One of the biggest problems with the offline bingo industry over the past few years has been the perceived ageing of its population of players. Whether the real or not, the perception is there, of players sporting horn rimmed glasses, their bingo wings flapping in strip-lit garish halls, and this may be enough to put off potential young players.
Even though the industry received a tax reprieve last year from the chancellor, which does appear to have had a positive impact, the ‘blue rinse’ image of bingo is still a very real problem, one that needs to be dealt with.
While clubs are trying to entice a younger audience by bringing in new technology into the venues, the installation of mobile defibrillators in some clubs in case of heart attacks surely does nothing to help the image (although, it is to be applauded). So what is there to be done?
Something that has caught the attention of Mecca Bingo bosses is Rebel Bingo. If you google it and check out the images would at first appear to be nothing more than a rave, surely not something that would be of interest to the bingo powers that be. It does look like a regular dive into the chasm of hedonism with bingo merely being a side attraction.
But, they are playing bingo, and the events are inspired by bingo. And maybe there is something to be learnt here. Founders Freddie Sorensen, 37, and James Gordon, 38 do cite their influences as the The Price is Right and Play Your Cards Rights, television game shows that really ramped up the drama which is (or was) a main element of bingo sessions.
So what is it that attracts a young trendy audience to bingo? The Rebel Bingo ‘shows’ are exactly that, a ‘show’, which is not as far from the traditional version of bingo as it would appear. One difference is the callers, which are invariably scantily clad, both male and female. Plus they have DJs, and novelty prizes rather than big money link games. It seems that the money is not important, but the drama is.
Maybe bingo has simply gone a bit stale, and refused to move with the times, relying on a recipe that has past its sell by date. Yes, people do come for the social element as well as the big prizes, but the lottery and online bingo has taken away the need to enter a bingo hall, so that just leaves the social factor, which for young people can easily be found elsewhere.
Nowadays there is plenty on the plate for young people to choose from for their entertainment, so why on earth would they want to spend their time playing bingo? Obviously some young people do play bingo, but to broaden its appeal to attract more young players Rebel Bingo may have some of the answers.
Even though Freddie Sorensen, and James Gordon cite 80s game shows as their influence, they are merely talking about the tension and the drama, you won’t see any tired old cheesy compares hosting their nights (think Alan Partridge!). There’s a reason Britain’s Got Talent is a crowd puller, and gameshows remain on the digital channels. Think glamour!
It’s the same recipe, but, with different ingredients. The problem is some people find chilli and garlic a bit too spicy, and may be put off by the heat! You can’t simply start pumping out tunes at the end of the night after a saucy caller has left the stage in the hope that young people will come flocking in, and the old school of players won’t evacuate in their hordes.
It is unlikely that there would be a way of bringing everyone together for bingo sessions and keeping all players of all ages happy. This would be the challenge, and maybe it’s what the bingo chain owners already know, and are yet to figure out a solution. We noted in 2009 and in 2012 that Rebel Bingo had come to the attention of the big chains, but, to date nothing concrete has appeared on the session listings. Perhaps the latest events in a Mecca Bingo club are a sign that at least one chain is starting to tackle the problem. Back in 2012 Rebel Bingo may have appeared to be a fad, and not something worth taking any kind of risk on. However, the nights are still going, and their popularity would not appear to be on the wane.
I’m sure older players wouldn’t mind giving up a couple nights a month so that the clubs can try out a new recipe that may keep their bingo halls open in the future for both older and younger players… And, congratulations to the National Bingo Association for last years incredible taxation coup, but now is not the time to rest on your laurels, the future beckons!
By: Gareth Whieldon