As a result, spending on youth sport travel is growing rapidly, and continued to grow even during the recession.
"We'll have close to 52 million athletes returning to courts or playing fields here in September in fall or winter leagues," said Dev Pathik, founder and chief executive of Sports Facility Advisory, a planning and management firm in Clearwater, Fla. His company's research forecasts a nearly 11 percent increase this year in spending on travel to take part in sports and recreation. In contrast, spending on overall leisure travel grew 4 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
One reason for the rapid growth of youth sports travel, Neirotti said, is that kids are specializing in a single sport at an earlier age. That means they play the same sport year round, and run through the local competition more quickly.
Hockey in particular involves lots of travel, since there tend to be relatively few teams in an area. But for almost any team or individual sport, the more kids specialize, the more they are likely to travel.
The long-distance events are also exciting, said Mieth.
"If you have a kid who loves soccer and loves to play competitive soccer, once they've played in the Dallas Cup, it's really hard to bring them back to play" in a local park, she said.