Decreasing budget support leading to privatization of youth sports

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The landscape of sports in America is changing dramatically. During the great recession and recovery, schools looking to trim budgets often cut funding for recreational sports and many government agencies delayed or cancelled plans to develop new sports complexes. Some public schools opt to cut the programs entirely, while others adopt a "pay to play" strategy: a reported 126 Michigan schools say they charge students to play a sport, according to USA Today (1). The Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA), a firm that plans, assists in funding, and manages amateur sports and recreation complexes, says that increasing budget cuts are leading the way for privatizate operators to take over youth sports. But the growing trend is producing facilities that charge fees for use, many of which are located in industrial areas where access can be difficult for students in single parent, rural, or lower-income areas, who often cannot afford to join athletic teams unaffiliated with their schools. In response, SFA is working with both private and public sector groups to employ new business and financing models that allow municipalities to obtain much needed funding and helping the private sector partner with the public sector in public private partnerships.

In addition to the physical benefits of sports participation, team-based and individual sports can help to build self-esteem, confidence and social skills, can motivate children to excel academically, and can also teach children the benefits of goal-setting and practice (2). But across the nation, funding cuts instituted during the recession are reducing or eliminating school sports programs, or even requiring athletes to pay hundreds of dollars to play. And the numbers are grave:

  • An estimated $3.5 billion was cut from school sports budgets during the 2009-2011 school years;
  • 60 percent of children must pay a fee to play, primarily in low-income areas;
  • By 2020, 27% of U.S. public schools will be without interscholastic sports programs (3).

SFA's CEO and founder, Dev Pathik, is not surprised by the above statistics. According to Pathik, in 2014 facilities that SFA managed and/or advised by will host leagues, tournaments, and events that will result in nearly 14 million visits – nearly all are unaffiliated with any school.

"Schools and publically funded sports programming are ideally suited to introduce essential skills such as teamwork, perseverance, goal setting, and commitment through sports. But basic sports skill building is now viewed as dispensable and has been steadily phased out of public schools. All of this is occurring as classroom sizes increase and kids are faced with nearly unimaginable pressures," Pathik stated. "But with the privatization of sports comes consequences: the privatization of sports increases the expense and limits access to sports participation. And that's a disparity issue which we are committed to addressing."

While the need of public schools to cut back on spending is authentic, Pathik deems eliminating school and community-funded sports to be a shortsighted strategy that will force many children to forego organized athletics and the associated benefits, per Pathik.

In response to these funding challenges, SFA is innovating new solutions. By planning and opening tournament style facilities that attract overnight stays and spending from visiting teams, SFA is assisting communities in generating substantial economic impact which can justify new facility developments and creates publically funded sports complexes that can be utilized during the week by non-tournament teams, schools, and parks and recreation groups. The model is taking hold as SFA works with communities throughout the U.S. to make these "sports tourism" concepts real. SFA is also innovating new programs within community recreation centers that improve financial results to allow community recreation centers to achieve better bottom line results.

"We believe in the power and importance of sports and have been working hard to design solutions that allow families and kids to benefit from new complexes," said Pathik.

SFA's as served a portfolio of more than $4 billion in planned and operational facilities. SFA's sister firm SFM is the industry leader in the managing of such complexes. Between 2013 and 2014 -the company will assist in opening more than 1.5 million square fee of indoor facilities, and nearly 600 acres of outdoor complexes.

For more information about the Sports Facilities Advisory and its suite of planning-funding-opening-management services, visit

About Sports Facilities Advisory:

The Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) is the leading resource in sports facility planning and management. The Sports Facilities Advisory has helped to plan, fund, open and manage dozens of multimillion-dollar sports complexes in communities throughout the USA and internationally since its founding in 2003. The company serves public and private clients. For more information, visit

  1. Houston, Jazmine. "Should Schools Cut Back Sports Funding and Focus More on Academics?." N.p., 17 Dec. 2011. Web. 8 May 2014.‌2011/12/should_schools_cut_back_sports.html.
  2. Davis, Amanda. "Why Should Children Play Sports?" N.p., 12 Aug. 2013. Web. 8 May 2014.
  3. "Even the Score." Up2Us, n.d. Web. 8 May 2014.