I'm sure you can recite the details of attending your first game in that magical stadium. You remember that feeling of walking in for the first time and what seemed like the grand scale of the field and stadium. You remember the smells and probably hung the poster on your childhood bedroom wall and wore that game shirt for years.
Then you started to play youth sports and you pretended to be those hero's you watched, cheered and cried over. You even wore their number during your youth sports career. But you don't follow only one team, you had your favorite MLB, college and NFL/NBA's teams. Your participation in certain sports started to fade away, you got older, you lost interest in playing or you realize you aren't going to become that player your pretended to be for years. But you never stopped being a fan and a consumer.
What about those other sports that are perhaps geographical and economically challenging like Hockey or Skiing? How do those sports get into that funnel of youth Participation+Fan =Consumer? It's thinking way outside the box to deliver programing that is meaningful and creates an emotional connection. It also means creating access.
There has been a massive focus from pro league and NGB's to do their part with messaging and programs which provides vehicles to empower kids through wellness programs such as "Play 60" but also to integrate youth leagues and special events all through positioning to a "First Try" of their sport.
As a consultant for the NFL Youth & Fan development programs in the late 90's, the "Play 60" program was actually first called "Play Football". So has the trend gone away from promoting playing a specific sport or is it promoting going outside to play regardless of the sport? Perhaps it's both. NBA has a robust Jr NBA and FIT programs, MLB has RBI, NFL has NFL Flag Football and USA Swimming launched SwimJitzu in 2015. The trend is in full swing upwards.
Investing in youth participation is more than goodwill, it's also building a funnel to future fans and ultimately a consumer. Both agenda's are smart reasons to make the investment in kids...but the number one objective that needs to live beyond the short term economics and PR, is the obligation to provide lasting memories and perhaps thousands of life changing moments that you can't measure on a spread sheet or can't capture in a photo or through a power point slide. The initiative has to have an underlining purpose without an ROI on tickets sales or merchandise the ROI is the investment in the youth participants.
Participating in youth sports means more than just the sport itself, it's part of your childhood that creates life long friendships and opens up doors to a future that leads so many lives down a positive path...and hopefully with a hero's number on the back of that uniform.
Rob Thompson is a 25+ year entrepreneur and executive in the sports and family entertainment industry and a global leader in grassroots youth sports programming and activation. I help NGB's, International Governing Bodies, Pro Teams, Leagues, Media Groups, Sports Commissions and Brands create grassroots activation and Edu-tainment properties, mass participation events and youth/fan development programs. CLICK HERE to learn about ways we can help or reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org 518/867.1117.
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