As a Phillies fan, it’s a bit difficult to write about baseball right now. But the World Series goes on, and it seemed like the perfect time for a YouthBeat blog on the state of bringing kids to big games.
We’re certainly not the first to bemoan the high cost of taking today’s kids to professional sporting events (see this blogger’s recap of the costs associated with taking her Chicagoland kids to Wrigley for the first time). Back in 2008, the average cost of an outing at Fenway Park was just under $50 per person – for tickets alone. But high ticket prices are just one of a number of deterrents…Many stadiums have family-friendly sections, but the risk of exposing little kids to adult language and “themes” at a game make many parents think twice before bringing their children to the park. And baseball might be the professional league that’s the friendliest to young fans (with some newer stadiums including fantastic playgrounds designed for little fans, like the Phanatic Phun Zone at the Phillies home field, Citizens Bank Park). Game times seem to make
catching a game tough for working parents, school kids and those with reasonable bedtimes (start times for a variety of sports often approach 8pm).
Does it matter that young fans have a tougher time getting in the gates today? Maybe not…After all, adults engage in many behaviors that they aren’t privy to as children. Children don’t necessarily rehearse all of their adult experiences during their pre-teen years, so it’s not a given that losing today’s youth will mean the loss of adult fans when this generation ages up. And go to a Philly suburb, or to downtown Chicago, or to Boston or New York or St. Louis, and you’re likely to wonder whether clothing stores stock items other than team jerseys.
But we think the risk, and more importantly, the lost opportunity to engage with youth deserves attention. First, pro sports aren’t the only game in town. Youth and their parents, in many markets, have begun to trade-out their trips to the big leagues for more family-friendly minor league games (the cost, for a family of four is just $57.50 on average, according to BizOfBaseball). College sports have an inherent appeal to kids, tweens and teens who often find the unpaid and much younger athletes more relatable. And alternatives to the traditional pro sports (think Arena Football) might chip away at enough of the young fan base to make the next group of adults think twice before professing their loyalty to the local football, basketball or baseball team.
The risk might be great, but the opportunity might be greater…We know that today’s families cherish family time more than ever. Parents seek out spaces that cater to their children, restaurants that feel family-friendly without sacrificing fun (for parents or kids!), and experiences that allow them to bond and build memories in the sometimes limited time they have to spend together. And with childhood obesity continuing to count high on parents’ lists of top concerns, parents would welcome the chance to expose their children to athletes who take their health seriously.
We’re not writing anything that the leagues themselves, and team owners, don’t know. The Philadelphia 76ers’ new owners took drastic action in their first days in charge: slashing ticket prices on nearly 9,000 seats and establishing the website NewSixersOwner.com to solicit fan feedback. All the major leagues continue to court a younger audience through pro-social initiatives that support little leaguers and children in need of safe spaces to play. New arenas include more amenities for young families than ever before.
But still, the lesson to take from this change in the face of the fan base of major sports is one that brands in many categories should heed: kids today matter in the decisions their families make. And while they might grow up and grow into new brands and experiences, regardless of what they did during childhood, they might also redefine the “norm” for their own generation. And if you’re not willing to invest in them, someone else will.