You hear it everywhere you go these days. At the sporting goods store, ballparks, arenas and concession stands. You can't turn on the television or radio without commentators hashing over it, or sit down with a newspaper without it glaring back at you.
Everyone is talking about our current state of economic downturn, or as it's been dubbed, 'The Recession.' And it's hitting us hard at home.
The national unemployment rate in July 2009 was at 9.5 percent or 4.7 million people without jobs in the United States.
Although the statistics seem daunting, there is some bright news. When it comes to youth sports, it would appear that as an industry it might just be recession proof. People still love sports. Mom and Dad won't deprive their kids the experience of making a first goal or hitting a winning home run. Sports area luxury that we just aren't willing to cut back on.
Elite Tournaments is one of the premier sports tournament organizations in the country, with headquarters in Maryland. Elite handles everything from registration to event management and is a witness that business is thriving. "We were a little concerned over the past 18 months," said Mike Libber, founder and president of Elite Tournaments. "But we've actually seen an increase in numbers."
"The one thing we have found is that people spend money for their kids in sports," continued Libber. "The parents are giving up things like gym memberships so their kids can enjoy their sport."
Jennifer Cartwright is a mother of two hockey players in upstate New York and couldn't agree more, "Parents that are committed to hockey (as a sport) are dedicated despite the high cost," said Cartwright. Youth hockey is considered one of the more expensive sports, with costs ranging from $200 - $900 for each player in a travel league, with equipment averaging $600 and up depending on position.
What You Can Do
There are ways that you can offset costs and save money on tournaments and games.
Many parents are getting more involved on the front lines by becoming a coach, referee or working during the event. Many tournaments will defer a portion or all of your registration fees if you are willing to work concession stands or registration. Other parents have become Certified Referees – a paying position that ranges from $15 to $50 depending on the area and tournament.
Coaching is another option to consider. Some leagues will waive registration fees for children whose parents coach and reimburse for any certification courses they might require to be a coach.
Elite Tournaments offers several ways teams and leagues can save by offering registration discounts. "We deal with elite- to moderate-level travel teams," said Libber. "We want to get the best competition for our events, so if a team wins a state championship, they get $50 off of team registration. Registration is waived for winners of regional or national tournaments."
That bodes well for both the teams and the tournament. "That attracts other teams when you have the best," explains Libber. "We will do club discounts as well. If 10 or more teams from one club sign up for a tournament, there is a $50 discount per team. Realistically, that's a $500 discount."
Ways to Save
It's imperative to shop around to get the best deals. Several online resources showcase how parents can save money when sending their athlete into the sports arena.
Check with your league or tournament directors for financial aid packages available or deferred payment plans. Organizations like the YMCA provide financial aid for qualified members.
Another big cost is equipment and uniforms. Your first instinct may be to run out to the local sporting goods store to purchase the best shoes, cleats or pads - but reconsider before passing on this expense to team members.
"Compare online shopping sites and consider discount stores such as Wal-Mart or Marshall's," recommends Cartwright. "Use hand-me-downs or look for sports consignment stores that offer second-hand equipment."
Taking advantage of tax free weekends is a smart way to save as well.
Every parent feels like a taxi at some point. Shuttling your athlete to practice every week, games on weekends and perhaps travel tournaments can get costly on the minivan.
Lisa Hughes, mother of two multi-sport boys in Endicott, New York has learned to cut costs by working with other parents and carpooling. "It will not only save you money on gas but save you time as well by taking turns," said Hughes.
Another option in saving money is to plan meals and avoid the drive-through window.
"We pack a cooler with lunch or dinner and drinks for the kids," said Hughes. "It also makes sense to avoid the concession stands, that's where your money can really add up."
Another idea from Cartwright is to organize a healthy post-game meal at the field, "Make it pot-luck where each family is responsible for bringing one item," explains Cartwright. "It's healthy and inexpensive for the entire team."
Look for Bargains
More than 10 years ago, purchasing tickets to a game was only a portion of the revenue generated from the sports industry. But today, teams and tournaments are recognizing that with unemployment rates skyrocketing, attracting the dollars that sports previously did is going to require a little more creativity. Today, ticket sales are playing a much larger role in the financial success of an organization.
With buzzwords like 'staycation' in every media outlet, families are looking to stay close to home but still obtain family entertainment with a reasonable price tag.
The Kannapolis Intimidators are the Single A farm team of the Chicago White Sox and have long been a promotionally-driven organization.
Tim Mueller, vice president of the Intimidator explains, "Baseball is the means by which we are here, but we have to make sure we are promotionally active and keep the entertainment value high."
To ensure that, they choose promotions carefully, "We did sink our teeth into one particular promotion this season," said Mueller. "It's our '4 for $40' - fans get four tickets, four sodas and four hot dogs. That's been very popular. They get everything in one shot: entertainment, food and drink."
It's paying off.
"Our attendance is up 200 fans per game on an average," said Mueller. "I hate to sound crass, but the recession hasn't hurt us one bit, it's actually helped us. People are looking for things to do close to home."
Providing added value goes a long way.
People are looking for as much value (as possible) for one expenditure," Mueller said. "Every Friday and Saturday we do fireworks. That single element immediately increased our group picnic sales, birthday parties, walk-up attendance and partial ticket plans. They know that in addition to the great value, they also get a fireworks show and the entertainment that surrounds our weekend games."
The Intimidators aren't the only organization to recognize this trend. According to a post on The CNN Wire on July 21, 2009, attendance at major league baseball games is down this year by approximately 2 million. Fans are watching every penny spent and looking for opportunities that will give them the most bang for their buck. Fortunately, teams understand the benefits of offering extra incentives for a night at the ballpark.
From t-shirt giveaways to free concerts, incentives are out there. The Arizona Diamondbacks hosted a free concert headlining country music sensation Montgomery Gentry for all ticket holders in August.
Overall, Americans are doing what comes naturally during tough financial times - we become proactive. Youth leagues to professional teams are responding to our voices, and we are working together through this economic crisis. It's a win-win for both the fan and the participant, and there is no doubt that the sports industry will weather this economic downturn and come out shining.