It’s no secret youth sports can get very expensive and the average family struggles to pay entry fees to watch their children’s games. Last season, my husband and I opened a credit card designated specifically for our youth athletes’ gear, league fees, games, and events. When we went to pay it off after the end of the season, I almost fell off my chair! In total, we spent roughly $5,300 for a five-month season including costs for gas, food, and travel. So the big question is "Why do we pay to watch our kids play?"

According to a 2017 TD Ameritrade survey, 63-percent of American youth sports parents spend somewhere between $100 to $500 per child every month to participate in sports programs. Roughly 20-percent of youth sports parents will spend more than $12,000 a year per child in youth sports. The average American family only makes about $57,000.

That means, if these estimated costs are accurate, it will cost me $36,000 a year to continue to have all three of my boys in sports. That’s not including traveling to tournaments or post-season championships, which often happen out-of-state.

How parents manage to pay for youth sports

Many families deploy a two-parent working household just to afford the rising costs of youth sports. It also means fewer vacations, fewer childhood activities such as endless movies, water or theme parks and entertainment in total. For instance, we have cut back our theater movies to only twice a year. For our family, it usually means only going for the next big blockbuster Marvel movie and the next Star Wars saga.

This last year we had to choose between going to see Captain Marvel and Avengers End Game because it was mid-baseball season for all three boys. We still haven’t seen Captain Marvel. We also cut out in-home entertainment like satellite TV for the cheaper alternative of streaming, to be able to afford new youth sports gear.

Truthfully, like us, you are probably wondering how you are going to pay the increasing costs to simply attend your youth athletes' games, tournaments, and championships when you’ve already paid for them to play the sport in the first place. I’ll admit even standing at the gates to pay in order to see my children play the sports they love (even as a coach) it makes me a little upset.

The average sports family of 5 will pay $25 to see one child play one time.

Youth sports typically have 1 or 2 games a week, which amounts to $50 a week for one child or $150 a week for three youth athletes. Youth sports seasons run roughly 9-weeks. That amounts to about $450 per child a season or $1,350 a season for three athletes. I don’t know about you, but that’s higher than my house payment. That begs the question. Why are we paying an admission fee to watch our sports athletes play when we have already paid for them to play?

Why parents pay entry fees

So, what do those admission fees really go toward? And why do we have to pay them? High school athletic directors and league directors all say those fees are necessary to run successful sports programs year-round. According to athletic and league directors, here is a small list of what entry fee’s cover:

  • Facility rent, mortgage, etc.
  • Facility employees
  • Facility security year-round
  • Facility maintenance year-round
  • Concession stands
  • Officiants, referees, etc.
  • Gear, equipment for game time
  • Utility costs
  • Repairs
  • Facility insurance
  • Training grounds and equipment
  • Costs incurred for tournaments and post-season championships
 

In fact, most high schools don’t make one dime from admission fees; they are simply trying to break even according to several youth athletic directors in Arizona. The earliest recording entry fees for spectators of youth sports started in the late 1900s.

The National Federation of State High School Associations said it costs high schools and leagues an average of $1.1 million a year to run youth sports programs year-round. Most high schools only get a fraction of that money from state or federal funding. Leagues get no state or federal funding; it’s all from parents, donations, and fundraisers.

Remember why they play

Yes, parents, it will cost us close to an arm and a leg, or at the very least feel like it, for a lifetime of memories and potential dreams met to keep our children in youth sports programs. There is a reason and a purpose for these fees. Sure, I don’t like them any more than you do, but the benefits outweigh the costs. However, there is light at the end of this tunnel in the form of fundraising, which a future Sportlo blog article will dive more into.

Whether your All-Star is playing for fun, for a future high school, college or professional career try to remember why they choose to participate in sports as well as the life lessons they are learning on or off the fields. But, for now, parents, just try to relax, enjoy your young athletes’ games and experiences. Don’t worry so much about the financial aspect. Your Sportlo community is here to give you some ideas and ways of navigating that obstacle.

Want to connect with other sports parents? Get early access to Sportlo, the first Social Network for Sports Parents, today!

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April Morganroth is a Multimedia, Print, Broadcast & Digital Journalist. She is also an Anchor & MMJ Reporter at iHeart Media as well as a Baseball Mother, Coach, and Sportlo contributor.

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