There’s no question—well, at least there shouldn’t be—about the importance that recreation, youth sports and park systems play in supporting, serving and improving a community. Whether it’s a rural town or a bustling metropolitan city, these assets can be both popular and important.
Outside of the obvious benefits of physical activity the CDC highlights to one’s physical, mental and emotional health and well-being, studies have shown that well-designed and planned parks have the potential to reduce crime.
However, budgets for parks and recreation are tightening in an unstable economy. In New York City, for example, Mayor Eric Adams allocated $63 million less for the parks department in his preliminary budget proposal than in the previous budget
Parks and recreation and, subsequently, youth sports, amateur adult and senior activities should remain a priority. As communities evolve in 2023 and beyond, youth sports and related facilities should play a significant role when elected officials respond to the needs of their constituents. Here are four ways youth sports can impact local government and how businesses can support them.
1. Sports tourism can drive a community.
Communities founded on industries like tobacco, textiles, cotton, rail and other traditional commerce systems are searching for new ways to evolve and reinvent themselves. Other emerging or previous bedroom suburbs can also rely on youth sports and sports tourism as a catalyst. For example, we manage an event center in a small city originally built on rail transportation, textiles and agriculture. Our work helped revitalize the city’s downtown area and generated millions of dollars in economic impact in 2022. Development opportunities, commerce and visitation have all followed.
If communities aren’t growing, they’re dying, and youth sports can provide a much-needed stimulant.
2. Youth sports add economic vitality.
Driving tourism and visitors can have a significant impact on the economic vitality of a community. The communities with the assets and facilities that are proactively attracting those events and participants made up of families in their community tend to be more vibrant, spur economic growth and drive a higher tax base in the community.
According to SportsETA, the sports tourism sector had a direct spending impact of $39.7 billion that year. Its growth seems likely to continue, as Wintergreen Research (via Hospitalitynet) expects the global youth sports industry alone to reach $77.5 billion by 2026.
Sports and health go hand in hand. Regular physical activity is “one of the most important things you can do for your health,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not only can being physically active help manage weight, strengthen muscles and bones, and reduce the risk of disease, but it can also improve brain health. These benefits are arguably even more vital for youth. According to the CDC, the benefits of physical activity include improved thinking or cognition for children ages 6–13 and reduced short-term feelings of anxiety for adults.
Like a proudly displayed storefront, beautiful green spaces or multisport facilities can be an anchor for an entire community and its visitors.
Investing in these areas brings in more economic opportunity and, thus, can improve the quality of life of those in and around the community. Local restaurants, accommodations and stores are often bolstered by sports tourism, aiding their local employees, managers and owners.
Communities can be improved in every measurable way by the existence of a healthy and vibrant sports, recreation and park ecosystem.
If you are a leader of a private corporation, there are several ways to participate and benefit from the sports and recreation industries. Let’s explore a few key areas: real estate development, design and construction, and community growth.
Real Estate Development and Economic Growth
When a local community is considering sports and recreation development, it should consult local businesses. How will a youth sports complex impact their customer base and foot traffic? Youth sports facilities attract participants, spectators and their families, which can lead to increased spending in the local community. This spending includes hotel accommodations, dining, shopping and other related services, all of which should be included in the conversation about development.
Design and Construction
If you are a community that has gone through a feasibility study and has decided to move forward to a design and construction stage, advocate for using local firms and suppliers for materials and services wherever possible. With proper guidance, a qualified local provider can support the local economy and foster a sense of community engagement. Providing national trends and guidance to local firms allows for greater customization and helps ensure that the facilities align with the specific needs of the community.
A new facility equals job creation. When planning for the construction stage, consider local contractors, architects, engineers and construction firms to provide them with opportunities to participate in the projects. This supports the local workforce and stimulates job growth within the community. Once the facility is open, I recommend a national search for leadership, but the vast majority of operational hires should be made locally.
Sports tourism and the marketing engine behind it should go beyond parks and rec departments, sports commissions, or convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs). Business leaders and operators of hotels, restaurants and retail locations should help promote their sports facilities as destinations for tournaments, competitions and events. This attracts participants, families and spectators from other regions and can generate revenue for the local community through accommodation, dining, transportation and leisure activities. Sports tourism can boost local businesses and strengthen the reputation of the community as a sports hub.
I believe our industry exists to help to improve the health and economic vitality of communities across the country. Specifically, the mental, social, spiritual and physical health of a community can all improve because of the work we do with our partners in local government and the private sector.