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Weighing Pros, Cons of Travel Agents' Role in Youth Sports

14 Jun, 2017

By: Michael Popke
While Many Parents and Organizers Still Prefer to Make Their Own Arrangements, an Increasingly Complex and Increasingly Regulated Market is Driving Business to Professionals

Travel agents for youth sports teams are becoming increasingly popular, with teams hiring specialists to facilitate group travel arrangements.

And that means the Roaming Gnome suddenly has some serious competition.

“While some parents are glad to be free of having to make such arrangements, not everyone is thrilled,” reports The New York Times. “Some youth sports leagues mandate that their teams work with certain middlemen, and parents and coaches say that the travel arrangements they make aren’t always ideal.

Further aggravating parents and teams who prefer to book their own travel is the opt-out penalty that many tournaments assess if groups do not use the services of the agents provided by event organizers. Penalty fees can be as high as $750 per team, according to The Times. In some cases, teams not using those services are not invited back to compete next year.

“What I especially resent is that, if you do want to figure out your own travel, you have to buy your way out of it,” said Ashley Hammond, the owner and president Soccer Domain Football Club in Montclair, N.J.

“There are so many teams traveling now across the U.S. that tournament hosts almost have to have somebody handling travel arrangements, just to take the burden off themselves,” Justin Arsenault, national sales manager for SARec Sports Travel in Orlando, Fla., said. The company books tournament stays across the country for youth baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer teams.

So does Team Travel USA, a Bradenton, Fla.-based company that booked travel for more than two million people for more than 1,500 youth sports tournaments last year.

 

About $10.5 billion was spent in 2016 on amateur sports-related travel, an increase of 10 percent over 2015, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions.

Of course, reports like this always spark debate about the overall value (both financially and otherwise) of travel teams and why parents and kids participate in them.

Dan King, an Indiana father of a 12-year-old travel-team baseball player, recently put it this way to Indianapolis Star reporter Kyle Neddenreip: “Why does our son play travel baseball?  While he did things like practice on his own, he was not learning how to be coached or pushed to get more out of himself by anyone outside of himself or parents because he was, in most cases, the least of the volunteer coaches’ worries. In just a few months he’s been in this new environment, he’s really learning how to take criticism and use it to make himself better and not just coast on what comes naturally to him.”

One reason for the increased emphasis on youth sports, argues best-selling author Douglas Brunt, whose most recent novel, Trophy Son, will be published later this month, is — plain and simple — money. He compared the average professional baseball salary to the national average salary over the last one hundred years. He found that for the first 50 years (1920-1970) baseball players held a steady multiple of about 3.4 times the national average income. By 2015, that multiple was 78 times the national average — with the professional baseball player’s average salary at $4.25 million, compared to the national average salary for everybody else, which was $54,500.

“Sports is no longer a prize unto itself,” Brunt writes on Time.com. The prize today is a college scholarship, generational wealth, a glamorous lifestyle — and so parents become destination-obsessed. The creep of intensity in sports, driven by parents, has moved to younger and younger ages for the kids. It has migrated from the professional level to college to high school to middle school to the various local travel teams for our 8-year-olds. The educational component of sports is diminished. It’s less about the process and learning teamwork, discipline, that there is a connection between practice and improvement.”

That hasn’t stopped the youth sports business from booming, though. Just ask David King, founder of Triple Crown Sports, a tournament sponsor based in Colorado that operates 100 baseball, softball, fastball and volleyball tournaments in North America.

“It’s a red-hot space,” he told The New York Times.

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