Cataloging the Highs and Lows of Running a Bocce Ball Company During the Pandemic 

Post by 
Alex Gara

Cataloging the Highs and Lows of Running a Bocce Ball Company During the Pandemic 

It’s no secret: our life’s work is far too niche to be addressed by authorities or make headlines during a global pandemic. However, this year has forced us to do a lot of things differently. Some bad, some good (like Oddball!) and a lot yet to be determined. We thought it might informative or even relatable to chronicle our year.


👍 - a win

👎 - a loss

💔 - this one hurt

🚀 - makin’ moves

🃏 - takin’ chances

📈 - business building

💡 - bright idea

🎗 - a good cause

😐 - luke warm results

😊 - feelin’ proud 

♟ - big picture 

🧐 - learning experience

🤝 - makin’ friends

👨‍💻 - grinding

January 10 - In an effort to further unite all of our bocce leagues and activations around the country, ABC debuts Between Two Fernets, a weekly bocce action recap show featuring a cheeky balance of corny and charisma from host, Chris MacGregor. That is accompanied by a weekly newsletter called “Multimedia Mondays”, emphasizing quick, digestible content for ABC communities across the country.  📈 💡

January 13 - ABC flies in Gino Pilato from Boise, ID to absorb the ABC way and set him on a path to big bocce success under the ABC umbrella in Boise. 🚀 🤝 📈 🧐

friends pose for picture at shuffleboard venue
Gino Joins The ABC Familia!

January - February - Many of ABC’s most dedicated players begin frequent practices at Highwood, most notably highlighted by mine and Matt’s morning training sessions and drills. 🚀 ♟

February 9 - American Bocce debuts its first hybrid ‘Biscuit Ball’ league with Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, where players compete in both shuffleboard and bocce ball each week. The league is successful, but more importantly lays the groundwork for a bigger idea soon after.  👍🤝💡

man plays air guitar with shuffleboard tang
The very first shuffleboard / bocce ball mashup brings excitement to Chicago

February - I line up a three-stop Florida trip that includes launching a new league and market  in downtown Sanford, FL. 🚀

February 20 - American Bocce reopens ABC - Milwaukee, this time with the support of the newly renovated Pabst Blue Ribbon Tap Room and new League Manager Patrick Betcher. 🚀 📈

February 24 - February 27 - Players from American Bocce compete in a The Las Vegas Open, a National Tournament featuring many of the country's top players. The crew combines for 13 wins and 2 of the 6 medals issued. This is where I remember my first conversation about COVID.   🤝👍 🧐

group photo at las vegas bocce tounament
American Bocce Represents at Las Vegas Open

March 6 - On the precipice of selling out every Spring League, a casual conversation about COVID arises. Are you worried about this coronavirus? Not at all. 🤦‍♂️

March 12 - As the virus begins to rapidly spread, the decision is made to suspend Spring leagues, cancel the Florida activation, and subsequently shut down American Bocce Milwaukee (again). 💔

March 20 - ABC launches it’s Virtual Tip Initiative and Virtual Charity Poker League. The efforts are met with vigor from the ABC community and even replicated on a much larger scale by bigger companies (see #virtualtipjar). 🎗💡😊

March 25 - One couple creates a Quarantine Bocce playbook (a video, actually), a short-lived fad that results in some shared zooms, but more importantly, a parade of unique DIY home courts are created, and gives us the warm and fuzzy bocce feelings. 💡😐

A myriad of DIY home bocce courts are constructed during pandemic

April - With hope of grants, city loans, and bailouts on the horizon, ABC has several difficult conversations about the state of their business(es) and decides to stay the course, avoid crowd sourcing, and focus it’s attentions on aiding it’s community. The lack of resources and opportunities later forces ABC to re-introduce revenue streams. 👎 🧐

April - May - Alex and Matt embark on a new business: Oddball Sports. Oddball is intended to serve as a hub of media and entertainment for brands like ABC, inspired by the need to serve our communities away from the courts during the pandemic. ABC teams up with Dash Strategy to create a platform that is vastly more dynamic, artful, and foundationally secure than anything ABC has ever done in the past.  👨‍💻💡🃏 🚀 ♟

May 19 - Andy and I play a 12-hour “rollathon” game of bocce to raise money for Special Olympics. The event raises over $10,000 and is the first ever event streamed on Oddball. 🎗 💡👍 

June 1 - With unfortunate timing, Oddball’s launch date of June 1st coincides with a national uprising of protests and riots in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The launch falls flat and loses the interest of over 50% of the roster of contributors signed on to collaborate. ABC and Oddball turn their attention to focusing on what kind of role social sports play when the Nation's attention is on something more profound and significant. 💔

June 29 - After about a month of trying to collaborate with other bocce organizations on a Return-to-Play-Policy, Matt decides to create his own. The policy is circulated to our community and met with cautious optimism. 👍

man washes bocce balls during pandemic
Our Return-to-Play comes with strict safety policies

July 2 - I publish a profile on bocce ball in Iran. This article serves as a transcendent piece for what Oddball is capable of, as well as catches the eye of national media companies. 😊

July 9 - After months of quarantining, ABC welcomes teams to ease back into bocce play with a trial night, doubling as an opportunity for us to find rhythm with new practices. The evening returns are quite low. 😐

July 14 - Leagues get back into full swing with the first of three sets of summer / fall leagues. Despite several modifications, the enthusiasm of the players yields a very authentic American Bocce experience. 👍 🃏

August 13 - Kevin Reedy, Trevor Hess, and team up with ABC/Oddball on back-to-back nights to create a live stream experience that is met with adoration and excitement. The second night generates an audience of over 800, which is unprecedented for a local bocce event. 🚀 🃏 👍 😊 🤝

August 14 - After a prominent local chef reached out about hosting American Bocce activations throughout the remainder of the summer, an initial buzz is created. However, after the activation ends up being a lot of work for tepid results, it clarified that our venue partner model can’t work with all of the COVID-forced adjustments. 👨‍💻 🧐

bocce team wins gift card
Bocce begins it's return with pop-ups in the West Loop

September 11 - Matt and myself head to Solemn Oath Brewery for the release of the World Wiffle® Ball Championship’s collaboration beer and a Home Run Derby. It is the first real crossover event executed by Oddball. 🧐

September 18-20 - A week later, we go to Mishawaka, IN for the actual World Wiffle® Ball Championship. We capture content throughout the weekend; including pre-game shows, commentary and video for the championship game, and live streams. The weekend proves the Oddball model can be successful, but will need more testing and equipment. 👨💻 🧐 🤝

players focused at wiffle ball championship
Oddball spreads it's wings at the World Wiffle Ball Championship

September 27 - On a trip to Northern Michigan for bocce, I line up a profile on the Leelanau Curling Club, furthering the potential of Oddball’s reach. 🧐

September 28 - Happenstance and a little luck creates a smooth path to a new league and market in Traverse City. We register four teams during the “launch event” and sell the league out by Week 1. 👍

October 3 - ABC sends a couple of teams to Russtober Fest, a tournament in Barrington hosted by Maestro Bocce Club. The relationship formed shows tremendous promise for how ABC can collaborate with local clubs and add value for both parties. 🤝 📈

bocce club poses at tournament
Maestros Bocce Club Helping To Build The Sport

October 10 - After a summer of negotiating a return-to-play for Special Olympics bocce, we are able to help facilitate a regional singles event that shows ingenuity and a willingness to adapt to provide the sport for the athletes. 🎗 👍

Mid October - While the last leagues of 2020 were coming to a close, Matt laid out a Tournament Circuit proposal that allowed for occasional bocce competitions during a forced shutdown of indoor leagues. The circuit allows for some bocce ball relevance while serving a bigger picture for ABC. 👍 🚀 💡







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