Introduction & Methodology

This is the second part of a multi-part research series to analyze the state of youth sports and COVID-19’s impact.  You can read the introduction and part one of the series here.  This series installment will outline our discoveries from an in-depth data analysis on the return of youth sports programs who were previously disrupted. To understand this, we analyzed 44,654 programs and we ran a sentiment analysis on 18,373 social media accounts across 29 youth sports.  Due to the fragmented state of the industry and the varying nature of guidelines and protocols, we’ve chosen to populate the largest sample size available through Tipevo’s patented system. Additional information about the scope of this study can be found in the ‘Data Sample Details’ 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 impacts 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 who have now returned to play after being disrupted initially, in addition to how they communicated their return.  This post outlines our data findings and provides expert industry insight around what this could mean for the current state of youth sports.

Section 1: What return to activity looks like

When considering programs that have returned to activity, we first needed to define the parameters used to determine who has returned. For this specific sample, we’ve defined ‘return to activity’ as a return to in-person play. This definition does not differentiate between programs that have resumed games or tournaments and programs that have only returned to the practice setting. With these definitions we performed a positive sentiment analysis using a combination of keywords (or lack of keywords) and looked closely at post activity (or inactivity) for over 18,350 social media accounts, across 29 different youth sports in order to quantify programs that have returned to activity.

 

In analyzing the data associated with return to activity, we identified two key considerations that impacted a program’s ability to offer activities.

Program Location

The first parameter to consider is the location, specifically the state where the program resides. In this case, each state has followed different guidelines and protocols for reopening amidst the pandemic.  At present, some states have completely reopened while others have had to alter the rules and format of the game to be able to return, if at all.

  • Example One: In the state of Massachusetts, soccer programs who wish to return to play have had to alter the laws of the game to maintain safety and adhere to local social distancing guidelines. Details of these changes were outlined and released in the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association’s Return to Soccer Activities Guidelines.
  • Example Two: The state of California released specific Covid-19 Interim Guidance that prohibits youth sports events and competitions for the entire state.

 

Top Ten States | length of silence
Sport-Specific Constructs

A second consideration, is the specific construct of each sport. Given the widespread impact of COVID-19, the following trends have appeared when comparing and segmenting our initial sample.

Is the sport played indoors or outdoors?

Given the uncertainty surrounding transmission, specifically in relation to respiratory droplets and aerosol, the environment which the sports occurs in can significantly impact a programs ability to return to place.  

  • Example #1: We see that outdoor sports such as golf (4.2% of programs used the keyword cancellation) and lacrosse (10% of programs used the keyword cancellation) were able to avoid a significant, long term interruption in programming. 
  • Example #2: We see that indoor sports such as wrestling (17% of programs used the keyword cancellation) and basketball (13.31% of programs used the keyword cancellation) have had to incur a greater challenge in being able to return to activity.
Is the sport individual or team-based?
It is no surprise that sports which are individual-based have been able to return to activity quicker than sports which are team-based due to the importance of social distancing between athletes.  
  • Example #1: While this can also be applied to our first example above, specifically in relation to golf, we can also conclude that sports whose structure already allows for social distancing were less impacted overall, including in regard to return to activity.  We are able to notice a positive correlation, specifically when referencing tennis (5.71% of programs used the keyword cancellation) and swimming (3.95% of programs used the keyword cancellation). 
  • Example #2: Unfortunately, team-based sports have have seen struggles in returning to play in any capacity, whether that be with practice or competition.  We are able to identify negative correlations, specifically when referencing football or joint baseball and softball programs with 29.96% and 33.75% of programs having used the keyword cancellation on social media respectively.
Are the facilities privately owned or does the sport use facilities which may be part of a school, university or municipality?  

While this correlation can be a bit more difficult to quantify, facility access must be taken into consideration when we discuss a return to activity.  In short, does the program utilize private facilities who are able to make their own decision regarding reopening and the liability incurred, or does the sport utilize facilities which can be highly impacted due to local, state and federal guidelines and protocols.  

  • Example #1: We see that sports such as martial arts (6.02% of programs used the keyword cancellation) and gymnastics (2.93% of programs used the keyword cancellation) have been less impacted due to their traditional facility ownership structure.
  • Example #2: We see that sports such as wrestling (17.79% of programs used the keyword cancellation) and football (29.96% of programs used the keyword cancellation) have been greatly impacted due to the facilities they utilize being primarily in public facilities such as schools or universities.
Cancellations by Sport (Top 10)

Cancellations by Sport (Bottom 10)

 

Section 2: Return to Activity Details & Communication Insights

Return to Activity Trends & Considerations

As youth programs across the country begin to return to activity, we’ve identified both positive and negative social media trends emerge.

A Lack of Clear Communication Standards

Due to the nature of state guidelines and protocols for reopening, we’ve been able to identify multiple trends which have appeared in how programs are communicating with the public, specifically in regards to programming and a return to play.

  • Trend #1: In states where a return to activity has been impacted and/or prevented by governmental guidelines, external communication decreased.  We attribute this to the program not wanting to be the bearer of continued bad news in addition to the assumption that the state will be the one to communicate about guidelines and protocols.
    • California: Of the 1,714 programs in our sample, the average days of social media silence equates to 68 (3/50 in ranking each state)
    • Illinois: Of the 865 programs in our sample, the average days of social media silence equates to 34 (12/50 in ranking each state).
    • Washington: Of the 460 programs in our sample, the average days of social media silence equates to 45 (5/50 in ranking each state)
Guidelines and Protocols

With some states allowing for a return to activity quicker than others, we’ve also analyzed the amount of programs who have posted some sort of guideline or protocol, indicating that they have been able to return to play in some form.  Of the 18,373 programs in our sample, 2,715 (14.8%) have posted guidelines and protocols for their members and the local youth sports community on social media.

Sport-Specific Communication

In analyzing the data, we are also able to identify a correlation between the sport, their traditional season structure and the amount of external communication utilizing social media. For example, programs currently outside of their traditional season (whether due to a high school conflict or their offseason) have chosen to minimize communication.  This can be seen with traditional sports such as basketball (average days of silence, 108), wrestling (average days of silence, 85) and skiing (average days of silence, 79). 

Communication Sentiment

While youth sports programs can use social media for a variety of reasons, we are able to compare and reach conclusions based on the previous and current data available.  If a program has communicated something positive in nature (whether celebrating a return to activity, open registration or welcoming the fall), we can conclude that they have been able to move forward with programming in some capacity.  On the flip side, if a program is communicating something negative, we can conclude that they have either been interrupted or have yet to return to activity all together.  Of the 18,3737 social media accounts (and 27,200 posts) sampled, we can see that 52.6% of programs are communicating positively while 5% of programs are associated with a negative sentiment.  In addition, 42.3% of programs were qualified as not having a positive or negative sentiment.

Section 3: Data sample details

 

We analyzed 44,654 youth sports programs across all sports, states, and levels and then separated the sample to isolate those who have included accessible social media (Facebook) links on their program website. 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 programs, whether they are editing their profile on Tipevo, garnering reviews on their profile on Tipevo or publishing something on their websites and / 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 as ‘COVID-19’ or ‘fall season’.

Definitions

Youth sports organization defined as a formally organized for-profit, non-profit or education-based entity which offers participation opportunities through practice and competition for children under the age of 18.  

Returned defined as a program who, like most across the country, postponed all activities during the height of the pandemic (March 2020 – May 2020).  They’ve now returned to offering programming in some sort of physical form, whether games or practices.  

Cancelled defined as a program who has cancelled their programming and will not return to activity this year and used one of the following keywords; cancel, refund or shut down.

Unknown status defined as a program who has postponed or suspended their programming and may or may not return to activity this year and used one of the following keywords; postpone, suspend.

Open-source sentiment analysis defined as an interpretation and classification of emotions (positive, negative and neutral) within text data using text analysis techniques.

 


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