sport had begun to decline. After Commonwealth Ventures' 1985 purchase of AMF's bowling division to form AMF Bowling Companies, Inc. (later known as AMF Bowling Worldwide), the company bought two major Australian bowling chains to revive interest in bowling. AMF Australia expanded from 16 bowling centres to 30 by 1987, and to over 40 by 2004.
AMF Bowling sold the Australian division to Macquarie Leisure Trust (now known as Ardent Leisure) in February 2005. Ardent now operates over 40 AMF Bowling Centres in Australia and New Zealand as well as operates five Kingpin bowling lounges that have what Ardent calls an “upmarket hip format.”
AMF Bowling opened its first centre in the United Kingdom in Stamford Hill, North London on 20th January 1960. Between 1967 and 1970, AMF Bowling UK acquired its first 15 centres. After Goldman Sachs purchased AMF Bowling Worldwide in 1996, the number of centres owned and operated by AMF Bowling in the UK rose in 1997 from 15 to 37. The company then embarked on a program to refurbish the acquired centres.
In 2004 certain shareholders of the British leisure conglomerate, Bourne Leisure, acquired the AMF-branded centres in the UK. AMF Bowling UK then embarked on another programme of refurbishment, and since 2007 has opened five new centres in the UK.
In August 2010 AMF Bowling UK acquired the Hollywood Bowl business from Mitchells & Butlers PLC to become The Original Bowling Company Ltd (TOBC), UK’s largest bowling centre operator. TOBC then sold its “traditional” business to 1st Bowl, now known as MFA Bowl.
In September 2014, Electra Private Equity acquired TOBC for £91 million. TOBC now operates 43 family entertainment centres in the United Kingdom from Torquay up to Stirling, of which 29 operate under the Hollywood Bowl brand and 14 under the AMF Bowling brand.
- "AMF Bowling, Inc. History". Retrieved February 1, 2014.
- "AMF Bowling Worldwide, Inc. History". Retrieved May 29, 2014.
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- Goldblatt, Henry (March 3, 1997). "The Big Name in Bowling Is... Goldman Sachs?". CNN Money.
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