Jason Clement is co-founder and CEO of The Sports Facility Companies (SFC)a large network of community-based sports facilities.
There is no doubt—well, there shouldn’t be any—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 metropolis, these assets can be both popular and important.
Beyond the obvious advantages of physical activity that the CDC emphasizes for a person’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 assigned $63 million less for the parks department in its preliminary budget proposal than in the previous budget
Parks and recreation and then 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 an important role as 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 stimulate a community.
Communities based on industries such as tobacco, textiles, cotton, railroads and other traditional trading systems are looking for new ways to evolve and reinvent themselves. Other emerging or former bedroom districts can also count on youth sports and sports tourism as a catalyst. For example, we manage an event center in a small town that was originally built on rail transport, textiles and agriculture. Our work helped revitalize the city center and generate millions of dollars in economic impact by 2022. Development opportunities, trade and visits all followed.
If communities don’t grow, they die and youth sports can be a much-needed boost.
2. Youth sports add economic vitality.
Boosting tourism and visitors can have a significant impact on a community’s economic vitality. The communities with the resources and facilities that proactively attract these events and participants, made up of families in their communities, tend to be more vibrant, drive economic growth, and provide higher tax bases in the community.
According to SportsETA, the sports tourism sector had a direct spending impact of $39.7 billion that year. Growth seems likely to continue as Wintergreen Research (through Horecanet) expects the global youth sports industry to reach $77.5 billion by 2026 alone.
3. Physical activity can support mental health.
Sport and health go hand in hand. Regular exercise is “one of the most important things you can do for your health,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Being physically active can not only help manage weight, strengthen muscles and bones, and reduce the risk of disease, but it can also improve brain health. These benefits are perhaps even more important for the youth. According to the CDC, the benefits of physical activity include improved thinking or cognition for children ages 6 to 13 and reduced short-term anxiety for adults.
4. It can improve quality of life.
Like a proudly displayed storefront, beautiful green spaces or multi-sport facilities can be an anchor point for an entire community and its visitors.
Investing in these areas creates more economic opportunities and can therefore improve the quality of life of people in and around the community. Local restaurants, accommodations and shops are often supported by sports tourism and help their local employees, managers and owners.
Communities can be improved in every measurable way through the existence of a healthy and vibrant sports, recreation and park ecosystem.
Private sector and companies can play an important role.
If you are a leader of a private company, there are several ways to participate in and benefit from the sports and recreation industry. 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. What influence does a youth sports complex have on their customer base and visitor numbers? Youth sports facilities attract participants, spectators and their families, which can lead to increased spending in the local community. These expenses include hotel stays, restaurants, shops and other related services, all of which should be included in the development conversation.
Design and build
If you are a community that has gone through a feasibility study and decided to move on to a design and build phase, advocate using local businesses and suppliers for materials and services whenever possible. With the right guidance, a qualified local provider can support the local economy and foster a sense of community involvement. Providing national trends and guidance to local businesses allows for greater customization and helps ensure facilities meet the specific needs of the community.
A new facility equals job creation. When planning the construction phase, consider local contractors, architects, engineers and construction companies to give them opportunities to participate in the projects. This supports the local workforce and encourages job growth within the community. Once the facility is open, I recommend looking for leadership nationally, but the vast majority of operational hires should be made locally.
Sports tourism and the marketing engine behind it must go beyond parks and rec departments, sports committees, 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 income for the local community through accommodation, restaurants, transport and leisure activities. Sports tourism can boost local businesses and enhance the community’s reputation as a sports hub.
I believe our industry exists to help improve the health and economic vitality of communities across the country. In particular, the mental, social, spiritual and physical health of a community can all improve through the work we do with our partners in local government and the private sector.