The youth sports crisis
The youth sports crisis
This piece was written by Zubin Teherani, COO and co-founder of LeagueSide. LeagueSide’s mission is to maximise the amount of advertising dollars spent on youth sports sponsorship.
Summer is my favourite season of the year. It reminds me of sleep-away soccer camps, piling into a car with all of my friends for soccer tournaments and spending hours in the gym working on my jump shot.
Youth sports changed my life. I developed lifelong friendships, created everlasting memories and learned the meaning of hard work. This culmination of experiences ultimately led me to co-found LeagueSide. Our mission is to give every child the same opportunity I had.
However, the truth of the matter is youth sports are on the verge of extinction.
Why youth sports matter
If you’re on sportanddev, you already understand the power of youth sports. Sports doesn’t only affect individuals - it affects entire communities. It provides opportunities for economic development, advancement and opportunity.
This isn’t just my opinion. It is backed by decades of research demonstrating improved education, leadership and salary outcomes for those who participated in youth sports. If you look at Fortune 500 executives alone, you’ll see that 95% of them played organised sports growing up, according to the Drive Group.
It’s a testament to the impact of youth sports beyond staying healthy.
The development of the “play equity gap”
However, the cost to play in the US has become astronomical, leaving thousands of families on the side-lines. For club soccer alone, the cost of registration, equipment and travel can range between $1,470 to $5,500.
The result is the “play equity gap”.
American households with more than $100,000 in annual income represent 35% of soccer families, while just 11% of players come from households earning $25,000 or less according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Alex Morgan, two-time Women’s World Cup Champion, bluntly stated, “Unfortunately the pay-to-play model, I believe, is getting worse in soccer than when I played competitive soccer (growing up). It’s a very inexpensive sport and the fact that we’ve made youth soccer in the US more of a business than a grassroots sport is, I think, detrimental to the growth of the sport in the US.”
The play equity gap is real and it is creating a further divide between affluent and underserved communities.
Company and athlete intervention
The good news is that there is more awareness than ever about the impending youth sports crisis.
Companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods are stepping up to the plate to invest in youth sports. Recently announced, Dick’s pledged to give 1 million children access to sports by 2024.
They aren’t just stepping up to the plate, but encouraging others to contribute as well. Dick’s is matching up to $1 million in donations made by customers at the checkout counter of their stores and online at SportsMatter.org.
Athletes like Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, and Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, are also getting involved.
Larry Fitzgerald is investing his money and time in helping bring back youth sports through his Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund, joining Dick’s Sporting Goods advisory board, and partnering with Riddell to provide new equipment to kids.
Drew Brees is stepping up his game by investing in sports outside of his own. He recently partnered with Surf Sports, a premiere youth soccer organisation in California, because he understands the importance of playing multiple sports growing up.
In Brees’ words, "I attribute my success as a football player in large part to playing tennis when I was a kid. I also attributed that to my ability as a baseball player. I was a switcher in baseball and I never knew why. Well, in tennis, you're required to hit forehand, backhand, right?"
Turning youth sports sponsorships into marketing
Despite the heroic efforts of Dick’s Sporting Goods and various professional athletes, there’s still a lot of work to do.
To actually solve the problem, we can’t rely on corporate giving initiatives. At LeagueSide, we believe that to make a difference, we need to turn youth sports sponsorships into an effective marketing channel instead of a vehicle for donations.
Let me put it another way. If we can prove that youth sports sponsorships provide a better marketing return on investment than other advertising channels like TV, radio, and billboards, then it’s a no brainer for companies to spend millions of dollars on sponsoring youth sports leagues instead of thousands.
The opportunity ahead
There is still an enormous amount of opportunity to professionalise youth sports sponsorship programmes. Together, we need to put on our marketing hats and develop sponsorship packages that align with companies’ marketing objectives.
LeagueSide has started to lay the groundwork for measuring sponsorship effectiveness. It’s time that we come together as an entire business ecosystem to get kids off the bench and back onto the field.