Cheerleading, Monopolies and Sexual Predators

Matt Stoller:

To understand why this abuse connects to monopoly, it helps to know a little bit about how monopolistic industries like cheerleading work. The cheerleading business is a tiered structure, with Varsity, though it owns and operates a bunch of different brands, at the top as the producer of the cheerleading sport. The ultimate customers are the 3.7 million children and teenagers in the sport, whose parents both pay to enter Varsity’s contests and buy apparel and equipment from Varsity. In between Varsity and the end customers are gyms, the ostensibly independent businesses who actually train the cheerleaders. The kids actually have choices of which gyms to attend, and there is fierce competition among gyms to showcase themselves as getting your kid onto a team that can win contests and compete at a high level.

The sport’s rules and standards are organized by the major nonprofit governing bodies – the USASF and USA Cheer. These governing bodies structures the rules for contests, and for who gets to move on to championship competitions and even international cheer contests. They handle safety standards, including certifying tens of thousands of coaches on safety, doing background checks, and maintaining an “online reporting form for abuse allegations.”

Based on the rhetoric, you’d imagine that it’s a well-run sport with a lot of care for the athletes, who are of course young and vulnerable. Independent gyms compete in contests over delivering a better and more enriching experience for kids. There are governing bodies that ensure that everyone plays by fair rules, and these rules include strong safety standards.