Local participatory sports recently broke its way into mainstream media. It started with a viral video of local teenagers playing soccer. The kids are interrupted by San Francisco tech employees with a permit for the public playing field in the Mission District. You can watch the video below and read how the story played out here.
This particular event hit a political nerve in a city that is already fiercely divided by class warfare. Local, national and tech media outlets quickly latched on to the catchy story. Within the LeagueApps office, a spirited email thread debated all sides of this issue.
The video resulted in hundreds of protesters gathering in front of San Francisco City Hall. They successfully lobbied the Parks & Recreation Department to rescind the permitting system in favor of unrestricted “free play”. The hype has already started to fade now that local activists seemingly rectified a wrong doing, and notched a win for local kids in their community.
But we believe everybody seemed to miss the bigger story and the major issue. It’s the problem that plagues almost all sports organizers in almost every community throughout the country.
Field Space. Field Space & Field Space.
Municipal playing fields are poorly utilized. Local Parks & Recreation departments often use antiquated and inefficient processes to administer and communicate permitting. Poor field usage policies exacerbate the issue of already limited field space options. This is especially problematic in urban areas and under-privileged communities that are often plagued by “play deserts” – lack of safe, adequate playing areas in areas highly populated with young children.
If you watch the video, you’ll see a scene that is all too familiar at parks and playing feels within every local community. Two separate groups that both really want to play sports at the same place at the same time – without full agreement to who is rightfully entitled to the field. Here at LeagueApps we see this and frown. We want both groups to be able to enjoy their sports experiences.
In a quick survey of LeagueApps partners, over 75% cite lack of affordable field space as a major challenge to provide sports programs and activities to meet demand within their communities. Many sports organizers (especially our adult sport league partners) operate with fear that their permits will be revoked without notice as municipalities often change policies without warning or explanation.
The field space problem plagues all types of sports organizations from non-profit youth leagues, scholastic programs, community organizations as well as the adult sports leagues and clubs (who often receive unfair amounts of flack for providing a great community service).
One cause of this field space predicament is the trend away from municipalities and parks & rec departments organizing actual sports programs. As different types of organizations (non-profits, private sports organizations, etc.) provide sports programming there is often a disconnect with the municipal authorities that oversee field permits. The municipalities have simple not kept up with the rising demand for their space.
At LeagueApps, we spend much of our time trying to figure out how our platform and our greater network of local sports partners can work together to solve the most complex issues of local participatory sports.
We know that field space needs to be solved by diving into the data of field utilization – which is now easier to collect and analyze. It’s moneyball concepts of analyzing data applied to local sports.
The most compelling aspect of the video is not that tech employees in SF are being bratty but rather that these tech employees are exactly the people who have the ability to solve the real world problems that they are facing. In fact, in our office we often talk about the concept of an “AirBnB” for field space as a solution to create a more efficient allocation of playing fields.
LeagueApps is already starting to work with its partners on creating solutions.
A few initiatives that we believe will make a difference include:
1) Publish information on how field space permits work in every community. Make it easily accessible and available to all.
2) Help provide the software solutions to sports organizations AND parks & rec departments to handle the administration and organization of their playing fields.
3) Provide insights through registration data on how and when local playing fields are being utilized. Often, fields are only being utilized only a few hours a day (in which conflicts occur).
4) Speak up! LeagueApps works with ProjectPlay of the Aspen Institute and other organizations that are surfacing the issues around field spaces in local communities. We need to make sure everybody knows how important it is for our communities to create these spaces.
5) Enable sports organizers to better partner and collaborate with local parks departments. Often the sports organizations will be happy to consume maintenance, lighting and other costs for access to field space.
We’re confident that these solutions work. But lots needs to happen to actually implement and execute upon these initiatives. While it’s always great to learn about new parks and playing fields developed it’s easier and cost-effective to better utilize existing spaces.
So here is our LeagueApps message to the tech employees that love to play sports. Keep on playing! Next time you’re part of a spat over playing fields in your community, recognize that you have the power, influence and ability to be part of the solution!
Email us anytime and we’ll let you know plenty of ways that you can help!