Sure Mark Emmert might be competing with Roger Goodell and Sepp Blatter in who in sports leadership is more full of shit. But He like others in sports are worried about youth sports specialization and professionalization. Tom Farrey and Aspen Institute also had a round table with First Lady Michelle Obama over lack of access to youth team sports due to rising costs as more and more of these leagues are being dominated by private travel organizations.
Why are they worried about this? Is it lack of fitness or these kids will be missing out on valuable life lessons that only sports can teach. No
Its because they will not become fans of the pro or college game.
Big time sports have never been about health and fitness, Sure the NFL pushes their Play 60 to fight child obesity but at the same time Pepsi, (that is blamed for child obesity and diabetes) is the official soft drink of the super bowl, and love to strike sponsorship deals with McDonalds. Because the Big Mac is a essential part of a well balanced healthy diet and many NFL players nutrition regimen.
While these private youth sports organizations are raking in the money and making billions and in the 1990s saw children playing in these leagues hit record numbers. There was a problem that also started in the 1990s, burn out and overuse injuries. Fact is 70% to 75% of children who play organized team sports will burn out and quit by 12 and there is a growing epidemic of children with overuse injuries.
That first generation of 90s burn outs are now entering young adulthood, they are known as the Millennials and what trends are we seeing from them? Tom Farrey's employer is ESPN, the cable network is the only way to watch live sports, yet those Millennials are cutting the cable cord, when it comes to entertainment cable TV is the last on their list in the world of the internet, with its online gaming, apps and streaming services such as Netflix.
Another trend, each college freshman class is less interested in attending their school's football and basketball games., colleges are worried these students will not become wealthy alumni donors.
Fact is youth sports burnout is now starting to burn a hole in the pro and college sports fandom, as the average age of those who do watch televised sports is now 55. Baseball is faring much worse as less and less children are being socialized into that game due to societal changes in this country. Little League participation is in a steady decline in since the 1990s and has seen even worse participation drops with African Americans. WSJ and Washington Post published articles in 2015 about baseball losing the youth. Did Rob Manfried worry that these children were missing out on character building and life lessons that only that sport can teach? No, he was worried they will not become adult fans.
When they complain about the kids and those evil video games, what they worry is the fact that 13 year old that rushes home from school for a Call of Duty 2X points weekend is...
Not going to be on the varsity squad in High School, that leads to not being an adult booster.
Not going to be a 35 year old who after a long day at work, passes out in front of ESPN on the TV.
Not going to be a faculty member who lets the varsity football team get away with anything, when another player gets sent to the ER or worse the morgue, they will pull the plug on the entire thing.
Not going to be an elected official that lets a billionaire have $250M of tax money to build another stadium as the one from 10 years ago is "too old".
Not going to be a judge that will be sympathetic to NCAAs Amateurism Position.
Yet the NFL does not act like interactive entertainment is evil when its time to collect their Madden money from EA.
Sure there is talk about sports and youth health and fitness, but these organizations in reality are TERRIBLE. In any competitive team sport it is all about winning, how do you win? Play your best players. These elite travel leagues with their showcase tournaments are all about winning.
So the worst and average players get ignored, they ride the bench at games and practices they get heaps on negative attention from coaches. Kids do not have fun. quit and never play one again, with the burnout majority of them do around age 9 when the elite travel teams start scouting for players.
If you are not good enough at 9 you are now over the hill.
Despite the attempts of Michelle Obama, Aspen Institute and Mark Emmert youth sports industry might already be a dead man walking, because these private youth sports organizations are so obsessed with creating elite talent that they are turning off 1000 potential fans for every superstar they create. You are creating the next Justin Verlander, but just pushed away 1000 people who would be paying $250 for his jersey. Because they are blind, too busy telling parents that their children will be somehow deprived and disadvantaged if they do not have the character, values and life lessons that their sport teaches and play on their nostalgic memories of pick up games in parks and sandlots or their own HS Varsity Glory to convince them to pay thousands in fees, equipment, personal trainers and summer camps.
If a kid quits, who cares there are another 1000 where he or she came from, a revolving door of families signing up and quitting with cash stuffing their coffers. Sure they are raking in the cash, but it is very shortsighted, for this cash machine has a millennial problem.
Millennials are also of a generation that is drowning in student loan debt and stagnant wages. This could lead a generation that could have one of the worst birth rates in history as Marriage rates for them at their current age are far lower than the boomers or Gen X was at the same age range. Many of them are still stuck at home unable to afford things like a house or let alone rent.
Less kids being born to a generation that only half played a team sport and of those three quarters burned out and will not be back with their own kids, make things worse are moving into cities where many youth organizations have a hard time taking root.
It is possible that we can see the entire industry implode in 25 years, if the youth game goes, the pro game could get caught in the wake.