In Indianapolis in 2001, a group of friends created a mashup game by happenstance that would gain a cult following across the U.S.

All it took was a stray football knocking down some bowling pins at a backyard setup while tailgating the Indy 500 for a lightbulb to go off in Fowling Warehouse founder Chris Hutt’s mind.

The backstory

The concept was simple: Two players or teams of two each set up 10 pins and take turns throwing a football at them. The first to knock down all 10 wins, according to the company website. In 2014 the game grew from its backyard roots to a dedicated warehouse in Michigan equipped with fenced in lanes and a full bar.

By 2022 the company had opened eight fowling locations across the nation, including the largest warehouse to date and first in Texas: Fowling Warehouse DFW in Plano, front desk manager Daryl Swanson said. The 71,000-square-foot facility is fit out with over 25 lanes, two bars, a slew of TVs and giant projector screens, a VIP room, and spacious seating with tables fashioned from spare giant cable spools.

The facility functions as a normal bar where customers can come in to drink and watch sports games, but those who wish to fowl can pay $15 and grab an open lane on a first-come, first-served basis. This allows customers to play all day long, but it doesn't guarantee them a lane, and they will likely have to take turns similar to pool table rules in a traditional bar, Swanson said.

Players who wish to secure a private lane can reserve one online for $15 per person per hour. Once the reservation time slot has expired, they can transition to the open play at no additional cost, he said.

“I hope they come in, get a little overwhelmed at first with the size of the building and what we have to offer, but then very quickly start to feel comfortable and at home, and start to really enjoy the game,” Swanson said.

The details

The pins are arranged on top of boards set 48 feet apart with the same spacing and configuration as bowling. Two yellow lines are painted on the playing floor, one in front and one behind the board. Players must remain behind either line while throwing depending on their skill level. One football is used as players take turns trying to knock down their opponents pins using any throwing method they choose, including bouncing the ball across the board, Swanson said. If a player knocks over the red center pin and no others, it is an automatic win called a bonk.

Players cannot intercept an opponent's throw until after it has crossed their designated throwing line. However, the lanes are set up side by side so stray balls may cross into an adjacent game and knock over pins. If a pin falls over for any reason, even as a result of an errant throw, it counts. Therefore players are allowed to intercept throws from nearby games should it pose a threat to their pins. For the average player, games take about 10-15 minutes to complete, Swanson said.

While experience throwing a football helps, finding unique ways to knock down the pins can be advantageous. Bowling skills also come into play when the pin count is low with a wide spread where targeting single pins with underhand throws can see great success, Swanson said. The game offers a low barrier to entry coupled with an addictive competitiveness and a camaraderie that make it highly enjoyable.

For those who seek more rigorous competition, the Plano warehouse established a fowling league, Swanson said. Ten teams of two are pitted against each other over a 10-week season that culminates in a tournament where the victor wins a cash prize. Tournament games consist of five 20-minute rounds.

“You can come in here and play really seriously; you can be really relaxed; it's completely up to you,” he said.

Why it's special

In addition to being the largest location, the Plano warehouse is also the only facility in the franchise with a VIP room for private corporate and social events and a full-service kitchen, Swanson said.

Fowling Warehouse DFW offers “elevated bar food,” including pizzas, burgers, wings, fries, flatbreads and barbecue with meats smoked in-house, he said.

The company also strives to support the Plano community where it can. The franchise established a program called Fowlanthropy as a way for Fowling Warehouses to get in touch with local communities, charity organizations, host events and do proceed nights, Swanson said.

“Our success comes from the community, so we give back to that as much as we can,” he said.