“For better or worse, youth sports are being privatized,” says Jordan Fliegel, an entrepreneur who has capitalized on the shift. Whatever the answer is, the transition has been seismic, with implications for small towns, big businesses and millions of families.
The United States Specialty Sports Association, or USSSA, is a nonprofit with 501(c)(4) status, a designation for organizations that promote social welfare. According to a recent available IRS filings, it generated $13.7 million in revenue in 2015, and the CEO received $831,200 in compensation. The group hosts tournaments across the nation, and it ranks youth teams in basketball, baseball and softball. The softball rankings begin with teams age 6 and under. Baseball starts at age 4.
Only 2% of high school athletes go on to play at the top level of college sports, the NCAA’s Division I. For most, a savings account makes more sense than private coaching. “I’ve seen parents spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars pursuing a college scholarship,” says Travis Dorsch, founding director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University. “They could have set it aside for the damn college.”
The boom has given rise to countless entrepreneurial efforts, from new facilities to recruiting sites to private-coaching outfits. Even during the depths of the Great Recession, revenue for Travel Team USA, a company that books youth-sports travel, continued to double year over year. In 2012, entrepreneur Fliegel launched CoachUp, an app that connects young athletes with coaches. The NBA star Stephen Curry is an investor. “It doesn’t hurt to say Steph’s one of the bosses,” says Victor Hall, a New York City teacher and coach who calls the private hoops lessons he offers through the app a “thriving” side business.