30 Jun

Camp In The Cloud: A Different Type Of Summer For The Youth Sports Business

by: Tanner Simkins @TannerSimkins 

This time of year thousands of parents would be beginning the annual rite of passage, sending kids off to any myriad of summer camps for weeks or months. From the traditional all encompassing programs to highly targeted sports specific camps, not to mention elite travel programs, rare was the time when someone in your circle did not have a friend or relative having at least one young one on the road somewhere at least for a few weeks.

This year all that has ground to almost a full stop. Into that void has come a myriad of options…Zoom chats, virtual classes, Skype group projects, recorded programs, even some distance learning options, but nothing like the traditional for the multi billion dollar camp business in the coming eight weeks or so. It has left operators, families, and one of the forgotten groups in this, youth coaches, scrambling to figure out alternatives.

One that has arisen through the Pandemic is Famer. The New York-based technology platform announced a deal earlier this year with the NBPA to get hoops stars and coaches into the cloud-based platform, providing access to millions of kids around the world with their interactive skills business. It is an idea that can have long legs going forward.

Then this week Famer announced a deal with US Sports Camps, one of the largest camp programs in the country, to try and reach another 300,000 sports-minded kids in a wide variety of sports. US Sports Camps would have been somewhat dark this summer, but the Famer deal gives them a brighter light to engage and bridge the gap.

“This has been a difficult time for us at US Sports Camps,” said Justin Hoeveler, EVP of US Sports Camps in a release Monday. “2020 is the first summer in 48 years that we haven’t operated in-person summer sports camps for young athletes. The partnership with Famer has been tremendous so far. The testing we’ve done this Spring has given us a window to see how young athletes, coaches, and parents can interact, learn and have a positive virtual experience that enhances skill development and athletic performance. We’re excited to continue to digitally connect our coaches and campers through the summer and beyond.”

So is the digital space being accepted as a go-to for all aspects of youth sports right now. It seems to have found a niche, and in the future, could supplement, whether that is a traditional camp that wants to stay engaged, or a youth sports program itself wanting to get on to the field that has been slowed by social distancing and the continued advance of COVID 19.

“These are organizations that used the time to think about their capacity, their models, their safety protocols and how they were training their staff,” Jeremy Goldberg, president of LeagueApps told Sports Business Journal this week. “So they’re really ready to go and eager to go to make that happen. Club organizations in general have bounced back and are more optimistic about the future.”

That future from a training aspect should include an aspect of cloud based interactive learning like what Famer and others are doing. “The grand vision is to try and build the Airbnb of coaching and training,” Famer CEO Rich Abend told CNBC Monday as well. “As we grow and start to build out the supply side and demand side, now you have kids, coaches, trainers finding each other all over the world.”

Even with the cloud-based systems up and running, one other area aspect of return to play is player health and wellness. While elite athletes have the benefit of in-depth eating and dietary programs, many worry that even the college and high school athlete, who may have been working out and sending in  his or her workouts for evaluation, may have spent months at home with a sugary beverage or too much pizza. That lack of a physical presence, one that is seen through a screen, may be an eye opener for when groups now start to reconvene, be they baseball travel teams or college and high school soccer and volleyball programs. Some organizations like AAU have worked closely with their fitness and nutrition groups to try and make sure the shock of return to play, or to camp, isn’t taxing on the system.

“On-Line content and sources of healthy eating, snacking and hydration are not short on supply but finding relevant and accurate information for a family’s kids will be an extra step for decision makers in the family,” said Pat Cavanaugh, founder and CEO of READY Nutrition, the fast-rising brand that is the official nutrition partner of the AAU. “In the past, those decisions would have been made by camp staff and nutrition advisors and then provided with camp meals and snacks.”

Left to their own devices, literally, be it online training or healthy meals, many may take the easier way out. Pop in a frozen pizza, turn on a video and move ahead. However what the Pandemic has taught us is that cloud based learning, a user friendly and effective mobile space, and properly integrated programs big and small can help advance youth sports and camping experiences, not hinder them. There is no doubt that many “traditional” sports experiences for kids are going by the wayside this summer.  The hope is the learnings and best practices, create a positive reenvisioned future for a business like youth sports, and summer camps, when we return to a new normal, no matter what that looks like.