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Youth Sports Shift

Marketers in the sports industry are very interested in youth participation. Not only does the sporting goods industry depend on these young users of their products, but it is very clear that participation in a particular sport as a youth often leads to consumption of the sport as an adult. In fact, former players often remain avid consumers of the sport. This is why the "State of Play" study, which is conducted annually and was released recently, is so important.

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Youth participation has dropped over the last 10 years overall, from 45% of kids participating in one or more sports to 38% today. And since the youngest members of the over-sized Millennial generation are now adults and the oldest are enjoying the beginning of middle age, it is time to recognize that this under-18 age cohort isn't as large or as active as the last one.

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According to the study, the sports that are declining the fastest are basketball and soccer. Baseball and football are flat, and the only sports that are growing are tennis and golf. All this is surprising to this author. Soccer and basketball aren't growing while tennis and golf are? Say again? And the overall numbers are dropping despite all of the efforts made over the years to include girls? This is clearly not good news for sports marketers everywhere as growth of any kind will be hard to achieve with fewer consumers in the market potential. All of the industries that are influenced by youth participation in sports are subject to this demographic trend, and all of this is happening despite several marketing efforts to get kids moving again.

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But perhaps it is time for a more concerted, cooperative effort among the major players to encourage greater levels of participation as the milk industry successfully did for decades. The obesity epidemic has not abated, and our kids aren't getting any healthier as a result. Activity costs are somewhat prohibitive for some parents, but blaming costs is a cop-out, especially considering the kinds of things most people (rich and poor) spend their money on (dinners out, concerts, automobiles, internet plans, video games, etc.), forking over some cash to expose their children to the myriad benefits of youth sport participation seems like a pretty good investment for parents regardless of income. In the face of a smaller market coupled with dropping participation rates, the sports industry as a whole is beginning to unite to deliver this message. Will it be successful? Can we get America moving again? 

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