Rochester, New York is jumping on the bandwagon. Sandusky, Ohio refuses to be left out. Rantoul, Illinois is making its own big statement. What do these communities have in common? They have all joined the growing trend across the U.S. of creating multimillion-dollar youth sports complexes that will serve expansive communities, attract major travel tournaments and teams, and bring in loads of cash for area businesses. It’s official. Sandlot ball has gone Big Business.
That won’t be a revelation to any parent whose children have participated in youth sports at any level, especially the travel team level. Costs of equipment, trainers, team “tuitions” and travel expenses can easily reach well into the thousands each year for each child. These mega youth sports complexes are just the latest craze in this crazy, commercialized world of youth sports.
We’ve come a long way since Joe Tomlin found an empty lot in Philadelphia to begin his Pop Warner youth football program in 1929, in order to keep young boys from vandalizing local businesses. And what would Carl Stotz think of today’s youth sports industry? It’s a far cry from the humble origins of his first Little League games created in 1938 on sandlot baseball fields around Williamsport, PA.
The City of Rochester spent $2.1 million (through a mix of public and private funding) on their indoor sports complex that will house multi-purpose courts and turf fields, a weight room, locker rooms. Their mayor welcomed the 2020 development project by saying that Rochester youth sports teams would now have “access to the same year-round training opportunities, scrimmages, practice sessions,” and sports medicine professionals as their suburban counterparts. (Oh goody. More “year-round training” for kids; precisely what the experts warn against.)
The folks in Rantoul, Illinois have a bigger vision than that. They are about to break ground on a $20 million sports complex aimed to attract people from all over the Midwest. Their plan calls for a 60-plus acre facility that will include eight multi-sport turf fields and eight turf baseball and softball diamonds. Rantoul officials believe the complex can attract massive youth sports tournaments and thereby drive economic development in the area, including restaurants, hotels and retail. Their mayor said he believed this complex “is the economic engine that can take Rantoul into the future.” Wow. Who knew how much was riding on our little pee wee athletes’ shoulders?
Sandusky, Ohio is going even further. In January they will open their new $32 million indoor Cedar Point Sports Center with enough room for 10 full-sized basketball courts, or 20 volleyball courts. It will complement their outdoor Sports Force Parks located next door, which opened in 2017 and houses 10 multi-sport turf fields. And to local officials, it fits nicely with their famous Cedar Point Amusement Park, especially as they aim to attract more visitors – and business – to the area during the colder off-season months. They seem poised to be correct. In February the new indoor facility will host its first volleyball tournament, with 130 teams participating. That should give local restaurants, hotels and gas stations a nice head start for the year.
According to Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal, youth sports complexes are being developed at a rapid pace, with over $550 million invested in such projects just in the last three years. Apparently our kids’ sports are not only driving us crazy, they are also driving the economies of local communities all over the U.S. So get ready to hit the road, with even more tournament destinations at your disposal. And don’t complain. After all, you did sign your kid up for a travel team.