The days of the tape-patched ball, the sandlot field and the pickup game may have gone the way of the Studebaker and Howdy Doody. These days, as many parents know, kids’ sports can cost big money.
Researchers interested in getting kids to be more physically active have found that the cost of doing things right mounts quickly into the hundreds of dollars.
The work was done by the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, an office of Michigan State University. Researcher Mike Clark and his colleagues singled out 10 sports and went shopping.
They gauged individual players’ costs from equipment catalogs and sporting goods suppliers and looked at program costs for such things as maintaining pools, fields and bleachers.
In general, younger kids in sports that don’t have large safety costs get off cheaper, the researchers found. A starting baseball player may need only a $35 glove, while more advanced young athletes may spend $100 for a glove to fill their needs.
And a glove is only one item. The average total costs for clothing and other items needed to outfit a baseball or softball player range from $200 to $435, the report said. Of this, $140-$325 is personal equipment for each participant, while the rest covers items associated with the team, such as balls, bats, helmets and bases, it said.
The cheapest sport for the individual and the team was swimming, averaging $30-$60 per swimmer. The most expensive was hockey, averaging $475-$960, of which $400-$800 was personal equipment. Tennis was $150-$400, of which the team’s costs might be $25-$50 for tennis balls.
Gear is only part of the cost of a sport; the playing area also must be maintained. The study did not look at the cost of building a playing area, but instead focused on the cost of upkeep.
The cheapest was tennis, at $250 per court, largely for resurfacing and remarking the court. The most expensive was hockey, at $30,000 per rink, mostly for such things as laying, maintaining and repairing the ice. Baseball or softball cost $1,000 per season, with items ranging from mowing to maintaining or replacing spectator seating. And swimming cost $5,000 per pool, including filling and cleaning the pool, and upkeep on the pumps.
The result is that even sports that appear cheap for the participant can be expensive for the community, the researchers said. “There is more to the decision of which sports to sponsor than simply considering those with little equipment and inexpensive uniforms,” the study said.
Overall, ice hockey is clearly the most expensive sport, with swimming next, the report said. The cheapest was tennis, because a court generally does not require rebuilding once it’s installed.
Hockey sticks alone were a $69 million industry in 1994, with 3.4 million sticks sold, according to figures from the National Sporting Goods Association in Mount Prospect, Ill. The figure includes adults as well as children.
Total sporting goods sales, in every category the trade group tracks, were $15 billion, said Dan Kasem, NSGA’s manager of information services.
However, the cost of sports doesn’t seem to keep young people from playing, said Harvey Lauer, president of American Sports Data, a demographics firm in Hartsdale, N.Y.
Lauer did not have numbers on whether participation goes down as sports become less affordable. But his impression is that kids seem to afford what they want, even if they don’t actually use their equipment to exercise.
Athletic footwear is a case in point, Lauer said.
“You see kids filling their closets with $100 athletic shoes, and 80 percent of all shoes are never sweated in,” he said.
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