Howard McAuliffe’s Now Trending – August 2021


Bowling Recovery

The Shows Themselves! Oh, and of Course, Plenty of Great, New Equipment


Howard McAuliffe

by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

When Amusement Expo moved its dates to the week between Bowl Expo and the 4th of July, I was concerned turnout would suffer and that those who attended wouldn’t have capital to invest. After attending both Bowl Expo and Amusement Expo, I’m very happy that those thoughts were incorrect. By all accounts –– both official and anecdotal –– the shows were a success for vendors and attendees. Turnout was not quite at normal levels but close, and those who attended were investing in their businesses.

Here are the top reasons these shows were so successful for me and, I think, many others:

Seeing the People

When the pandemic started, we thought it was possible that 25-30% of companies in our industry could go out of business. Even worse, we were afraid people could lose their lives to COVID. Thankfully this didn’t happen on a large scale, though that is small consolation for friends who lost loved ones due to Covid.

Seeing old friends, colleagues and, yes, even competitors was absolutely the highlight of attending these shows. Giving out hugs without masks and socializing in restaurants was truly wonderful. Both host cities – Louisville and Las Vegas – had some struggles in hotels and restaurants with staffing and supplies but that was a small annoyance in an otherwise great convention experience.

New Leads

While discussing the shows with companies that exhibited at both, the consensus was that both events were a success and worth exhibiting at.

At Bowl Expo, there was a noticeable increase in bowling centers that were investing in their businesses. This included many that have been slow to convert their traditional alleys into bowling entertainment centers and getting serious about this new powerful business model.

The Amusement Expo had a noticeable increase in FEC center attendees to go along with a strong presence of route operators. Our company exhibited at Bowl Expo and through that got a solid list of leads. We were also able to reconnect with past clients who are re-investing in their facilities. The leads were down somewhat from pre-pandemic levels but still more than sufficient to justify the cost of exhibiting.

New Products

The budgets for new game development were cut by many manufacturers during the pandemic so we had some concerns that there would not be much new product at the shows. Fortunately, there was plenty to see including some games that were released prior to the pandemic that have not been widely distributed yet. ICE’s Monopoly Roll-N-Go and Raw Thrills’ King Kong of Skull Island VR are prime examples. In addition to these, there was a lot of interest in several other new products including:

VEX Virtual Reality: a free roam VR product at a relatively low price point that is being distributed by Shaffer Distributing in the U.S.

Angry Birds Coin Crash: a pusher by LAI with an innovation that allows coins to stack up, ultimately crashing down for an exciting super-win.

Axe Master: a large game from Bay Tek that allows locations to offer an axe-throwing experience without real axes.

Minecraft Dungeons Arcade: a new video game from Raw Thrills with a very exciting license behind it.

Boxer Combo: IGPM’s piece that combines the popular boxing game with a kicking and prize component to allow direct vending on routes or in FECs.


Both shows included robust education programs, attracting significant numbers of operators. Due to a cancelled flight with few options to get to Louisville, we missed the Bowl Expo education sessions, including the one we were supposed to conduct. But the attendance was strong and reviews unanimously positive from those we spoke to that attended.

The Amusement Expo education program had a nearly 33% increase in attendance over the 2020 show, and the reviews were strong. I may be biased since I worked on this program for AAMA, but I don’t think anyone will disagree that the keynote from John Kriesel was very powerful. It is hard to complain about Covid and other challenges when hearing the story of a person who lost his legs and his friends in Iraq. His book is titled Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel and he is certainly still standing mentally, emotionally and physically. The rest of the program included sessions targeted to help manufacturers, street operators, and FEC operators and were well attended.

Overall, the success of these shows is a sign of how strong we are as an industry. The last year has been brutally challenging for nearly everyone, but most have made it through without going out of business.

I was very proud to see the support of the industry at these events, and I’m very excited about IAAPA this fall. There was a clear lack of international attendees at Bowl Expo and Amusement Expo, and I hope many of our international colleagues will be able to travel to IAAPA in November. While there are certainly post-Covid challenges remaining, including hiring, debt loads, back rent and Covid variants lurking, it sure feels like we are well on our way to a new normal. Once we are completely past this, those remaining will be stronger for having gone through it.

Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.



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