Commentary

The $19.6 billion youth sports market, soccer and the pandemic

Recently, I read an article with great astonishment. According to a report  by Wintergreen Research -- "Youth Sports: Market Shares, Strategies and Forecasts, Worldwide, 2019-2026" -- there was a $19.6 billion youth sports market in the USA and a $24.9 billion youth sports market in the world. With those values in 2019, 80% of the global youth sports business was in the USA. The global youth sports market is projected to reach $77.6 billion by 2026.

According to Tom Farrey of the Aspen Institute, actually the youth sports market is greater than $19.6 billion. Our data suggests the number twice that of any league, between $30 billion and $40 billion. Our nationally representative survey with Utah State University’s Families in Sport Lab last year found that families spend an average of $693 per child, per sport annually. Other data suggest the average child plays two sports. That’s $28 billion right there, just on the 20 million core participants in team sports. That does not include spending on casual play, the kid who picks up a tennis racket or golf club a few times a year. In all, 36 million youth participated in some sport in some form, pre-COVID, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.”

Whether you take the conservative figure of $19.6 billion or Aspen’s Institute’s $30 billion-$40 billion figure, the youth sports industry in the USA is bigger than any professional league here or abroad.

NFL (2018) $16 billion
MLB (2019) $10.7 billion
NBA (2018) $8 billion
EPL (2018) $5.9 billion

We do not know what percentage of the revenue of youth sports is soccer, but definitely it is one the leading ones. The arguments are the same whether we are talking about youth sports or youth soccer. So please read the rest of the article by replacing sports with soccer. 

One key question to ask is how come the world youth sports generate only 25% of the USA? 

Another key question to ask is what do we get out of spending $19.6 billion for youth sports? 

Since 80% of the global revenue of youth sports is in the USA, do we develop the best 80% of all athletes in the world?

Do we create the healthiest generation of youth of all the countries in the world? 

Do we through sports generate an egalitarian system that develops good athletes, good citizens and good people?

Do we through the sponsorship system of our youth sports reach out to the talented but underprivileged kids?

The reader can answer the above questions, but I doubt anyone can say yes to all six questions.

It is obvious we live in an individualistic, capitalistic and free society and youth sports is good business for those who benefit from it. There is no point in arguing the merits of abolishing pay-to-play systems; it will be like Don Quixote attacking the wind mills. But shouldn’t the customers (parents) and consumers (players) benefit from it also. 

Do they?

If you consider most of youth sports as some sort of baby-sitting or pastime for parents to spend with their kids or a mechanism for the kids to socialize, yes they benefit. How about the other dimensions that I asked above?

Are we doomed with youth sports, which is mostly different than the rest of the world? Can’t we give access to sports to the underprivileged kids other than school sports, which are free? Can’t we find a system which coexists with pay-to-play system? 

My answers would have been NO if someone asked me those questions three months ago.

Sometimes crises lead to opportunities. The pandemic will create an incredible economic crisis, especially to the middle class who are the customers of youth sports USA. For example, it is estimated the 65 universities that make up the Power Five conferences in the United States stand to lose in excess of $4 billion if the upcoming American football season cannot go ahead. Nobody knows how much it will affect the $19.6 billion worth of youth sports but it will. The middle class will be less enthusiastic about spending that much money for their kids to play. “According to a survey … 49% of parents believe their children will be less likely to participate in youth sports due to financial circumstances, which could leave nearly 20 million kids on the sidelines.” Then they might start questioning the above questions and the post-pandemic world most probably will hit the reset button for youth sports.

Hopefully, the relation between school sports and club sports will strengthen; they will stop seeing each other as threats and adversaries. Travel sports will be reduced; clubs will start looking for local leagues to play in. Clubs will start looking at kids like products rather than consumers; will seek ways to market/sell the products to colleges or pro teams hence will be less dependent on parents’ fees. The cities’ P&R departments will realign their positioning to sports; instead of seeing their facilities as a resource for other city functions, they will seek other functions of the facilities like developing their own leagues for the kids. 

Like all my articles I will end the article with a Turkish saying: “Her serde bir hayir vardir.” Literally translated it means something positive will come out of each evil. Maybe the evil of the pandemic will create a benefit for our youth sports.

15 comments about "The $19.6 billion youth sports market, soccer and the pandemic".
  1. Coach Ali, May 30, 2020 at 12:48 p.m.

    Brilliantly written article. Personally I think we are missing "flavor", meaning we don't have street soccer/futsal. I see many people playing street basketball, tennis, as they have access to courts in many different cities, but when it comes to soccer we have ingrained in the parents head the best way to do this thru "pay to play".

    Many times I've been kicked out of parks in my local area here in Southern Cali because "don't live in the specific city, don't have a permit, local AYSO or club have 1st come 1st serve rights, are ruining the grass, someone complained about the noise...etc" America quite simply lacks street flavor. Money would be better spent creating Futsal or small soccer fields.

  2. Wallace Wade, May 30, 2020 at 1:58 p.m.

    I totally agree with Coach Ali. I have been threatened with arrest more than once for having the gall to have a kick around with my Son's at empty parks, facilities etc. soccer is not a crime! Let's the people play! 

  3. Paul Berry, May 30, 2020 at 2:18 p.m.

    We also need to teach kids that soccer can be played with as few as 3 players.  Games like 3 'n in and attack and defense are ingrained among English kids but I only see American kids playing organized games with a pitch or court and two goals.  Someone needs to make a youtube video. 

  4. Brian Seifert replied, May 31, 2020 at 11:58 a.m.

    Paul, and you explain 3 'n in? Sounds fun!

  5. David Lieberman, May 30, 2020 at 3:28 p.m.

    Here in the Chicago area we are trying to form an informal 3v3 league with 12-15 min halves played at random parks and times agreed upon by the parents. No coaches and hopefully no parents on the sidelines. Hopefully this will be something that catches on and the kids enjoy doing for years to come. 

  6. uffe gustafsson, May 30, 2020 at 4:27 p.m.

     Coach Ali
    this is the same senario I been telling the street soccer enthusiasts on this site. It's not that easy to do street soccer. I been told to leave the parks w 10 year old girls that I practice with in fact we at some point changed parks so they couldn't see us as a repeat group that been told to leave.
    regular fields are never available unless u are a club team w the club booked field times.
    secondly cities make money on renting out fields to clubs. One reason why we spend so much money is the pay to play. In Sweden they don't have that system, cities have their own clubs that play on the city own fields so no money is exchanged and cities have a budget that pay for youth sports so families don't spend money it's part of the government budget sort of like our public schools. Yes they do find raising for going to tornaments but no fees are charged to parents.

  7. uffe gustafsson, May 30, 2020 at 4:30 p.m.

    My nephew coach boys team in Gothenburg.
    i will ask how much each player have to pay

  8. uffe gustafsson, May 30, 2020 at 5:21 p.m.

    You want some numbers.
    my nephew is a volunteer coach as most coaches are in Sweden.
    Clib fee depending on age group is $150-170 for the full year, spring, fall and futsal in the winter and they practice 3 days a week a game on weekends
    .uniforms are $50.
    they do pay more if they go to Dana cup or gothia cup like $100 plus more.
    compare that to what my daughter paid in Oakland for her traveling team w 4 days of practice and paid coaches. Last year of club was $2400 clib fee and another $1000 for team fee for tornament's and coaches expenses 

  9. R2 Dad replied, May 31, 2020 at 8:41 p.m.

    Full boat to send a kid to Dana + Gothia is nearly $5K from Cal-N---this helps subsidize the kids who can't afford it as well as well as pay for the coach. Great events, but worth the money? No. Young solo refs meant the tournaments were not prepared to officiate at a higher level. Lodging consisted of hostel-level accomodations. What I did think was valuable to the kids was seeing other clubs from other countries and how they celebrate the game and how their kids live it. 

  10. humble 1, June 1, 2020 at 11:34 a.m.

    There is a huge carror that exists for youth that does not exist ex-USA.  Frequently USA soccer critics forget that we have the largest amatuer league in the world for men and women - college soccer.  Yeah it does not, for men, produce many world class players - and it does not follow the FIFA LOTG and it is a very short season - and the restrictions on the participants to maintain their 'amatuer' status could be seen as a constraint on their future as professionals in the chosen sport - especially if is men's socccer.  So some, if not much of the money spent on youth sport is viewed as 'investment' to get the opportunity to continue play in college.  Almost all of us have ourselves, or have a child or know a family with a child that earned a sport scholarship.  It's considered a tremendous accomplishment.  This is a good thing.  Carry on!

  11. uffe gustafsson, June 1, 2020 at 8:58 p.m.

    R2 dad
    got u think the tornament refs was not up to your standard but imagine the amount of games at that tornament's. Think you got it right on the experience of playing teams from around the world.
    but think the point of the article is the money we USA spend on the families. I just pointed out what like sweden pay for pretty much equalment on a team compared to my daughter in nor cal

  12. R2 Dad replied, June 2, 2020 at 12:38 a.m.

    Yes we pay much more. But I don't think pay-to-play goes away under any scenario. My gripe is that we don't get value for money. If we got top coaching, focused on develping players U8-U12 while still keeping it fun for kids, I would consider it money well-spent. But it's still very much coach-driven rather than club-driven. And it takes years for bad coaches to become decent coaches because they've never played at a high level. Maybe it just takes 50 years for those generations of players to become coaches and develop a reinforcing cycle of excellence down to the small club level. But I'm not holding my breath--that's not what happened in the UK. That why I believe Pro-Rel is the fulcrum that ensures excellence is valued.

  13. humble 1 replied, June 2, 2020 at 12:26 p.m.

    True story.  Couple years agaon my son was U10 we payed $1800 to club.  We played league game against latino team - that we played before - solid - well coached.  Got talking with parents behind one of goals.  They pay $250 for the season.  Volunteer coach.  With this info in hand I begin to discover more and more teams like this.  Another true story.  My son, many year before, just started playing soccer in 'rec' league, me, dude with no soccer background end up coaching.  More than a couple of players had dads that were players just stand watching.  Moral of stories ... we can do it ... we need parents that played the game to change their attitude and get involved instead of stand around watching ... and doing the opposite of being involved but actually setting up hush hush private trainings for their kiddos and such.  Clubs discourage parents being involved like they set up leagues that exclude the latino clubs - for obvious reasons in both cases.  They don't even ask parents to help with field maintenance!  There is a way around pay-to-play and parents are the key in the U-Little year when kids should be focused on ball mastery. 

  14. humble 1 replied, June 2, 2020 at 12:29 p.m.

    ... this is an exercise not in rocket-science - but in overcoming vested interests and a culture of non-participation by parents.  There's a lot of joy to be had being out there with the kiddos up to and including U14.  After U14 - you need pros.  Go for it!  Get involved!

  15. Mike Lynch, June 6, 2020 at 4:42 p.m.

    Prior to the new millenium, volunteer coaches (or at most a small stipend) and low pay to play sport participation produced many good players, even several great ones competing with the best in the world. Most of these coaches were soccer playing immigrants and the stars of those days, the children of those soccer playing immigrants. This still exists today but we also have thousands and thousands of soccer loving parents who played on those teams who would make great volunteer or low stipend coaches ... just as the rest of the world does! It's time for local soccer clubs, playing locally, with volunteer (or low stipend) coaches (who will mostly be parents). I know when I was coaching voluntarily, my wife supported me because I had one or more of our kids in tow!

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