Merger of national leisure chains hits regulatory hurdle

Hollywood Bowl cafe

A proposed merger between two national ten-pin bowling chains has been put on hold following concerns that it might breach anti-competition laws.

According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), The Original Bowling Company Ltd’s acquisition of Bowlplex may result in a “substantial” lessening of competition.

Its concerns focus on six local areas where the companies both run ten-pin bowling facilities: Bristol, Bracknell, Cardiff, Dudley, Leeds and Glasgow.

The CMA considered a range of evidence in reaching its decision, including the extent to which TOBC and Bowlplex compete for customers in a given local area, the presence and strength of alternative ten-pin bowling options, and the companies’ incentive to increase prices following a merger.

The evidence available to the CMA suggests that, in local markets in Bristol, Bracknell, Cardiff, Dudley, Leeds and Glasgow, the companies compete closely and that there may be insufficient competition from alternative ten-pin bowling providers to replace that lost as a result of the merger.

The CMA did not find any competition concerns in other areas of the UK where the companies’ activities overlap.

Both chains provide an in-house foodservice and bar offering, catering for corporate events and parties as well as individual customers.

TOBC now has five working days in which it can offer undertakings to resolve the CMA’s competition concerns.

Sheldon Mills, CMA senior director of mergers and decision-maker in the case, said: “Bowling is a popular and growing leisure activity in the UK enjoyed by many families and individuals. This merger brings together two of the largest national chains in the sector, The Original Bowling Company and Bowlplex.

“ In six local areas, where the companies’ bowling centres are competing closely, we are concerned that after the merger there will be insufficient competition from other bowling operators in the area to prevent higher prices or lower service levels. We therefore propose to refer the merger for an in-depth investigation unless TOBC offers a clear-cut remedy to address our competition concerns.”

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