2019 was another banner year for the big guys.  In 2019, the sports gods bestowed just over $2 billion to seven individuals over the next 13 years (Trout, Harper, Cole, Machado, Arenado, Strasburg, Rodgers).  Seven individuals, who will collectively take in $228 million annually.  Good for them, I hope they all do great things with their talents and financial reward.

The future looks even brighter.  The value proposition of big-time sports, along with the commencing financial reward, seems to have no end in sight.

Here is something else that happened in 2019, albeit with little fanfare.  For the first time in 30 years, in its annual survey, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reported a decrease in overall athletic participation at the high school level.  Of note, football declined for the fifth year in a row to the lowest mark in 20 years.

Surprisingly, boys and girls basketball also dropped, with girls dropping to the lowest number since 1992-93!  Many studies have tried to explain this decline, too many to list.  A common theme in all of them is “tough economics.”  Literally, not enough money.  Not enough money.  Let me say that again, not enough money!  “Pay to play” has become the norm in more than half the high schools in the U.S. according to Coach and AD Magazine’s 2020 State of the Industry Report, Jan. 2020)  Over 80% of High School AD’s are “concerned with reduced funding” according to this same report.

HS athletics in America is the primary foundation for every team, league, college conference, university athletic program and more.  For all the future riches enjoyed at the top level, we can thank the development that took place in high school.  Beyond athletic development, the overall good of HS athletic participation is far too important to capture here; simply put, it is an amazing asset to our society as a whole.  It is struggling financially and needs to be fixed.  Sound the alarm!

I’ve been around the sports industry for a long time and been exposed to numerous marketing messages in which leagues, teams, big brands and athletes pour their hearts out in support of youth athletics.  However, at the macro level most of it is window dressing and lacks teeth.   While I acknowledge that there are many individual souls at this level that do wonders in their own way, the collective problem is getting worse.

There are 19,500 high schools within the NFHS.  $25,000-$50,000 annually per school is a figure we believe from HS AD’s that would nearly eradicate “pay to play” across the nation.  To fund this would be $250-$500 million annually.  Big number, chump change for the industry.

Are there leagues, teams and CMO’s with some real CHUTZPAH!  Because that is what this will take.  Can you imagine the reward if you helped solve this problem for every school and family in the U.S.?  That would not be window dressing.  Any takers?

This article was written by DistrictWON CEO Peter Fitzparick.