Dick's Sporting Goods: Wanting To Save School Sports From The Fate of the Arts

Mar 7 2014, 5:57pm CST | by

America’s largest sporting goods chain is launching a campaign to try to get some awareness, and money, toward the problem of increasingly cash-strapped school and youth sports teams — while also teaching those programs how to be more effective in their own fund-raising efforts.

The foundation associated with Dick's Sporting Goods is offering programs the chance to get a share of $2 million — a total the company concedes is a drop in its ubiquitous (at least in my town’s leagues) baseball buckets — as well as drumming up awareness about the problem through commercials and a movie highlighting the financial challenges many programs are facing.

When I asked Ryan Eckel, the vice president of brand marketing for Dick’s, what motivated this program, he made a comparison that I hadn’t heard before, but I think is very apt and should resonate with anyone who has every seen a VH1 promo for its “Save the Music” campaign or had a child who no longer had a choir in which to sing. “Hopefully, the fate of sports isn’t the the same as the fate of the arts in school,” Eckel said. “We don’t know it’s going down until it’s gone.”

If that seems a little high-minded from a company that stands to benefit if more kids need sporting equipment, well, sure, it is. However, downward trends identified by Dick’s — billions of dollars cut from school sports programs in recent years,  the possibility that by the end of the decade nearly one in three public high schools will have no interscholastic sports programs, about 40 percent of schools requiring “pay-to-play” fees from athletes — haven’t yet affected the company’s finances. Its revenue keeps going up every year, to $5.8 billion in 2013.

Of course, that revenue includes grown-ups buying equipment for themselves, and families for elite travel teams players buying high-end equipment. However, overall industry trends are showing erosion in participation that could at some point hit Dick’s as well as anyone else who sells sporting goods. To quote myself:

Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a trade group for what it calls “leading industry sports and fitness brands, suppliers, retailers and partners,” in January reported that since 2008, or around the start of the Great Recession, “team sports have lost 16.1 million participants or 11.1% of all team participants, measured by those who played at least once a year.” The sports taking the biggest hit in 2013 were the biggest sports: football, basketball and baseball — a trend that the National Sporting Goods Association, a retail trade group, noted ... (and that are increasingly being reflected in high school sports participation numbers).

While a lot of school arts budgets have taken hits over the last many years, private organizations — such as symphonies — have stepped in to try to make up for the losses and the beat the drum (pun not… OK, maybe it is intended) for public awareness of how the arts benefits students. In a way, that’s what Dick’s is trying to do with its Sports Matter campaign, which is officially launching at what was formerly just an arts event, the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, which is where Eckel was when I talked to him on the phone March 7.

The way it works: organizations can apply to Dick’s foundation at the Sports Matter web site if they are associated with a nonprofit or a school, and have had to cut teams, or are close to having to cut teams, or haven’t been able to field teams at all, because of funding issues. Dick’s won’t pay the full freight — it will match half of what the applicant itself can raise. Dick’s also is asking to see a budget and get other detailed information. Applications have to be in by late May, so time is tight.

The idea, Eckel said, is that the applicant shows that, if it doesn’t know already, that it can “learn how to fund-raise.” The $2 million is only going to help 75 to 100 teams, and won’t help them forever, Eckel said. With those billions in cuts not being restored anytime soon, schools and youth sports organizations are going to have to “invest,” he said, in fundraising skills.

“We agree that [$2 million] is not going to fully solve the problem,” Eckel said. “It’s a very small first step for a much larger issue.”

Now, with four kids having gone through youth sports, and with my wife being secretary of the high school’s athletic booster club, I’m well aware that many organizations are already knee-deep in fundraising. If there’s an issue, it’s not that leagues and schools don’t have any idea how to raise money. It’s figuring out whether their current efforts are truly maximizing the money they can make.

One thing Dick’s says it’s trying to do is build awareness so that the wider community, the one that doesn’t have kids in sports, grows more sympathetic to the cause of funding them. On the Dick’s Sports Matter web site, there is a button if someone wants to contribute to the foundation.

Plus, there will commercials featuring real kids in real troubled programs, and a movie about two Philadelphia high schools merging terms that will be shown on ESPN2 on April 26. Dick’s has also enlisted some sports celebrities to help spread the word, including ESPN Monday Night Football announcer Jon Gruden, actor (not the basketball player) Michael B. Jordan, and track star Sanya Richards Ross.

Does Dick’s stand to benefit if, indeed, people believe sports matter? Of course it does. But there’s no doubt that a lot of kids are having a lot more issues with getting access to competitive sports. Hopefully, beating the drum — no pun here — will help at least get people to think of this as a problem.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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