Story Contributed by Grant Gibbons and Carson McKinney
A 2018 Aspen Institute study found that the big three (soccer, baseball, basketball) youth sports have lost participants in recent years. However, travel sports organizations are still a huge moneymaker — by some estimates, a $15 billion industry.
Kymberly Van Every, an Oxford soccer mom, says she’s willing to pay to play because she’s looking out for her son.
“If he wasn’t playing travel now, he would not get enough soccer in, I don’t think, to get him to the level that he’s at,” she said.
Van Every’s son, Everhett is a decorated athlete, with trophies and medals scattered throughout his room. The sport that has his heart, however, is soccer.
“I want to go and play college soccer and then after that try and go like to the pro ones in America,” he said.
Mississippi Flood soccer coach Tim Murphy says America’s approach to travel sports is still evolving.
“Sports are a big part of this country and I’m a big proponent of sports team environments the whole thing. But travel sports—travel baseball, travel football, travel soccer—I think they’re going to continue to improve,” Murphy said.
The city of Oxford’s sports complex, FNC Park, has been an economic driver for the area, mostly thanks to travel teams and tournaments.
“In 2016 the economic impact to the city from FNC Park was approximately $3.8 million and in 2018 that grew to $4.5 million, a plus 8.5% growth,” says Assistant Director of FNC Park Clay Brownlee.
Brownlee says when his family moved to Oxford in 1996, travel baseball was nonexistent.
“Back then we only had ‘Rec’ play and if you were good enough you made All-Stars, and that’s when you travel to District, State and maybe Regionals. But you had to win to advance. There was no travel ball,” he said.
Now, Brownlee says, travel sports in Oxford are in abundance.
“Travel sports are very competitive,” he said. “If you want to play high school baseball or college baseball, or high school tennis, or college, that’s where competitive sports lie.”