Planting Roots: The History of Youth Sports Sponsorships

A Much Needed Staple

Do you remember when you were a kid the first time that you stepped onto a baseball diamond? A soccer field? The hockey rink? Regardless of the sport, it’s both exciting and nerve-racking to have the opportunity to play, especially when you’re playing for the first time. The more time you spend dedicating yourself to playing, practicing, and getting better, the more hooked you become.

The exhilarating feeling of running the bases!

Sports can become a critical staple in a kid’s life. It can become a significant part of a child’s growth and development. Any competitive athlete, sports fan, parent, enthusiast, or supporter will tell you about how powerful it is to play, to be part of something that’s bigger than oneself. Being a part of a team and having the chance to learn, develop, and grow with others is an invaluable experience.

Unfortunately, the chance to play sports is not created equal. The harsh reality is that hundreds of thousands of kids are being deprived of the opportunity to play sports on annual basis because of one significant factor: COST. Sports leagues and organizations are struggling to keep up with the constantly rising costs associated with registration fees, facility maintenance, and scholarship funding and can not operate leagues effectively without additional funding.

Luckily, brands and companies around the country and world have been supporting youth athletes and leagues through sponsorships. Just as sports can become a staple in a kid’s life, sponsorship is a necessity in youth sports. A sponsorship is a reflection of a mutually beneficial relationship, where a business, brand, or company is offering support to community, recreational or travel youth sports organizations. Youth sports organizations benefit from the funding because the money can go toward lowering registration costs, providing new equipment, building scholarship funds, and maintaining facilities. Additionally, brands can build awareness, drive traffic, and engage with families in the communities they serve. In short, sponsorship is essential for keeping league operations running.

Our LeagueSide team believes that sponsorships provide the best solution in keeping leagues functional and participation rates up. More importantly, sponsorship has been a component of the formation of youth sports leagues for multiple decades. Because sponsorship played and continues to play such a critical role in supporting leagues around the U.S. and the world, it’s time to take a deeper dive into the history of youth sports sponsorships and the organizations responsible for bringing youth sports to life.

Little League Baseball and Softball

Little League Baseball and Softball is one of the most powerful youth sports organizations in the world, helping to develop baseball and softball programs in all 50 states and more than 80 countries. The organization prides itself on instilling positive core values into all players that participate, especially courage, character, and leadership. More than 2.4 million kids participate in a Little League affiliated organization every single year, which represents an astonishing portion of kids who participate in sports on an annual basis.

Little League was officially created in 1938 by Carl Stotz, an innovative and exploratory man who was determined to bring baseball to kids in his community of Williamsport, PA. Stotz had a vision of bringing kids together and got kids in his neighborhood excited to build the foundation of the game of youth baseball and softball. After working with close friends and families to sew together the original bases and carve out the pitcher’s mound, Stotz realized that he needed financial support in order to afford the equipment and player’s uniforms.

Little League represents the largest youth sports organization in the United States.

As a result, Stotz went into the community to visit managers and owners of local businesses to inquire about sponsorships for kids. After visiting almost every business in the town, Stotz was able to gather interest from two businesses in Lundy Lumber and Jumbo Pretzel to sponsor two teams while his company, Lycoming Dairy, put together enough funds to pay for the uniforms and equipment for the third and final team of the inaugural season. The sponsorship fee of the original Little League season was a mere 30 dollars! Stotz’s determination to give kids the chance to play was brought to life through the support and sponsorship of businesses in the local community.

Since the inaugural season, Little League has relied heavily on sponsorship at the local and national levels, with the goal to keeps costs for families to a minimum and participation rates high. Over the past 75 years, the organization has grown to support over 200,000 youth baseball and softball teams and has built sponsorship deals with some impressive and supportive brands including:

  • Gatorade: the leader in refueling athletes
  • Cigna: a global leader in health insurance
  • Subway: the largest sandwich shop chain in the world
  • Honda: an award-winning, international car company

From the very first season until now, from local businesses like Lycoming Dairy to major brands like Easton and Lance Snacks, Little League has relied on the support and funding provided through sponsorship. It was an integral component that helped to establish the first season and has helped the program develop to help hundreds of thousands of players have the chance to play.

United States Youth Soccer Association and American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO)

US Youth Soccer and AYSO represent the two largest youth soccer programs in the country, combining to give over 4 million kids the opportunity to play soccer in the United States. AYSO was established in Torrance, CA in 1964. From the humble beginning of hosting a mere nine teams, AYSO has organized over 50,000 teams with more than 600,000 participants. Founded by Hans Stierle and Bill Hughes, AYSO stressed the idea of open registration to increase participation and get more and more kids and families involved in the sport of soccer.

The original principle of open registration still holds to this day through AYSO’s Everyone Plays program, which guarantees that every child that registers will have the chance to play in at least half of every game over the course of a season. Through its network of over 125,000 dedicated volunteers, partnerships with marquee organizations such as the National Council of Youth Sports, and a dedicated array of corporate sponsors, AYSO has flourished for over 50 years.

US Youth Soccer has also seen rapid growth over the past four decades – the first season in 1974 had just over 100,000 players participating while the most recent season in 2016-2017 had more than 3.2 million players participating. US Youth Soccer was founded by three soccer activists in Karl Grosch, Don Greer, and Robert Nessler. These three individuals are responsible for writing the original constitution, rules and regulations of US Youth Soccer and were directly responsible for uniting all youth soccer programs in the United States. The vision of these men helped to build so many successful programs and provide young athletes around the U.S. with the chance to play the game of soccer.

Nesquik has been the Official Post Game Beverage of AYSO and US Youth Soccer for over three years.

Both of these youth soccer conglomerates were established to enhance the game of soccer, to provide kids an avenue to grow and develop skills, and to learn the fundamentals of the game. It’s incredible to see the unprecedented growth that both of these organizations over the years. It is also important to recognize the role that sponsorship played in helping these organizations grow. AYSO relied on local businesses throughout Torrance, CA to support the original nine teams and now relies on continuous support from large brands like Fox Sports 1, Nesquik, and Mutual of Omaha.

U.S. Youth Soccer has also been fortunate to have great contributions from large corporate partners over the years. Dr. Robert “Bob” Contiguglia was responsible for bringing on the first national sponsorship for the organization during his tenure as President from 1990 to 1996 and the organization has had no problem since building partnerships with some large companies. Clif Bars, Bubba Burger, Nike, and Dick’s Sporting Goods are among the main supporters of U.S. Youth Soccer in addition to Target, which recently committed another 14 million dollars in grants to the growth of youth soccer in communities around the country.

Target hopes to build an additional 100 youth soccer facilities by 2020!

As the two major soccer organizations have flourished, so have their corporate partnerships. Through these corporate partners, over 4 million kids are able to participate in soccer on an annual basis, which represents almost 45 percent of all youth soccer participation in the country.

USA Hockey

USA Hockey is the leading ice hockey organization in the United States, assisting the growth and development of the game of hockey since its inception in 1937 in New York City. USA Hockey was established primarily to help young people become leaders and promote a love for the game. Additionally, the organization serves as the governing body for the sport of ice hockey in the U.S. and is the official representative to the US Olympic Committee.

Since its first year of operations, USA Hockey has given over 1 million people across all 50 states the opportunity to play, with the largest portion of players falling between the ages of 6 to 18. This growth is fueled by the rise of professional organizations in select markets around the country. For example, over a 20-year period from 1993 to 2013, USA Hockey participation and club growth increased by an astounding 140 percent – registration tripled overall and saw more than five times as much in areas where a NHL affiliate plays. In short, the game is growing at an incredible rate and participation amongst kids is rising, which illustrates that the future of the game is in good hands.

So what has been the critical fuel that’s been helping to grow the game? Popularity in select markets and professional hockey has certainly played a role, but the support of key corporate partnerships has been even more important. Corporate partnerships and sponsorships were introduced originally to give brands and companies the opportunity to associate with USA Hockey at the national level to achieve goals like increasing brand awareness and rewarding employees. However, the growth of the game also led to the need for greater support at the youth level and hockey retailers like CCM, Bauer, and Pure Hockey immediately jumped on board as the largest supporters of youth programs around the country.

Today, USA Hockey relies on major partnerships with Dunkin’ Donuts, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and Enterprise to support hundreds of thousands of players, coaches and volunteers around the country have access to the game they love. The most unique partnership in recent years has been with Kraft Foods via their Kraft Hockeyville program, which gives hockey programs around the U.S. the chance to enter a $150,000 makeover of their rink facility, plus the opportunity to host a NHL preseason game. The partnership has become a staple in just three years, garnering a ton of traction and helping assist in improving infrastructure of youth hockey facilities around the country.With an uptick in support from brands like Kraft, the future of youth ice hockey in the United States looks bright and sponsorships will play a key role in continued growth for many years to come.

Keys to Future Success

It is clear that sponsorships provided a much needed foundation in the original growth of major youth sports organizations on a local, community, regional, and national level – it’s hard to imagine the world without organizations like Little League Baseball and Softball, US Youth Soccer, AYSO and USA Hockey. These organizations have provided thousands of children and families to participate in communities domestically and internationally. For many kids, a passion for playing and following sports originated by getting first-hand experience in being a part of a team or organization.

Sponsorships can be a game changer in keeping community youth sports participation up by combatting the continuously rising costs. In a time when costs are higher than they’ve ever been, it’s critical to remember that the foundation of community youth sports organizations relies on the support of companies on the local, regional, and national level.

Additionally, sponsoring youth sports organizations can be a powerful way for companies to achieve their marketing goals. Our team at LeagueSide makes it simple and effective for companies to sponsor youth sports organizations at scale. Let’s work together to bring sponsors to community youth sports leagues around the U.S.

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