American youth are playing fewer team sports these days, and Dick’s Sporting Goods is looking to get more kids back in the game. The retailer recently launched its 75for75 Sports Matter Grant Program, which will distribute 75 grants worth $75,000 each to select youth sports programs across the country. The grants will be overseen by the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation in what could be described as a clear example of enlightened self-interest.
The program will distribute more than $5.6 million in 2023. The first 75for75 grant recipient is the Westinghouse High School football team in Pittsburgh, not far from the company’s corporate headquarters.
“Since Dick's was founded 75 years ago, we have believed sports have the power to change lives," Ed Plummer, the company’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement. "Whether it’s the friendships made in youth soccer, a coach who became a mentor, or a morning run that puts everything into perspective, the impacts of these experiences are what this campaign is all about. Our 75th anniversary is a great opportunity to focus even more of our efforts on the communities and youth sports programs where we can make a lasting impact.”
That impact is needed more than ever. Young children participated in team sports at a historically low rate last year, according to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play. Team sports participation dropped dramatically at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and stayed low into 2021. But while that trend is rebounding, it’s not back to pre-pandemic levels.
Only 37 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis in 2021, which is the most recent year of available data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. That’s down from 38 percent in 2020 and well below the 45 percent who played in 2008, the highest mark in recent decades. Then, team sports participation crashed just after the stock market in 2008, with help from the recession that followed. In better news, regular sports participation went up slightly for youth ages 13 to 17 in 2021, suggesting that school sports and elite travel sports may have lessened the impact of COVID-19 for this age group.
With these trends in mind, the 75for75 Sports Matter Grant Program is part of Dick’s Sporting Goods' largest ever brand campaign — “Sports Change Lives” — in celebration of its 75th anniversary and founding principles. In addition to the grant program, the company’s foundation renewed its $1.5 million contract with Good Sports to provide 20 of the most under-resourced communities across the country with $75,000 worth of youth sports equipment in 2023. Additionally, the foundation has established a new $1 million partnership with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to launch the Game On — Community Places to Play Initiative, which will help to create or renovate up to 20 multi-use youth sports spaces in underserved communities.
Dick's also debuted a new marketing campaign that highlights the positive impact sports can have on an individual’s character, friendships, physical and mental health, academic achievement and, more broadly, the way sports can bring together and inspire communities.
The company is also set to become the official sporting goods retail partner of the NCAA and all 90 of its men’s and women’s sports championships. The partnership will include exclusive category sponsorship rights to select fan events during the men’s and women’s Final Four games, access to exclusive NCAA championship event licensed merchandise and media investments during the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, courtside signage, exclusive content production using historical footage and access to multiple college championships.
Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation have committed more than $170 million to support young athletes since 2014. The foundation’s goal is to help give 2 million children the opportunity to participate in team sports by 2024.
Image credits: Dick's Sporting Goods/PR Newswire and Alliance Football Club/Unsplash
Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications.