SBJ/January 23-29, 2012/Opinion

How high school sports can join Most Influential

SBJ’s picks for the 50 most influential people in sports business (Dec. 12-18, 2011, SportsBusiness Journal) is a great barometer for where our collective focus is as an industry. I find it troubling that not one person on this list represents or provides a voice for education-based high school sports. This is not a criticism of SBJ’s choices, however, it is a major criticism of our collective focus as an industry.

Consider the facts. There are 19,000 member schools within the National Federation of State High School Associations with nearly 8 million participating student athletes (NCAA has about 400,000). State associations are the caretakers for thousands of teams participating in football, basketball, baseball, soccer and many others. Education-based athletics is the foundation for our entire industry. These are the associations and schools that represent all high school athletics in the U.S., and I am here to tell you that they are largely ignored by our industry.

High school is the first place that widespread governance comes into play both at the state and national level. Without education-based high school sports, I contend there would be no NFL, NBA, MLB or any other major pro/college league. There are many stories in SBJ about the incredible dollars being spent, paid, lost and gained at the top levels of sports. It is ironic because the foundation for all of this is eroding right in front of us.

Our company has been blessed to find some corporate entities that have made a true devotion to supporting these activities. I am honored to attend annual conferences hosted by the NFHS and listen to all of the state executive directors. The financial decline is absolute, real and continuing. 

The people on this list are very influential. They (we!), along with the leagues, teams, sports, etc., have the ability to do something quite special. Education-based high school sports needs a seat at the table and they need to be heard loudly and clearly! We have the ability to sustain and strengthen the long-term future of our industry. There needs to be a concrete moment and commitment, a seismic shift in how we do things. Is responding to this call the responsibility of the major leagues? Yes. Major conferences? Yes. Sports networks? Yes. Our industry? Yes. Professional athletes? Yes. The people on the top 50? Yes. Mine? Absolutely. I’m talking about true financial support that is large, sustained and dedicated, not flowery support and PR to make ourselves feel good. 

We need a leader to step forward and do this. Didn’t Bill Gates and family do something special to sustain their own industry when they created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a strong emphasis on technology? 

Take a look at this picture: Major apparel companies outfit our best pros and colleges with free gear; inner city high schools pay full price for theirs. By “sponsoring” these multimillion-dollar teams, what happens to the price point for the paying high school teams? There is no intent to lay blame on any company or segment of our industry, but simply to provide an honest look at where it is heading.   

I would like to see an NFHS or state executive director on the top-50 list, but that would be a misplaced ranking because they do not have much influence in the picture of our current industry. In other ways, they hold more influence than anyone.

Can anyone change this? Yes. Top 50 is a good place to begin.

Peter Fitzpatrick
Cleveland

Fitzpatrick is president and founder of Home Team Marketing.
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