Three members of the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services Community Development District have a simple, two-word message for the youth sports leagues in Gateway this holiday season: Bah humbug.
At yesterday’s district meeting, Chairman Margaret Fineberg, Vice-Chairman Bill Guy and Supervisor Kathleen Flaherty all voted in favor of increasing usage fees at the Sherman Soccer Complex by as much as 282% effective January 1, 2018.
Supervisor Doug Banks and Supervisor Ed Tinkle voted against the measure.
The Supervisors and staff will tell you that the increase was needed in order for the leagues to pay their fair share of the costs.
But consider these numbers for a moment…
For their Fall 2017 seasons, the Gateway Soccer Association charged $120 per player, while the Lehigh Youth Soccer Association charged $110. The Cape Coral Soccer Association and Lee County Strikers both charged $125.
The Gateway Flag Football League charged $120 for their Fall 2017 session, while NFL Florida charged $115.
In all cases involving the GSA and GFFL, if the player isn’t a Gateway resident an extra $10 is charged and sent directly to the district.
Essentially, the pricing for the recreational level youth sports leagues in Gateway was perfectly in line with the rest of Southwest Florida.
But not for long.
Thanks to Fineberg, Guy and Flaherty, the field usage rates for the leagues will jump from $17 per field, per hour, to $48 per field, per hour in 2018 when the field lighting is in use.
In the case of the GFFL, the field lights are basically always in use whenever the players play or practice. For the GSA, it’s anywhere from 50-75% of the time.
The Gateway leagues will have no choice but to increase their season fees far beyond their current levels just to satisfy the GSCDD’s cost demands for field usage.
So for the benefit the three Supervisors who thought this was a good idea, we’re going to explain what’s going to happen to the leagues over the next few years.
Since field usage costs have increased up to 282%, league fees will jump within 1 year by 20% to 40%, possibly by the spring 2018 season but definitely by the fall 2018 season.
Many parents will be put off by the sudden price hike and will look for other local youth leagues for their kids to play in, or they just won’t put their kids in youth sports leagues at all. Either way, this will result in less players and less revenue for the Gateway leagues.
Then it gets interesting.
In their efforts to survive, the GFFL and GSA will have fewer teams, spreading out players by adding one or two extra players per team. Fewer teams means fewer games over-all, leading to lower field usage and referee costs.
Over-all, having fewer teams reduces costs for the leagues (and also reduces revenues for the GSCDD, btw).
So, problem solved?
Not at all.
Because with more kids on each team, each player will spend more time on the sidelines instead of on the field playing.
News flash: Parents pay money to see their kids play in the games, not to stand around on the sidelines watching.
So noticing that their kids are spending more time not playing than they used to, playing in a smaller league than ever before, and having already absorbed an extra 20-40% – which, by the way, will be going up ANOTHER 15% to compensate for the kids who won’t be back the following season – even more kids will depart Gateway’s youth leagues for other options the NEXT season after that.
So now without enough kids to maintain the existing programs, they’ll have to expand the age groups. Instead of 7 and 8 year olds playing together. It’ll become 7, 8 and 9 year olds. And the 9 year olds will dominate, meaning the 7 year olds don’t develop skills or have enough fun.
Parents of kids at the younger ends of the new age brackets will do what? Look for other leagues, leaving the programs with an even bigger gap going forward.
Until the gaps become too big and the league is unsustainable.
And now, the GSCDD is looking around going “Hey. We’re losing even more money than ever. So now we need to increase our field usage rates even more.”
It’s a classic downward death spiral for the youth leagues.
In my opinion, it will claim the GFFL first, then the GSA. It’s inevitable.
And here’s the maddening part: at yesterday’s GSCDD meeting when Supervisor Banks challenged the $23 per hour figure being charged by the GSCDD for field lighting, nobody could explain why it was $23 – and not $13 or $33.
Was it because the field costs were $17 and so adding $23 made it a nice round $40? Nobody knows.
Even better, when Gateway’s attorney Anthony Pires Jr. asked the district staff if the changes to the field usage rates had been published in the newspaper in accordance with Florida law, nobody knew for sure if it had been or not.
And yet three Supervisors voted to proceed with the rate increases anyway.
It’s not as if these leagues are printing money at taxpayer expense. The GFFL, as one example, already had to stop providing the players with uniform shorts to offset rising costs.
The field usage rates are locked in place for the spring 2018 season. Nothing can be done about it. But we will be pressing the Board of Supervisors to re-think all of this in time for the fall 2018 season. So if your kids are in these programs please understand that help is on the way. Please continue to support these programs. Hopefully if the leagues have to raise their rates for the spring season, they’ll at least get lowered in time for the fall.
Somewhere in the Gateway Greens community, former Supervisor Rod Senior is laughing his ass off.
And rightfully so.
Gateway’s sports leagues will be put out of business and Senior won’t go down in history as the person who did it. His political opponents will.
Everybody in government seems to understand that youth sports fields are meant for 7 year olds to kick a soccer ball around and make some friends, and for the parents to watch the kids having fun.
They’re not intended to be able to pay for themselves financially.
They’re meant to improve the community, and be subsidized by the residents.
Only in Gateway have I ever seen an appetite to break even on soccer fields. And it’s plain wrong.
The crazy thing is that by trying to break even the GSCDD is actually going to lose MORE money as the leagues shrink… and the leagues will need a smaller and smaller number of fields, until there aren’t enough kids to field enough teams, and the program goes under.
And what I don’t get is that Margaret Fineberg, Bill Guy and Kathleen Flaherty have all traditionally been IN FAVOR of youth sports in Gateway.
All I can think of is they don’t believe that tripling field usage costs will actually destroy the leagues. But try tripling the main expense of any organization and see what happens.
The leagues are barely getting by as it is charging an exactly average amount of money to play. So how are they supposed to compete for players in 2 years when they have to charge $175 while the LYSA and NFL Florida are at $120?
If these rates stand, the result will be that Gateway recreational youth sports will be the most expensive in Southwest Florida – until the leagues cease operations due to the lack of players.