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Survey: Many Youth Sports Programs in Danger of Folding

20 May, 2020

By: Michael Popke

One in four youth sports households has experienced job loss during the coronavirus pandemic, more than half of parents are hesitant to sign up their kids to play youth sports, and almost 40 percent of youth sports programs might not survive for more than three months.

Those are some of the disturbing findings of a survey of 290 youth sports organizers from across the United States provided exclusively to Morning Consult (a leading global data intelligence firm) by the youth sports sponsorship platform LeagueSide.

So the question facing youth sports might not be when, but whether, they will reopen.

Conducted throughout April, the survey also revealed that less than 10 percent of parents with children enrolled in sports programs sought refunds for shortened or canceled seasons, and many parents expressed a willingness to pre-pay for future seasons to provide financial relief to organizers, as well as even pay more so that organizers can adopt new safety protocols.

But all of that might not be enough.

“We run on a very tight budget and each sport registration pays for the prior month’s expenses,” Art Warshaw, president of the Maryland-based nonprofit Christian Athletic Association, told Morning Consult. “If this goes on for more than a few months, we face the high possibility of losing our only full-time employee, and he is the glue that holds our organization together.”

A prolonged delay in returning to play could spell disaster for many other organizations, too.

“From a health perspective, 27 percent of parents said they expect to be comfortable having their children participate in organized sports again by the end of July, with another 21 percent eyeing the back-to-school period in August or September,” according to Morning Call. “Roughly a quarter of parents, however, don’t expect to be comfortable with their kids playing sports until at least the start of 2021, with another 13 percent saying they don’t know when they’ll be ready.”

Almost 700,000 athletes were unable to participate in scheduled youth sports events in March alone, costing organizers more than $700 million,according to a survey commissioned by Sports Events & Tourism Association.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to say this is devastating,” Brenda Myers, president of the Hamilton County (Ind.) Tourism Board, which is financed almost entirely by a lodging tax, told ESPN.com.

Hamilton County is home to the 400-acre Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, which recently partnered with the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Sports Innovation Institute on a new study that will seek the safest ways to open large youth sports facilities around the country. In mid-May, parents, referees and athletes were expected to receive surveys asking how they envision games returning. The first results are expected in June.

“It’s really testing the parents’ temperature on their willingness to get back with these adaptations,” Pierce told local media. “The goal is to find the things that people perceive is a ‘must be’ that they’re really comfortable with. But the way the survey is designed, using the method that we’re using, it would also pull out the things people are really resistant to.”

“We’re really looking at what is our new normal in the sports tourism industry, and this research will go a long way in helping them understand some of the things that they need to do as well,” added William Knox, director of the Grand Park Sports Complex.

Hamilton County officials estimate that the central Indiana economy is losing more than $20 million every month the facility remains closed, according to ESPN.com; nearly one-fourth of all hotel room reservations in the county are tied to the complex.

As ESPN.com reports, “hundreds of organizations, including travel sports companies, Pop Warner Little Scholars and US Lacrosse, have petitioned Congress to create an $8.5 billion ‘youth sports relief fund’ to ‘stabilize the industry and invest in recovery.’” An article in SGB recently noted that among the COVID-related challenges facing youth sports were social distancing guidelines, parents feeling comfortable about their children returning to play, and the cost of programs. Challenges that pre-existed COVID but still remain an obstacle are a lack of field space and a shortage of officials. 

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