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Few things are proving to be inflation-proof these days, including youth sports. Almost six in 10 parents say youth sports is causing “financial strain” on their family this fall — and more than 10 prcent expect to take on new debt as a result.
Those are two alarming findings of a new survey from LendingTree that analyzes spending on sports. The online loan marketplace sponsored an online survey of 1,578 U.S. consumers between the ages of 18 and 76 in August on everything from purchasing game tickets to fantasy sports and betting to supporting their kids’ teams.
To reduce the costs associated with team sports, 34 percent of parents with a child on a sports team plan to participate in fundraisers. Other cost-reduction strategies include scholarships (18 percent), volunteering (11 percent) and having the child work to cover costs (11 percent).
“Youth sports can be crazy-expensive, and that means sacrifices have to be made,” Matt Schulz, LendingTree’s chief credit analyst, said in a statement. “Sometimes they’re small, such as canceling a streaming service for a while. Sometimes they’re bigger, such as starting a side hustle or selling something of value. It’s about deciding what’s important to have your spending reflect that.”
Clearly, youth sports are important to families. According to the Sports Events and Tourism Association (Sports ETA), U.S. sports travelers, event organizers and venues spent $39.7 billion in direct spending in 2021. That spending generated a total econonomic impact of $91.8 billion, which supported 635,000 total jobs and resulted in $12.9 billion in total tax revenues. That total includes transportation, lodging and food/beverage purchases.
Here’s a breakdown of how much parents expect to spend on sports this fall, according to LendingTree:
• $100-$499: 50 percent
• $500 to $999: 22 percent
• $1,000 to $1,999: 14 percent
• Less than $100: 10 percent
• $2,000 or more: 5 percent
A similar survey in 2019, by The Harris Poll on behalf of TD Ameritrade, indicated that 27 percent of parents planned to spend $500 or more per month on youth sports, and that they were taking fewer vacations, working a second job and delaying retirement to cover related expenses.
Schulz said that the rising costs to play can be a teachable moment for kids and help them understand the importance of prioritizing expenses. He also indicated that some youth sports organizations might offer lower registration fees to parents who volunteer their time to the organization. “As a dad who has done a whole lot of volunteering in youth sports over the years, I can tell you it’s a great way to create memories.”
Indeed, the lure of youth sports remains strong for parents. Just ask Tom Brady, who has said he never imagined his son, Jack, playing football — even though Jack is now a high school quarterback and safety.
“I just want the kids to have fun,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback recently told sportscaster Jim Gray on the weekly “Let’s Go” podcast. “It’s really great as a parent to see your kids joyful. That’s what we all hope for our kids. You want to provide them the experience … to grow into their adolescence and to deal with adversities to wins and losses in life.”
As the National Council of Youth Sports — which celebrated National Youth Sports Week from Oct. 24-30 — notes, “youth sports is a proven strategy to provide needed physical, social, emotional and leadership outcomes. It’s a protective factor for the estimated 50 million youth against risky behaviors and can serve to address many of our nation’s social and economic challenges.”
Still, youth sports has evolved into a money-making machine, which has proven to drive some kids out of organized youth sports by age 13. In her new book, Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports — and Why It Matters, journalist and former high school girls’ cross-country coach Linda Flanagan writes that youth sports in 2019 was a $19.2 billion market in the United States.
“The more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kid enjoys it and the more pressure they feel,” Flanagan recently told The New York Times. “Because of this youth sports industry, there’s now this pressure on kids to specialize at a young age, or to pick one sport and play it for as long as possible. There’s a consensus among sports doctors and psychologists that this is not healthy. It’s not developmentally in a child’s best interest.”
That argument has been made for decades, and it has merit. But the fact remains that the business of youth sports — even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — remains brisk. The LendingTree survey reveals that 38 percent of parents with kids younger than 18 indicated their child will play on a sports team this fall.