Summary: In this piece, we explore the decline of overall participation in youth sports, the steep increase in costs for families and organizations, and how sponsorships hold the key for keeping community youth sports leagues operational now and in the future.

An Unsettling Truth

For many people, getting involved with sports at a young age is a critical factor for personal growth and development. Youth sports provide a unique and valuable outlet to build relationships and learn to work as a part of a team. It’s been proven time and time again that participating in youth sports improves academic performance inside the classroom, builds confidence, develops powerful communication skills, and helps kids succeed both on and off the field.

Despite these benefits, Time Magazine identified that rising costs are causing youth sports participation to decline at an alarming rate in its recent cover story.

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An outlet to play sports is critical for kids to learn and develop.

 

Research from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) shows an overall decrease of 9.1% in participation over a five-year period and that total participation decreased from 50 million kids to just over 45 million kids. The once heavily trafficked sports such as baseball, football, and soccer are losing thousands of participants year over year.

If sports are such a valuable forum for kids to grow, then why are participation rates falling so dramatically?

In this article, we will identify the main trends associated with the decline of youth sports participation and how the team at LeagueSide believes that an increase in sponsorships from local, regional, and national brands is the solution in keeping costs down and making youth sports more accessible.

Trending Down For the Wrong Reasons

There are a handful of trends that are leading to lower participation rates in youth sports. The first and by far most prohibitive factor is cost.

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  1. Cost

Youth sports is valued as a $15.3 billion dollar industry. Between the cost of equipment, registration fees, travel expenses, training programs, and other miscellaneous costs, families can find themselves paying thousands of dollars per year for one child to play a sport. Needless to say, the cost of youth sports is rising.

Take those costs that are burdening an individual family and amplify them even further for an entire community youth sports league or organization. Commissioners and league presidents are constantly adjusting registration fees in order to afford purchasing new equipment, getting access to community fields, and building scholarship funds. The overall manpower and money required to operate an effective youth sports organization is more challenging than ever.

  1. Widening Participation Gap

An additional trend that is troublesome is the fact that participation is increasing amongst high income families and continuously decreasing amongst low income families.

  • 41% of all families participating in youth sports organizations have an average household income of $100K.
  • In families where the average income is lower than $25K, participation is a mere 19%.
  1. Travel Teams over Community Leagues

Finally, more and more kids and families are making the switch from community youth sports programs to more elite and expensive travel programs. While the competition of travel programs can be more beneficial, they are significantly more expensive and provide an impossible barrier of entry for middle and low income families who can not afford them. Additionally, more kids transitioning to travel programs can eventually lead to the demise of community youth sports organizations – with lower participation levels, community youth sports leagues will not have enough participants to stay operational.

So we ask the question again: What can we do to combat these trends?

We believe that the solution to keeping costs down is through an increase in sponsorships from local, regional, and national brands. A sponsorship offers numerous benefits in mitigating the high costs associated with playing youth sports and can help strengthen overall ties between sports organizations and businesses around the country.

Let’s take a look at the three ways a sponsorship can make youth sports more accessible:

 

1. Lower Registration Costs

Sponsorships are a perfect way to lower and mitigate rising registration costs. Lower registration costs allows for higher levels of participation, especially for low-income families who cannot afford expensive travel teams. Additionally, sponsoring a youth sports organization season over season will have a more powerful effect because it illustrates a brand’s commitment to keeping overall costs down.

Cigna Health Insurance illustrated its dedication to lowering registration costs and increasing participation across youth baseball and softball when the company signed on to be the official health insurance provider of Little League Baseball and Softball. As a proud partner of over 6,500 youth baseball and softball organizations, Cigna wanted to build deeper connections with families in the communities they serve in addition to providing kids to engage in healthy, athletic activity. The sponsorship is lowering the costs for thousands of kids to play baseball and softball around the US.

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Cigna played a large role at the Little League World Series!

2. Bolster Scholarship Funding

Another perfect avenue for a successful youth sports sponsorship is supporting the funding of a league’s scholarship fund. Scholarships provide much needed funding for kids who would otherwise never have the opportunity to play.

Scholarships are particularly important for low-income families whose kids would not be able to enjoy the benefits of youth sports without the assistance provided through a scholarship fund. Low-income families represent the lowest portion of overall participation for youth sports and scholarships are a critical component in making youth sports more accessible.

Gatorade POY campaign.pngGatorade is one of the largest supporters of youth sports and shows its dedication as a brand in providing grants and scholarships through numerous campaigns including the Player of the Year campaign and the Play It Forward campaign. The Play It Forward campaign provides the opportunity for young athletes to participate so that they may enjoy the positive benefits associated with playing sports. The programs have been operational for over 50 years and the company commits hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to athletes and organizations around the country. Scholarships are a great way to sponsor youth sports organizations.

 

3. Aid in Building New Facilities and Providing New Equipment

A final way that sponsorships can be utilized in aiding youth sports participation is through the purchasing of new equipment and the funding of new fields and facilities. Reserving public fields and constructing new stadiums for kids to play is an enormous financial undertaking and can be a large barrier for youth leagues in operating effectively.

A company that has proven its commitment to providing fields for kids to play is BB&T Bank. BB&T supported all funding of a brand new sports facility in North Carolina called BB&T Sports Park, which is equipped with 15 sports fields, parking for over 1,200 cars, a stadium equipped with 1,400 seats, and a main Field House with concessions, office facilities, and team meeting rooms.

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A beautiful day at BB&T Park!

The construction of this facility had led to a flourishing program for numerous youth sports programs, including Twin City Soccer Association. BB&T’s commitment to the facility has provided a centralized location for tournaments and an incredible venue for numerous other events. This is a perfect example of a sponsorship coming to life and making a difference in a youth sports community. 

Moving Forward

In order to keep community youth sports alive, additional funding and support is needed to allow kids of all backgrounds and financial standing the opportunity to play. Sponsorships provide the key solution to not only save youth sports but also keep leagues operational.

At LeagueSide, we make it easy for regional and national brands to sponsor community youth sports organizations at scale. These sponsorships are not only a tremendous way to get involved in the community and support youth athletics, but an excellent opportunity to build brand awareness, improve brand image and affinity, and promote new products or services. Local marketing is an important component for any company or brand and there is no better way to reach a passionate group of kids and families than through youth sports.

Let’s work together to bring sponsorships to every youth sports organization around the country as every child deserves the opportunity to play.

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