Addressing youth sports funding challenges

Sports participation rates are declining in nearly every major sport while childhood obesity and diabetes rates have risen to levels unsustainable to society. The looming health crisis associated with a sedentary lifestyle has numerous causes, so the Aspen Institute’s Project Play was created to help stakeholders improve access to sport in all communities. Further complicating these issues is the fact that American kids from lower income families are most at risk of missing out on a sports experience. In an era when elite and travel sports athletes dominate the youth sports landscape, underserved communities are the least likely to enjoy the social, health, and community benefits that contribute to a child becoming a well-balanced adult.

On October 6, the Sports Facilities Advisory and Sports Facilities Management ( (SFA|SFM), partnered with The Aspen Institute to host the “Where’s the Money Roundtable” event held at the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C. The roundtable assembled more than two dozen leaders from the public infrastructure, finance, parks and recreation, and facility and parks development sectors, to identify funding solutions that can assist communities in maintaining and developing places for kids to play. The SFA|SFM are sister firms that have helped more than 700 communities to identify strategy around sports facility developments, and now provides management to venues that will host more than 16 million visits this year. SFA|SFM has overseen a portfolio totaling more than $5 billion in youth and community sports complexes.

The availability of facilities and recreation spaces for children to play sports is directly related to participation rates. By finding ways to increase the number of facilities available to children in communities around the country, more may gain access to an athletic team or group.  As a result of the October 6, the Aspen Institute will produce a resource that can be disseminated nationally to assist local government officials, financial advisors, economic development entities, and parks and recreation departments, in their efforts to improve access to sport.

SFA|SFM CEO and founder Dev Pathik, said, “These tools need to be practical and they need to deliver on the promise to keep facilities open and to support new developments. These resources are being produced with the guidance of Wall Street Public finance experts and a number of other groups because we want this to lead to changes in the trends in sports participation.”

“Much of the work of Project Play to date has been focused on the development of quality sport programs and experiences for kids,” says Tom Farrey, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. “But programs don’t exist without places to play. If programs are the software, parks and recreation facilities are the hardware.”

The roundtable explored innovative strategies and models used to finance more facilities, identified new opportunities for public and private actors to work together, and will produce a simple toolkit that city and sport leaders can use to determine financing options. In a post-event survey, roundtable attendees identified “more innovative financing models” and “more public-private partnerships” as the two best opportunities to grow the availability of sport and recreation spaces in communities.

See what roundtables participants had to say about the topic in these Aspen Institute videos:

Why are Play Spaces so Important? (

Financing Play Spaces (

Influencing Industry Leaders (


The issues facing the world of youth sports are of such importance that the past Project Play events have drawn the participation of notable Project Play leaders including President Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Craig Robinson, Michelle Kwan, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, and American College of Sports Medicine CEO Jim Whitehead.

Based in Washington D.C., the Aspen Institute is an educational and policy study organization with the mission to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. Project Play, an initiative of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, is a multi-stage effort to provide stakeholders with platforms to build healthy communities through sport.

The mission of SFA|SFM is to improve the health and economic vitality of the communities they serve through the proper planning and management of community based sport and recreation centers. Additionally, the organization improves performance of existing sport and recreational complexes. It works with public, private, religious, government, and institutional clients, and also partnered with the Aspen Institute to support the goals of Project Play.

The Sports Facilities Advisory and Sports Facilities Management (SFA|SFM) is the leading resource in sports facility planning and management. SFA|SFM has served a portfolio totaling more than $5 billion in planned and operational sports centers since its founding in 2003. For more information, visit