What impact did COVID19 have on grassroots sports?

March 17, 2021

What impact did COVID19 have on grassroots sports?

COVID19 has impacted grassroots teams in many ways, our blog explores the areas affected such as finances health and community

It’s clear to see the far-reaching impact that COVID19 has had on communities across the world. Businesses, schools, leisure facilities and places of worship faced immediate closure and, with them, so did the community groups that are relied on by so many for a multitude of reasons.

When it comes to their role in the community, the value of grassroots sports teams is often overlooked. In the grand scheme of things it appears that local sports teams may have been categorised alongside the arts, viewed as nothing more than a hobby, even with the backing of powerful industry bodies such as the FA and leading sports figures around the world.

It’s likely that we can all remember the way that the recent government campaign, urging those in the arts to retrain, went down – ‘lead balloon’ comes to mind.

Beyond the pitch

There are more than 150,000 grassroots sports teams in the UK, and the reality of the pandemic is that many will struggle to survive, meaning the enormous contribution they make to the community, could be lost.

“The social function of community and grassroots sports is one of the main reasons people take part, so removing this from people’s life is what people have found ­hardest.” Dr Chris Mackintosh, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The truth is, grassroots sports clubs are about much more than sport. They play a vital role in the community that they reside within, helping to tackle social issues, underpinning body confidence in young players and instilling confidence and transferable skills that players can put to good use beyond the pitch. Not to mention the work that these clubs do when it comes to diversity and inclusivity.

So when we think about the impact that COVID19 has had on society in general; the disconnection, the loneliness and the impact on health, it doesn’t take long to realise that a lack of clubs to rely on can further escalate social disconnect and, furthermore, a rise in anti-social behaviour. This would especially impact the clubs in more deprived areas of the country where teams have a significant cultural, social and behavioural impact through championing self-worth, self-value and self-discipline.

A recent Dividend survey reported that rugby league is worth in excess of £185 million to the UK, and for every £1 spent by grassroots clubs and foundations, a social return of £4.08 is generated.

Health and fitness

The lack of regular activity will no doubt impact the fitness levels of players of all ages. While, of course, there is an opportunity to get our ‘hour’s worth’ of exercise each day – there is a stark difference between training alone, or with a family member, and enjoying the camaraderie and kinship of training as a team.

Of course, the mental health of those involved with grassroots teams is not to be ignored. The impact of sport on mental health is often unseen. Lack of connection, motivation, feelings of loneliness and even judgement for being outside for longer than the allotted time all add to the pressure that many currently feel.

Grassroots Funding

Grassroots sports clubs rarely make a profit, they are lucky to break-even. In fact, a 2018 survey by the Sports and Recreation Alliance found that less 45% broke-even or made a loss.

COVID19 will further reduce clubs’ incomes; money is made from players’ membership fees, match fees, local business sponsorship and club fundraising activity. And, although many of these income streams have been paused, the fixed costs associated with the clubs, such as ground rent and utilities, are likely to remain. Ultimately, it comes down to, ‘no training = no matches = no money’.

Players’ fees

Popular grassroots sports including football, cricket, rugby and hockey have all had their seasons wiped out in the last 12 months. Given the fact that no training activity or matches have taken place, it’s likely that many clubs felt the right thing to do was to pause player membership fees.

When you take into account that many parents have faced pay cuts and redundancies, as much as they would’ve liked to continue paying fees to support the club – the lack of demand will have come as a welcome relief.

Local business sponsorship

Each year, around £250 million is donated to grassroots sports teams by local businesses. This has been hailed as the biggest single source of grassroots funding in the UK. From funds going towards purchasing the kit, or being the main sponsor of the club, this sponsorship plays a crucial role in the finances of clubs at all levels.

The economic impact of the pandemic has rocked the SME landscape, with more than 90% of small-to-medium businesses reporting a reduction in revenue.

For the foreseeable future, in order to simply survive, many businesses will need to reassess budgets and outgoings. This means club income is under threat, and many feel that sponsorship to senior teams will be prioritised, leaving the future of children’s, youth and female clubs hanging in the balance.

It will be up to the clubs to remind business owners and marketing teams of the brand exposure club sponsorship affords them, leading to new customers. Some have even suggested that the government could help this initiative by introducing tax relief on local business investment in grassroots sports teams.

Club fundraising

Fundraising usually comes in the forms of in-person events, charity nights and sponsored activity. While there have been pockets throughout the year for some of this to continue, the start/stop nature of the lockdown restrictions has seen a significant reduction in offline club fundraising.

While, previously, support from fundraising will have come from, in part, older friends and family, who aren’t used to online activity and may have some reservations when it comes to carrying out financial transactions online, this will have changed over the course of the pandemic. Internet use among the older generation increased by 31% in the last year meaning that, when it comes to clubs setting up online fundraising, they can continue to count on the support of older family members.

We hope that we can be a source of revenue for grassroots teams that continue to rely on online fundraising efforts. To find out more about how we can help, get in touch today.

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