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Supplement Feature - February 2013

Programming for Profit

A Strong Business Model Plus Creative Programming Can Keep Your Aquatics in the Black

By Rick Dandes


Family-based aquatic facilities that are as much about leisure activities as they are about swim lessons, therapy and exercise programs are the norm for new construction, as it is the only business model that can sustain itself by generating revenues apart from user fees, according to several national consultants specializing in aquatic programming.

These days, very few municipalities in a still-recovering American economy can afford to subsidize the operational costs of a large aquatic facility. "It's the new fact of life," explained Jill White, owner, president and CEO of Starfish Aquatics Institute in Savannah, Ga. "And it's absolutely all about the financials. So I think the main trend in aquatic programming—and it's been a long time coming—is that there is more emphasis on finding ways to produce revenue from programming."

For years, White continued, a wide variety of programming was something an aquatic facility was expected to provide to the community, and not a lot of attention was paid to the revenues generated or the cost to provide such programming. "That's no longer the case. I think the aquatics industry is now getting much savvier about realizing that they do have to produce revenue," White said, "and either charge more or find creative ways increase participation."

Park directors have had to become more business-minded about what programs they can provide, added Darin J. Barr, senior associate, Ballard King and Associates, a consulting firm based in Highlands Ranch, Colo. "Managers have ever-tightening budgets, so they must factor in the operational expenses of keeping the pool area open when it comes to pricing the cost of a seasonal pass or participation in an exercise class, for example. Water is not free anymore. People expect there to be core programs in place, such as teaching kids how to swim, or the basics of water safety, and that's fine. But even with those basic programs, mechanical pumping systems have to be constantly monitored, the water quality has to be maintained, and adequate staffing has to be on hand."

Engage With Exercise Programs

People expect more value from their aquatic facility, and they're getting it. Over the past decade there has been a strong push from the baby boomer generation to get back in the pool and not only swim laps but also benefit via an assortment of in-water therapy and exercise programs being offered, said Jeff Lococo, president of Lococo Company in Sandusky, Ohio. "We see this trend not only in municipally run aquatic facilities but also in college recreation centers, health clubs, hotel and resort pools, and even waterparks."

There are more specialty programs available to meet the needs of a broader, more age-diverse audience. Water exercise and aerobics is not just for older populations anymore. The audience has broadened to include younger professionals and people who really want more of a fun exercise—like a Zumba exercise routine that combines a high-intensity type of aerobic workout with music. Such combinations have made these programs much more appealing to younger participants.