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Parents Expect to Spend Less on Kids' Sports This School Year

24 Aug, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Are children’s sports heading for the sidelines? Perhaps not altogether, but a new study shows that parents in this country expect to spend less on their children’s extracurricular activities this school year – particularly on sports.

Instead, says the report, parents are using the extra money to load up on tablets, laptops and smartphones, according to the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker.

According to an article in Sporting Goods Business, A total of 87 percent of parents (the same percentage as last year) expect that each child will participate in at least one extracurricular activity. Overall, parents expect to spend an average of $409 on those extra activities, as opposed to the $455 they plunked down last year.

What’s more troublesome is the fact that sports appears to be losing market share to other types of after-school activities. And while sports is still the most popular activity, it lost a full percentage point in terms of expected participation, dropping from 60 percent to 59. Coming on strong are band, choir or music lessons (30 percent vs. 27 percent in 2015) and hobby groups (30 percent vs. 27 percent in 2015).

The possibility of a downturn, however slight, in sports could be blamed on a few factors; these include:

  • Fears regarding concussions and other safety issues: Although most youth sports now have far stronger safety protocols in place, parents are still leery of kids getting hurt and sustaining long-term damage.

  • Scholarship interests: Parents (many of whom previously promoted sports with the idea that a child could win an athletic scholarship to college) are becoming aware of the far larger pool of players than was previously present – and a much higher level of competition, even among very good athletes. As a result, parents are trying to funnel children’s interests into areas where they think other opportunities might exist. Something to remember: these days, those opportunities have broadened to include (in a few institutions) eSports.

  • A plentitude of other clubs and activities for children which didn’t exist before. Drone racing is one example, but there are plenty of others.

The drop in participation in some sports has been noted previously. The National Federation of State High School Association’s Athletics Participation Survey saw a decline of almost 10,000 participants in football for the 2014-2015 school year. However, in the 2015-2016 school year, those numbers rebounded a bit with a drop of just 309 – from 1,083,617 to 1,083,308. Some states did continue to report a decline in football participation, however, while others made gains. NFHS officials believed that new safety protocols were at least partially responsible for the positive trends.

While some states reported a decline in football participation in 2015, 24 states registered increases in boys participation in 11-player football. When combining boys and girls participation in 6-, 8-, 9- and 11-player football, the number of participants increased 138 – from 1,114,253 to 1,114,391 (a gain of 138 players overall.)

So while the news may not be all bad, there is still cause for concern, particularly in sports where the perception exists that students might be taking a physical risk.

Parents expect to spend an average of $1,642 in total on back-to-school expenses this year, up significantly from $1,239 in 2015, according to the survey. That bullish outlook roughly aligned with survey findings released by the National Retail Federation last month.

The question, of course, becomes how this will affect the sports travel market. And that's a big question. Many parents have already committed to sports travel for the fall; however, there is always the question of how spring sports spending will be affected.

Although the impact of the 2016 summer Olympics still remains to be seen, many sports historically have recorded growth as a result of the publicity they receive.  In addition, the ever-growing publicity on sports such as beach volleyball (which held its first NCAA championship event last spring) may coax other youngsters into sports that are continuing to grow in both popularity and numbers.

Sports planners, including event owners, rights holders and even NGBs, may want to take a proactive stance to build interest in sports and maintain their growth. Holding clinics to get potential athletes interested in sports and working to reassure parents of the safety of those athletes can pay dividends for the future.

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