SBJ/20100329/This Week's News

Youth sports still in good shape, as girls volleyball qualifiers show

When more than 10,000 teenage girls descended on Denver for two weeks this month at one of USA Volleyball’s 10 annual junior qualifiers, the event was significant for more than just the $13 million economic impact that the city credits to it. It was a sign of how the market for youth sports is holding up in a shaky economy.

When times get tough, parents are more likely to cut back on their own expenses and keep spending on their kids, said Kay Rogness, founder and co-owner of Tournament Magic, which operates the Denver event, Colorado Crossroads, and another event in Atlanta, the Big South National Qualifier. Indeed, Colorado Crossroads, which this year hosted 10,570 girls ages 12-18 on 1,056 teams, saw attendance increase from last year, when 9,500 girls attended on 950 teams.

Other events in the youth volleyball industry expect similar results this year, and the numbers seem to be holding up in other youth sports. Pop Warner, for example, had 281,000 athletes in 2009, an increase of 1,000 from the year before. Little League had 2.53 million players in 2009, a dip from 2.59 million in 2008.

A USA Volleyball junior qualifier brought
more than 10,000 girls and $13 million
to Denver this month. The number of
players was up more than 10 percent
from last year’s event.

It’s the continuation of a trend that Rogness has seen developing for years. In 1994, Colorado Crossroads drew just 1,280 players. The Big South National Qualifier run by Tournament Magic, which Rogness operates with partner Lauri Dagostino, had 8,400 attendees last year, up from 3,850 in 2000.

That kind of steady growth has helped keep youth sports sponsors involved and host cities happy.

The junior qualifiers, which determine which players advance to the junior national championship, each have five to 10 sponsors, ranging from title sponsors to exclusive providers. Though financial commitments can vary, Tournament Magic’s sponsors pay anywhere from the low five figures to the low six figures per year.

Georgia-based Mizuno title sponsors the Minneapolis junior qualifier, called Mizuno Northern Lights; the Mizuno Hoosiers Mideast Qualifier, played over two weekends in St. Louis and Indianapolis; and the Mizuno Lone Star Classic in Dallas. Mizuno is the official footwear and apparel provider of USA Volleyball, a relationship that extends to being the exclusive seller of apparel and footwear products at both the girls and boys junior national championships.

“As far as sales, our dealers will make between $30,000 to $60,000 in product sales alone,” said Emily Knight, Mizuno’s volleyball promotions coordinator. “A portion of that does come back to us, but for the most part it does go to the dealer. The branded value is hard to name as it is so important to have the brand in front of the girls.”

And there are plenty of young eyes at these events. The Big South National Qualifier in Atlanta brought in 840 teams last year, each paying a $775 entry fee. Admission to the event is $7 for a day or $15 for the weekend. Last year, 48,000 spectators came to watch.

The city of Atlanta estimates an economic impact of $30 million from hosting the tournament, but says the benefits of hosting youth sports go beyond the dollars.

“This type of amateur athletic event tends to come on weekends,” said Mark Vaughan, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, “when our convention business is not as active as it is during the week.”

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