Introduction: This is the first of a multi-part research series to analyze the state of youth sports and COVID-19’s impact. You can read the introduction to this series here. This post will outline the findings our data analysis returned on the disruption in youth sports over the past 6 months. The scope of this study can be found in the “Data Sample” paragraph, at the bottom of this post. 
 
In April 2020, conversations with our partners, national governing bodies, and youth sports organizations took a dramatic shift. The focus became, “How much disruption might the industry face and what might the long-term impact be?” We started listening to everything that leagues, programs and participants were saying online, getting results almost in real time. By paying close attention to social media activity, website updates and changes within our digital network, we gained insight on the number of programs that have gone silent, how many cancelled seasons, how they communicated with their members, or did they communicate at all. This post outlines our data findings and provides expert industry insight around what this could mean for the current state of youth sports. 

Disrupted Seasons & Participation

Of our sample, 25% (or 11,175 programs) communicated the cancellation of a season. Looking at the breakdown of cancellations by sport, the highest cancellation rates are for fall sports that have start dates in August:

  • Softball: 50%
  • Football: 61%
  • Football and cheer*: 68% (Programs in this category are specific to organizations offering both cheer and football youth programs)
 
These high cancellations rates were likely proactive decisions made by leagues and programs due to the prolonged impact of Covid-19 on participation. Without clear return to play guidelines, many programs or leagues chose to cancel their upcoming season in lieu fo risking health and safety and incurring potential liability or other factors related to COVID-19.
 
That is not to say that other factors didn’t contribute to the cancellation rates we see in our sample. For example, player safety in full contact sports, like football, have been a rising concern among parents and participants long before the threat of COVID-19. Additionally, in terms of youth sports programs football leagues have a slightly different construct than other popular sports. Those participating in youth sports like soccer, baseball, basketball typically play for recreational, travel, or competitive leagues in addition to programs associated with a school district. However, options for high school age football and cheer programs out side of the scholastic setting are not as common. In this case the construct of youth football leagues, the existing concerns of player health and safety amidst the Covid pandemic may have caused a perfect storm that youth football leagues couldn’t weather.
 
While seasonality and the timeline of COVID-19’s impact may have caused proactive cancellations of sports that begin in the fall, youth baseball programs (which typically begin in March) from our sample saw cancellation rates at 40%. With sports like baseball already in season when COVID-19 became a national concern, many clubs and leagues were able to adjust their rules, such as the placement of the umpire, adding bench space or switching to a tournament format and finish their seasons avoiding the need to cancel all activities.
 
Most youth sports organizations have had to relay the difficult news about the cancellations of future seasons to their participants. Only 13% of the total organizations in our sample were able to keep registration and participation open throughout the first half of the year.  The majority of organizations from our population (56%) have maintained consistent communication through digital platforms, while many have remained silent for extended periods of time.
 

Digital Outreach and Communication Efforts

Since the start of the pandemic, each week has been full of expectations. Hope for good news and back to play discussions, and increased awareness for necessary health and safety protocols have many stake holders and active voices in the industry pushing one way or the other. Many organizations have maintained consistent communication through digital platforms, while others stayed quiet and waited for direction.
 
30% of the youth sports businesses in our sample have been digitally silent since March. This means that they have not provided any update to their members through the traditional publicly available digital channels (Social Media, Website, Tipevo). One may conclude that these organizations are either out of business or have placed their operations on hiatus. 
 
Social Media and Tipevo (length of inactivity):

 

  • 20% of them remaining in complete silence for more than 60 days
  • 13% in complete silence for 90 day
  •  10% in complete silence for 120 days.

Fortunately, this is was not true across the entire population. We observed 48% of organizations provided regular updates to their members, posting an update at least every 15 days, or twice a month. Taking outliers out, we noticed that the mean, or most frequent occurring value, was 7 days between updates regarding these items.

Participants understand the current climate

To analyze what participants are saying about their experience with youth sports organizations we performed an open-source sentiment analysis comparison between reviews left in 2019 and the period since the pandemic broke out. Even though the overall score for both periods is a 9 in a scale from 1 to 10, we noticed that reviews in 2020 (in general, participant reviews have always been a “recommendation” or support for a club), we noticed a slight difference. There’s a significant portion of the reviews in 2019 that came with a suggestion on something that could be improved about the club, like communication or fields. Reviews in 2020 lost that portion altogether. Most of the reviews simply showed support for the organization and simple thought on what makes the place different from the rest. More on the sentiment analysis of the reviews in the following chapters of this series.

Data Sample

We analyzed 45,145 youth sports organizations across all sports, states, and youth levels. Despite the significant differences across youth sports organizations and businesses, Tipevo’s patented system allows for standardization making it possible to analyze these once dissimilar populations creating the largest data sample possible. Due to the complex fragmentation within the industry it is vital to analyze the largest and most diverse sample possible. Results taken from a smaller sample size would only provide an extrapolation from a statistically insignificant segment of the youth sports community. This level of coverage is unprecedented among researchers within this industry. 

 
Our analysis contains information grabbed directly from these organizations, whether they are editing their profile on Tipevo, getting user reviews on their profile from members of their communities or publishing something on their websites or social media pages.
 
We also perform a proprietary sentiment analysis on every piece of content we process to monitor the evolution of certain topics such us a “covid-19” or “fall season.”

 

Definitions

Youth Sports Organizations: Youth Sports Programs designed specifically for children under the age of 18. The organizations offer training and competition. Youth sports programs consists of formally organized for-profit, non-profit and education based entities. 

 
Open-source sentiment analysis: Interpretation and classification of emotions (positive, negative and neutral) within text data using text analysis techniques.
 
Youth Sports Organizations in our Sample

 

For more information on this series contact us at research@tipevo.com, or you can visit biz.tipevo.com to learn more about Tipevo.