Barriers To Entry: What Is Holding Back Youth Sports?
In 2015, the Aspen Institute, a think tank that studies health and sports issues, released a report from a study group that examined what might be keeping more kids from playing sports. They found that several of the top barriers to more kids enrolling in sports programs were based on lack of funding, including lack of neighborhood recreation spaces, inadequate coaching and rising costs. Just two years later, as reported in Time Magazine, “between league fees, camps, equipment, training and travel, families are spending as much as 10% of their income on sports, according to survey research from Utah State University.” The cost of youth sports is dropping participation rates so much that even Congress may get involved. And yet, the news is full of reports about how youth sports is a $18 billion industry. These two perspectives put youth sports league leaders in a tough situation. How can they find sponsorships and increase donations so that their costs get covered when many parents may think the coaches and managers are getting rich off the league? Read on for a few key ideas.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, activity rates among kids plummeted in the last few years, with a report from that organization noting a 17% jump in inactivity among kids between 2014 and 2015 to more than one-third of all kids. Participation is mission critical for youth sports organizers and talking to parents and community members about fees is critical to ensuring that more kids can play.
The SFIA reported a rapid decline in participation in youth soccer. Many attribute the waning participation to the proliferation of pay-for-play clubs/leagues (via @HowieLongShort). Warning — lacrosse. Let’s refocus on and revitalize rec lacrosse in parallel with our club growth.
— Paul Rabil (@PaulRabil) August 13, 2018
The first topic league organizers can address with potential sponsors and donors is the league’s participation numbers. Highlighting the number of kids playing is essential for donors and sponsors to understand not only how much of a part of the community the league is, but also can help highlight the need for space to practice and play. Understanding the vague concept that little leaguers need ball fields is one thing. Understanding the specifics is another. Donors can wrap their brains around the enormity of use when given stats that say 1000 kids across 25 teams need ball fields three times a week.
Between league fees and equipment it is expensive for a child to play youth sports. How do we create opportunities for children that don't come from wealthy families?
— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) June 23, 2018
League managers also need to understand what their sources of competition are for fees both from parents and from donors. For example, parents might feel the crush of college coming as early as middle school for their kids and opt out of youth sports leagues to increase savings for college. Addressing those concerns head-on can help. Potential donors might be asked multiple times by schools, churches or other community organizations for donations. League managers can help improve their fundraising efforts by timing their donation and sponsorship requests so that they don’t overlap with these other fundraising efforts. Ideally, having coaches and supporters in the league reporting in on competition can be the best source of information.
Additionally, many parents and potential partners of sports leagues fail to fully grasp the high cost of insurance. This is even more true as concussion awareness continues to be a concern and to drive rates. While some parents may be aware of the need for heads-up football playing, concussion prevention is just as important in soccer, lacrosse, and baseball. Some youth sports leagues, like Little League, even require that all their leagues have sufficient insurance. And that insurance must cover not only physical harm, but the potential for hacking into league databases and identity theft. Explaining to parents the need for insurance is broader than just covering kids, but the coaches and field officials can help explain the cost of insurance too.
Competition for playing fields can be intense. Because of the high demand, costs for the playing fields can be a significant part of participation fees. Parents and potential partners may be able to better grasp the costs of renting of playing fields by league leaders simply discussing why they use specific fields over others when issuing schedule information.
There is no one right or wrong way to discuss fees. Some leagues offer breakdowns with intricate detail, other leagues stick to generalizations. While there is no one size fits all in talking about fees, a good rule of thumb may be to note what makes your league different from others and discuss those fees. In elite leagues, for example, discussing the cost of high-level coaches can be incredibly helpful. In community leagues, discussing the need for officials or playing fields may be a better choice. For leagues that participate in multiple tournaments, noting that the leagues don’t profit from the tournaments, and that those privately hosted tournaments set costs are not based on a league’s ability to pay, but based on making a profit, can also be helpful in looking for donations and sponsorships.