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How youth sports teams are bringing opportunities to hotel owners

by Nick Fortuna

Twenty years ago, being a Little League ballplayer meant signing up for your town’s rec league and hoping to make the local all-star team. But these days, parents of young, aspiring athletes aren’t getting off nearly that easily. If your kid is serious about his sport, plan on spending thousands of dollars per season, using most of your vacation time to travel for tournaments, and logging hundreds of miles in your car.

Marty Maciaszek, director of the team dealer division of the National Sporting Goods Association, has been traveling to baseball tournaments with his 15-year-old son for years. He said being on any traveling team likely will cost at least $2,000 a season due to registration fees, sporting goods, hotel stays, and meals on the road. For parents of athletes in premier leagues, the cost easily can surpass $10,000 a year, with teams playing year round and traveling once a month or more, either by car or by plane.

According to a 2018 report by HBO’s “Real Sports,” total spending in the United States on youth sports is estimated at $17 billion annually, and the high cost has led to an 8-percent decrease in youth sports participation over the past decade.

“It’s just amazing how drastically youth sports have changed and how much of a business it has become,” Maciaszek said. “You have communities building these huge facilities that can accommodate just about any travel sport that you can imagine.”

SURPRISING STATISTICS

The high cost of youth sports, combined with the trend of young athletes focusing on one sport year round, is having a profound effect on participation rates. Consider these statistics:

  • Fifty percent of injuries to young athletes are the result of overuse, with joint injuries to the knees, shoulders, and elbows among the most common problems, according to Mark Hyman, assistant teaching professor of management and tourism studies at George Washington University.
  • Seventy percent of kids stop playing organized sports by age 13, mostly because they can’t afford to be on a traveling team, have sustained an injury, or are mentally burned out by highly competitive youth sports leagues, Hyman said. “That statistic is a real indictment of our system.”
  • In 2017, U.S. children ages 6 to 12 played an average of 1.85 team sports, down from 2.11 in 2011, according to the Aspen Institute’s 2018 “State of Play” report.

The less affluent a kid’s family is, the less likely she will participate in team sports, according to the Aspen Institute. In 2017, only 34.1 percent of children ages 6 to 12 from families that make less than $25,000 a year played a team sport, down from 41.9 percent in 2011. For families making $25,000 to $49,999, the participation rate dropped to 44.6 percent from 47.8 percent. For families making $50,000 to $74,999, the rate dropped to 56.6 percent from 59.6 percent. Conversely, for families making $75,000 to $99,999, the participation rate increased to 64 percent from 61.5 percent. And for families making more than $100,000, the rate rose to 69 percent from 66.4 percent.

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DREAMING BIG

Tom Farrey, executive director of the Sports & Society Program at the Aspen Institute, said young kids increasingly are specializing in one sport and playing it year round in an effort to get some of the $2.9 billion in athletic scholarships awarded annually by colleges and universities. Many parents have heard the statistic that only 2 percent of high-school athletes will get athletic scholarships, and that the cost of youth sports over time could rival that of college tuition. Still, their children have big dreams, so how do you put a price on that?

“The youth sports landscape has been transformed by the chase for the athletic scholarship,” Farrey said. “The odds are incredibly long of playing at the Division I level, and there’s really not as much scholarship money out there as parents think. But parents began to see the potential return on investment, and that is what has driven the formation of these travel teams, pushing down, down, down to as young as second grade.”

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CATERING TO THE YOUTH SPORTS MARKET

Marty Maciaszek of the National Sporting Goods Association says the following hotel facility features are especially attractive to traveling youth sports teams:

✔  Clean rooms in a safe environment
✔  Conveniently located near sports facilities and restaurants
✔  Affordability
✔  Two beds in a room so families can share one room, or suites
✔  Free breakfast buffet that begins early since games can start as early as 8 a.m., or grab-and-go meal options
✔  Kitchen in the room so families can avoid the expense of eating every meal at a restaurant
✔  A large, clean pool for kids to relax and play in after games
✔  Ample, clean laundry facilities to wash uniforms each day
✔  Free Wi-Fi
✔  Ample, safe parking

Here are a few features that typically are unimportant to these customers:

✘  Luxury rooms
✘  High-end food-and-beverage offerings
✘  Amenities such as spas and gyms
✘  Stylish architecture and layout reflective of the hotel’s locale

CAPITALIZE ON SPORTS TOURISM

The booming youth sports industry has cities and towns across America looking to cash in on “sports tourism,” as families skip the traditional summer beach vacation in favor of “tournications,” trips to big youth sports tournaments. In some cases, these new sports facilities are creating demand for more budget and midlevel hotels.

One example is Grand Park in Westfield, IN, where cornfields have been transformed into a 400-acre youth sports complex featuring 34 soccer fields and 26 baseball diamonds. Mayor Andy Cook told “Real Sports” that in 2016, the facility hosted 1.2 million visitors who spent $145 million in the community.

Similarly, in North Carolina, the new Rocky Mount Event Center covers 165,000 square feet and features eight basketball courts that can be converted into 16 volleyball courts.

Supersized youth sports complexes seemingly are popping up everywhere, as evidenced by the Youth Baseball Nationals, which in 2020 will host major tournaments in Myrtle Beach, SC; Sparks, NV; Elizabethtown, KY; Salisbury, MD; Sanford, FL.; and Gulfport, MS. The famous line from “Field of Dreams” seems to hold true: If you build it, they will come.

A typical tournament will last from Thursday through Sunday, though weeklong tournaments such as the Youth Baseball Nationals are common. Often, one or two parents volunteer to book accommodations for the whole team throughout the season, Maciaszek said.

Owners of existing hotels will want to link up with the administrators of these sports complexes and tournaments to get a piece of the sports-tourism pie. Most events have several preferred hotels with which they have negotiated for reduced rates. Event administrators also can help hotel owners and investors determine whether there will be enough demand for additional hotels near new sports complexes.

With so many youth sports facilities being built, all of those athletes and their families need a place to stay, presenting an opportunity for hotel owners.

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