What's Happening in Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facilities


f you watch the stock market on a daily—or even hourly—basis, you've likely been experiencing a bit of a roller coaster as various economic reports come in and affect those numbers. But in a broad sense, many numbers are starting to roll in that seem to indicate a slow return to economic growth.

While unemployment still stands at 9.9 percent—drearily close to the emotionally fraught double-digit rates—other indicators are more positive. (And, of course, unemployment is a lagging indicator, being one of the last numbers to show improvement.) Retail sales rose slightly, by 0.4 percent, in April—their seventh straight increase, according to the Commerce Department. And inventories climbed 0.4 percent in March—the third straight month of increase, the Commerce Department reported.

Most analysts are still predicting a drawn-out recovery, though there are a few standouts. Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recently surprised everyone, predicting a quick economic rebound.

Whether you choose to see the economic glass as half full or half empty though, there is one thing we do know—we can't really know how quickly the economy will recover until it has actually done so. Economists may be smart, but they're not fortune-tellers.

And this volatility and uncertainty is certainly revealed in the responses to our annual State of the Industry Survey. The results are a mixed bag of positive and negative expectations, combined with a dash of worry and a sprinkling of hope.

Survey Methodology

This report is based on a survey conducted for Recreation Management by Signet Research Inc., an independent research company. An e-mail was broadcast and respondents were invited to participate on the Web site. From the launch of the survey on Feb. 10, 2010 to the closing of the survey on Feb. 25, 2,230 returns were received. The findings of this survey may be accepted as accurate, at a 95 percent confidence level, within a sampling tolerance of approximately +/- 2.1 percent.

This year's survey drew a rapid and impressive response—with 2,230 full responses gleaned in less than a month. We thank all of the readers and respondents who took the time to fill out our extensive 40-question survey. Without your help, we would not be able to provide this detailed look behind the scenes at managed recreation, sports and fitness facilities.

And while many areas of this market are seeing harder times than others—one has only to look at the double-digit unemployment that still plagues some states, as well as the dire straits many city and state governments find themselves in—there is a general overall sense that the business will begin to see stability and even recovery within the next couple of years, with some areas returning to growth faster than others.

Who Are You?

But, before we dive into the specific information we gathered on budgets, staffing, programming and facilities, let's take a look at the general survey population. This year, we collected responses from a wide range of professionals in all areas of the market, the vast majority (99.6 percent) in the United States.

As in last year's survey, more than one-third of the responses (34.6 percent) came from directors, while just over one-fifth (20.1 percent) represented administration management positions, such as administrator, manager or superintendent. Another 15.4 percent serve in operations and facility management roles (operations manager, facility manager, building manager or supervisor). Program and activity administrators (activity or program directors, managers, coordinators, specialists, coaches and instructors) made up another 12.1 percent of the survey population; and 9.3 percent hold titles such as chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner.

From a regional perspective, this year's survey saw similar proportions of respondents as in years past, with the largest number of respondents hailing from the Midwest. (See Figure 1.)

In fact, compared with last year, 2010 saw slightly more responses from professionals in the Midwest. While 28.8 percent of last year's respondents called this region home, this year, 30.9 percent are from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The second largest region in this year's survey was again the West, with 20.6 percent, a very slight increase from last year's 20.3 percent. This region includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The South Atlantic region, including Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, grew enough to hold the third spot this year, replacing the Northeast, which saw a drop. Nearly 1 percent more respondents (18.7 percent versus 17.8 percent) came from the South Atlantic states this year, compared with last year.

The Northeast, on the other hand, saw a drop, from 18.6 percent of last year's responses, to just 16.5 percent this year. This region includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The South Central region also saw a drop in the response rate this year, with 12.9 percent of respondents (compared with 13.4 percent last year) calling that region home. The South Central region includes the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Finally, the international response continued to shrink, to just 0.4 percent of responses this year. Last year, 1 percent of the responses came from outside the United States, and in 2008, the number was 1.7 percent.

You can find further detail based on regional information here.

Similarly to the regional representation, this year saw little change in the community types represented by survey respondents, with slightly fewer rural communities. (See Figure 2.) The largest percentage of respondents (41.5 percent) hail from suburban communities. Slightly less than a third (31.8 percent) indicated they were from rural communities, a drop of 1.7 percent from last year. Finally, more than a quarter (26.7 percent) indicated they were from urban areas.

When it comes to the way they operate—as private, for-profit businesses or public entities or something else entirely—this year saw slight growth in the number of public facilities represented. The majority of respondents (69.5 percent) indicated that they worked for public organizations. (See Figure 3.) These often include such entities as city- or state-run parks departments, park districts, public schools and so on. Less than one-fifth of respondents (17.7 percent) indicated they work for private, nonprofit organizations, such as YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) and so forth. And this year saw 3.2 percent fewer responses from private, for-profit entities like health clubs, golf clubs and privately owned waterparks—just 11.6 percent of respondents.

As expected, given the general breakdown of Recreation Management's audience, the greatest number of respondents were from parks and recreation departments and similar organizations, like park districts. Nearly two-fifths (39.5 percent) of respondents indicated they worked for park agencies, a slight drop from last year's 40.3 percent. (See Figure 4.)

Most other numbers also remained virtually unchanged from last year, with slightly more of the response in 2010 coming from colleges and universities (15.3 percent in 2010 vs. 13.2 percent in 2009); schools and school districts (10.6 percent vs. 7.2 percent); and community recreation and sports centers (8.1 percent vs. 7.5 percent).

In addition to park agencies, some other areas also saw a slight decrease in representation. YMCAs, YWCAs, JCCs and Boys and Girls Clubs (referred to throughout the report as "YMCAs" made up 4.1 percent of this year's responses, compared with 5.1 percent last year. Likewise, there were slightly fewer responses from campgrounds, RV parks, youth camps and private camps (6.1 percent vs. 7.1 percent); and waterparks, amusement parks and theme parks (1.5 percent vs. 2.2 percent).

For more detailed information on specific facility types, you can turn to the sections throughout this report. For parks and recreation, click here; for colleges and universities, click here; for schools and school districts, click here; for sports, health and fitness clubs (referred to throughout the report as "health clubs"), click here; for YMCAs, click here; and for community or private recreation and sports centers, click here.

This year we saw a slight drop in the number of respondents who indicated that their facilities include any aquatic elements. More than half (51.7 percent) of respondents indicated their facilities include aquatics, compared with 54.9 percent last year. The majority of these again featured outdoor swimming pools, which are included in more than three-quarters of aquatic respondents' facilities. Around two-thirds of aquatic respondents indicated that they feature indoor swimming pools. Just under half feature splash play areas and/or whirlpools; and just over a quarter indicated that they had a waterpark. We can assume that this includes many municipal aquatic centers, given that privately owned waterparks make up a very small percentage of the overall response.

For more detailed information from respondents who include aquatic facilities as part of their makeup, click here.

While nearly one-third of respondents (32.9 percent) indicated that they manage just a single facility, this is a decrease from last year, when 36.8 percent said they managed a single facility. For the most part, this year's survey saw little change in the number of facilities managed by our respondents. Nearly a quarter of respondents (24.1 percent) reported that they manage either two or three facilities, and nearly another quarter (23.4 percent) said they manage from four to nine facilities. (See Figure 5.) One in 10 are managing between six and nine facilities, and nearly one-fifth (19.7 percent) are managing 10 or more facilities. This includes a jump of 1.2 percent in those managing 20 or more facilities, from just 8 percent last year to 9.2 percent.

As you would expect, respondents from parks and recreation agencies, with their various parks, ballfields, recreation centers and so on, reported managing the highest number of facilities. On average, respondents from parks and recreation agencies are managing 12.1 facilities. (See Figure 6.) They are followed by those from schools and school districts, who on average are managing 10.5 facilities. The smallest number of facilities are managed by health clubs (2.5) and community/private recreation/sports centers (2.9). Based on anecdotal evidence, one might expect the reliance on partnerships in this industry to grow in a down economy. As facilities cut budgets and programs, they can team up with other entities in their area to expand their reach and their ability to deliver a more diverse array of opportunities to their members or patrons. This was the case, with slightly more respondents (86.4 percent in 2010, compared with 84.7 percent in 2009) indicating that they had formed partnerships with other organizations.

Some respondents said that developing partnerships with other organizations was among their top concerns. "Partnerships not traditionally created with local and regional businesses" offer an opportunity to create new revenue streams, one respondent said. Another said that developing community partnership leads to "cost sharing as well as sponsorship of programs and facilities," adding, "We see more opportunities to increase revenue than we do to decrease costs."

The most common partners were local schools. Nearly three-fifths (58.7 percent) of respondents indicated that they had formed a partnership with local schools. (See Figure 7.) Local government and nonprofit organizations also stand out as popular partners, with 49.4 percent and 44.6 percent of respondents, respectively, collaborating with these types of organizations. Around a third indicated that they had partnered up with state government (34.4 percent), colleges and universities (32.9 percent), or corporations or local businesses (31.9 percent).

When you look at the tendency to form partnerships based on facility type, this year saw very little change, with slightly more colleges and universities, as well as schools forming partnerships. As last year, YMCAs were the most likely to indicate that they had formed partnerships of some kind. A full 97.8 percent of respondents in this category said they had done so. (See Figure 8.) Respondents from camps were the least likely to form partnerships, though nearly two-thirds (65.9 percent) said they had. Interestingly, health clubs, always among those less likely to form partnerships, again saw an increase in their tendency to form partnerships. While last year, 77.1 percent of respondents from health clubs said they had formed partnerships, this year that number climbed to 80.3 percent.

Budgets & Usage

Several years into what has been called the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the reporting on signs of recovery seems to be increasing, but among our respondents, the level of concern about the effect the downturn is having on their facilities remains virtually unchanged. There is only a slight drop from last year, when 88.1 percent of all respondents indicated they were extremely concerned or somewhat concerned. This year, the majority, 87.5 percent, still indicate that they are either extremely concerned (37.9 percent) or somewhat concerned (49.6 percent). Only 2.6 percent said they are not concerned at all. (See Figure 9.)

Again, the highest levels of concern were recorded among YMCAs, where 93.4 percent indicated they were extremely or somewhat concerned (compared with 96 percent last year), and among camps, where 90.4 indicated they were concerned (compared with 91.7 percent last year). On the other hand, slightly more respondents from colleges and universities said that they were concerned, compared with last year. More than four out of five (80.6 percent) were concerned, compared with 78.2 percent last year. That said, college and university respondents were the least likely among all facility types to indicate that they were concerned about the impact of the economic downturn on their facilities. All other respondents were at least 8 percent more likely to indicate some level of concern than these respondents.

The influence of the economy on revenues seems to have been worse than some were anticipating last year. In 2009's survey, 20.5 percent of respondents anticipated a drop in revenues from 2008 to 2009, but nearly a quarter (24.6 percent) of respondents this year indicated they had actually seen such a drop. (See Figure 10.) The numbers are slightly better for 2010, though more than a fifth, 21.3 percent are expecting to see a drop in revenues (compared to 17.8 percent who were predicting such a drop last year), and only 35.8 percent expect an increase (compared with 41 percent last year).

Once again, the outlook is rosier two years out, when more than 40 percent of respondents are expecting revenues to be higher than in 2010, and 43 percent are expecting no change.

The fact that college and university respondents were the least likely to report that they were concerned about the effect of the economic downturn on their facilities may be mirrored in their reporting on revenue changes for 2008 to 2009. Among respondents from all facility types, those from colleges and universities were the least likely to report that their revenues had dropped in that time period. Still, 15.5 percent of respondents from colleges and universities reported a decrease in revenues from 2008 to 2009.

The situation for respondents from schools and school districts appeared to be difficult. While more than half report stable revenues for 2009 and 2010, very few are expecting to see an increase. In 2009, 15.3 percent of schools respondents said their revenues increased, while 57.7 percent reported their revenues remained stable. In 2010, only 9.8 percent are expecting an increase, while 52 percent expect their revenues to remain the same as the previous year. Of course, schools are primarily funded through taxes—many through property taxes, which have taken a hard hit due to the skyrocketing foreclosure rates.

And, in fact, while health clubs were the most likely to report a decrease in revenues from 2008 to 2009, with 38.7 percent indicating their revenues had dropped in that time frame, in the next two years, respondents from schools and school districts are more likely than other respondents to expect decreasing revenues. In 2010, 38.2 percent of respondents from schools expect their revenues to fall; and in 2011, 40.4 percent expect revenues to fall. This is despite the fact that the majority of respondents are expecting improvement in 2011.

When it comes to increasing revenues in 2010 and 2011, health clubs and YMCAs are most likely to be expecting a rise. In 2010, 58.1 percent of YMCAs and 52.7 percent of health clubs expect their revenues to increase over 2009; and in 2011, 66.2 percent of YMCAs and 59.7 percent of health clubs expect growth.

When it comes to operating expenditures, the relatively bleak expectations of last year's respondents did not hold this year. Last year, respondents were expecting their operating expenditures to drop 13 percent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009. In fact, this year's respondents reported an increase of about 5 percent in 2009. (See Figure 11.) That said, they are anticipating a drop of 4.5 percent in fiscal 2010, with a slight recovery of about 3 percent in 2011, though not to the same level as 2009.

Health clubs completely bucked the trend, with this year's respondents reporting 62.8 percent higher revenues for fiscal 2009 than last year's respondents were projecting. That said, they are anticipating a drop in 2010 from their current average of $1.55 million to $1.53 million. (See Figure 12.)

In fiscal 2009, respondents from colleges and school districts reported increases to their operating budgets of more than 5 percent over 2008, and parks reported an increase of 3.9 percent. YMCAs, on the other hand, reported a 3.3 percent decrease in their operating budgets.

In 2010, more are anticipating relatively sharp declines in their operating budgets. Camps and schools are expecting decreases of more than 8 percent, with schools projecting an 8.5 percent decrease and camps projecting an 8.4 percent decrease. Parks and recreation agencies are anticipating a 7 percent decrease, and YMCAs are again expecting a drop, of about 5.4 percent this year. College and university respondents are expecting their operating budgets to remain fairly stable in 2010, with a slight increase of 0.5 percent. Only community recreation and sports centers were anticipating any substantial increase in 2010. They expect a rise of 4.8 percent from an operating budget of $1,160,000 in fiscal 2009 to $1,216,000 in fiscal 2010.

Slightly fewer respondents this year indicated that they charge a fee for membership or usage, 61.5 percent, versus 62.6 percent last year. (See Figure 13.)

YMCAs were the most likely to charge a fee, with 97.8 percent of respondents from these facilities indicating they did charge a fee for membership. Health clubs were also more likely than other respondents to charge a fee, with 88.5 percent of these respondents indicating they did so. The least likely to charge a membership fee were respondents from schools and school districts, where only 26.5 percent of respondents said they charge a fee.

Last year, 37.6 percent of respondents projected an increase in user fees from 2008 to 2009, and in fact, 36 percent of this year's respondents indicated that such an increase took place. And while 1.7 percent last year were actually expecting a decrease, 2.2 percent of this year's respondents actually saw a decrease.

This year's respondents were a bit more likely to expect membership fees over the next couple of years to hold steady. (See Figure 14.) Last year, 41.6 percent said they expected to increase fees from 2009 to 2010, but this year, only 35.4 percent are projecting such a change, while 62.6 percent expect those fees to hold steady. Slightly more respondents are anticipating an increase to fees next year, in 2011, perhaps anticipating that economic recovery will allow their patrons to more easily bear such increases.

While their fees are expected to remain relatively stable, slightly more than half of respondents are expecting the number of people using their facilities to increase in 2009, 2010 and 2011. (See Figure 15.) While the numbers are slightly lower than projected by last year's respondents, more than 50 percent reported that usage of their facilities grew in 2009, and more than half are anticipating growth in 2010 and 2011. That said, 15.2 percent actually reported a decline in usage in 2009, and 10.3 percent are expecting a drop this year. The projected numbers for 2011 are slightly more stable.

Given the concern about the economy and its obvious impact on operating budgets, last year we asked respondents to make note of actions they had taken to reduce their expenditures, and many listed some innovative approaches. This year, we included a question to measure how many respondents had taken such measures. In fact, a majority of respondents (91.4 percent), said they had taken some action to reduce their expenditures. (See Figure 16.)

The most common measure taken was improving energy efficiency. Nearly three-fifths (59.2 percent) of respondents said they had taken action to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. More than half (50.5 percent) also indicated they had cut staff. Other relatively popular actions taken included increasing fees (43.6 percent of respondents said they had increased fees), putting construction and renovation plans on hold (40.7 percent), and cutting programming or services (30.6 percent). Notably, more than one in 10 respondents (10.3 percent) said they had closed facilities in order to reduce expenditures.

YMCAs were the most likely to indicate they had taken some kind of action to reduce their expenditures. Only 2.2 percent of these respondents said they had taken no action. (See Figure 17.) They were the most likely to say they had reduced staffing levels (64.4 percent indicated they had done so) or increased fees (58.9 percent).

Schools and school districts, and colleges and universities were the least likely to indicate that they had taken any action to reduce their expenditures. That said, a majority of both types of respondents had taken action: 86.2 percent of schools respondents and 86.9 percent of college/university respondents said they had taken action to reduce their operating costs. Respondents from schools and school districts were the least likely to indicate they had reduced staff, followed by colleges. Just 35.3 percent of schools and 36.6 percent of colleges said they had reduced staffing levels to help reduce expenditures. Schools respondents were also the least likely to report that they had cut their hours of operation. This is likely a given, since many states set a required number of hours and days for schools to be open. Respondents from colleges and universities were the least likely to indicate that they had put construction or renovation plans on hold, though 30.8 percent said they had done so.

Respondents from parks and recreation agencies were the most likely to indicate they had cut programs or services, with 39.3 percent indicating they had done so. They also were most likely to report cutting their hours of operation (35.9 percent), shortening their season (22.8 percent) and closing facilities (13.4 percent).

How Stimulating Is It?

One year after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was enacted, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) discussed the benefits the legislation brought to park agencies across the country, including in California, Kansas, New York, North Carolina and Texas.

"These projects serve as living examples of how park and recreation agencies significantly boost the health, economic development and vitality of their local areas," said Ashley Futrell, senior manager of public policy of for NRPA. "It's imperative that park and recreation agencies continue to receive federal and public support in order to help rebuild America's communities."

Of course, not everyone got help from what's known as the Stimulus Bill. Some types of projects were left out from the beginning, including swimming pools. We asked our survey respondents whether their facilities had received any funding due to the legislation.

While three-quarters indicated that they had not been helped by the bill, 12.7 percent of all respondents said they had received funding. (The remaining respondents did not know whether the bill had helped them.)

Respondents from schools and school districts were the most likely to report that the bill had helped them. More than a third (35.8 percent) of these respondents said they had received funding. They were followed by parks and recreation respondents, 15.8 percent of whom said the bill had helped them. (See Figure 18.)

Facilities & Construction

Despite the fact that 40.7 percent of respondents indicated that they had put construction or renovation plans on hold in order to lower their expenditures, more than six in 10 are still planning construction of some kind or another over the next three years. A full 61.9 percent indicated that they have plans to either build new facilities, make additions to their existing facilities or renovate their existing facilities. (See Figure 19.)

This reflects a drop in the number of respondents planning construction of any type from the numbers reported last year. In 2009, 28.6 percent of respondents said they were planning to build new facilities. This year, just a quarter (25 percent) of respondents have such plans. Likewise, while 29.8 percent of last year's respondents planned additions and 43.1 percent planned renovations, this year those numbers have dropped to 26.6 percent and 42.9 percent, respectively.

Overall, YMCAs and parks respondents were the most likely to indicate that they had plans to build. Nearly three-quarters (72.8 percent) of YMCA respondents indicated that they were planning some construction over the next three years, and nearly two-thirds (63.7 percent) of parks respondents had such plans. On the other hand, respondents from colleges and universities and schools and school districts were the least likely to be planning construction. That being said, more than half of these respondents (56.1 percent of college respondents and 55.4 percent of school respondents) indicated that they were planning construction.

New facilities were most likely to be in the works for parks and recreation agencies, where 29.1 percent of respondents indicated having such plans. They were followed by colleges and universities, nearly a quarter of whom (24.6 percent) said that they were planning to build new facilities. YMCAs and health clubs were the least likely to be planning to build entirely new facilities, with 15.2 percent of YMCAs and 15.8 percent of health clubs respondents indicating they were planning to build new.

YMCAs were the most likely to be planning to add to their existing facilities, though, with 37 percent indicating they had such plans over the next three years. They were followed by parks respondents, 27.2 percent of whom said they were planning additions. Likewise, parks and YMCA respondents were also the most likely to be planning renovations, which often go hand-in-hand with additions. Nearly half (46.7 percent) of parks respondents and 44.6 percent of YMCA respondents said they were planning renovations.

When it comes to spending for new facilities, additions and renovations, colleges and universities topped the list, with an average amount of $8,568,000 planned for their construction—92.1 percent more than the across-the-board average of $4,461,000. (See Figure 20.) Respondents from schools and school districts also were planning to spend more than this average—with an average amount planned that is 62.4 percent than the across-the-board average.

Falling somewhere nearer the middle were YMCAs and parks and recreation respondents. On average, YMCA respondents were planning $4,051,000 for their construction, or 9.2 percent less than the average for all respondents. And, parks respondents were planning to spend $3,907,000 on average for construction, 12.4 percent less than the general average.

Respondents from camp facilities were planning to spend the least on their construction plans, with an average amount of $976,000 planned, 78.1 percent less than the general average.

Notably, the amount planned by all facility types is lower than the amount indicated in last year's survey. The average across all survey respondents, $4,461,000 is 7.7 percent lower than last year's average of $4,835,000. The only group of respondents this year who were planning to spend more than the comparable group last year were those from camps, who are planning 6.9 percent more than last year's average of $913,000. The largest drop in the average amount planned for construction was seen among YMCA respondents. The respondents in this category for 2010 are planning to spend $4,051,000, 22.7 percent less than last year's respondents, who indicated an average spending amount of $5,244,000 for construction plans.

According to the Associated General Contractors of America, materials costs for construction have been on the rise. However, as of yet, contractors are not passing these costs on. That means you can still get a pretty good bargain on construction. Figures released by the organization in early 2010 show that finished prices of nonresidential buildings dropped last year, though some construction materials prices have begun to increase.

"Contractors have not been able to pass on these cost increases, which is bad news for contractors but good news for anyone looking to building right away," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "Pressure is building on contractors to raise costs, however, so anyone waiting to build will pay more."

When it comes to the amenities included in their facilities, the top seven amenities included changed little this year. More than half of respondents include bleachers and seating (60.9 percent), classrooms and meeting rooms (59.5 percent), locker rooms (59 percent), outdoor sports courts (57.1 percent), concession areas (57 percent), playgrounds (56.6 percent) and natural turf sports fields (54.9 percent), all of which also appeared in the top seven amenities included among last year's survey respondents. More than half of this year's respondents also said their facilities feature indoor sports courts (52.8 percent), a fitness center (51.4 percent), open spaces like gardens and natural areas (51.3 percent) and park structures like shelters, gazebos and restroom buildings (50.5 percent). (See Figure 21.)

Last year's respondents were most likely to be planning to add splash play areas, park structures, playgrounds, bleachers and trails. And, in fact, most of these areas saw an increase in the number of participants who indicated they included those features, though it should be noted that many of those planning to add any features might also already have had them. Splash play areas, included by 14.6 percent of last year's respondents, were included in the facilities of 14.9 percent of this year's respondents. Playgrounds, bleachers and trails all also saw a jump, from 55.1 percent to 56.6 percent, 57 percent to 60.9 percent, and 45.7 percent to 46.6 percent, respectively. Park structures, on the other hand, while included by 51.7 percent of last year's respondents, were only included by 50.5 percent this year. This change could be explained by the higher percentage of respondents from non-park facilities this year, such as colleges and schools, which are less likely to include park shelters as part of their facilities.

Other areas also saw significant growth. Dog parks were included by 12.5 percent this year, compared with 10.6 percent last year. Synthetic turf sports fields were included by 14 percent this year, versus 11.3 percent last year. Disc golf courses were included by 14.7 percent this year, versus 13.3 percent last year.

Among the respondents this year who indicated they were planning to add new features to their facilities over the next three years, the most commonly planned additions included:

  1. Park structures, such as shelters, sun structures and restrooms, planned by 22.1 percent of these respondents
  2. Splash play areas (21.5 percent)
  3. Trails (20.8 percent)
  4. Playgrounds (20.5 percent)
  5. Synthetic turf sports fields (18 percent)
  6. Bleachers and seating (17.8 percent)
  7. Fitness center, with weight and cardio equipment (17.7 percent)
  8. Dog park (15.6 percent)
  9. Open spaces, including gardens or natural areas (15.5 percent)
  10. Concession areas (15.4 percent)

Among respondents from parks and recreation agencies, park shelters and splash play areas were the most commonly planned additions. Likewise, for YMCAs and community recreation and sports centers, splash play areas were the most commonly planned addition. At colleges and universities, synthetic turf sports fields were the most often cited planned addition, while at schools and school districts, fitness centers were the top choice. At health clubs, locker rooms, indoor sports courts and indoor aquatic facilities were the most commonly planned addition. And, at camps and campgrounds, disc golf courses were the top planned addition.

Staffing and Training

As reported earlier, 50.5 percent of respondents this year indicated that they had made staffing cuts in order to reduce operating expenses. This is clear from the staffing averages reported. Every type of employee saw a decrease in numbers from 2009. There were 11.3 percent fewer full-time employees, 21.4 percent fewer part-time employees, 42.9 percent fewer seasonal employees, and 67.5 percent fewer volunteers. (See Figure 22.)

Many readers reported that the staffing issues they were facing were a top concern at their facilities this year. One respondent made clear that the impact of reducing staff can be felt through the entire community: "We are reducing number of staff, so the concern is the morale of staff retained, service level vs. community expectations, remaining relevant to the community, and our ability to maintain quality."

Another respondent discussed the problems created by hiring freezes: "Making sure we keep the current positions we have regardless if someone leaves for another employment opportunity" was this respondent's top concern. "When someone leaves a specific sector of employment, it should not be looked at as a way to save money with not hiring them back and expecting other employees to pick up the slack which that 40-hour person leaves behind."

The largest drop in full-time employees was seen among schools and school districts, where a 21.2 percent cut was reported, and among camp facilities, where a 45.3 percent drop was recorded. Most other markets actually showed an increase in their average number of full-time employees.

Schools and school districts also saw the largest drop in the average number of part-time employees, reporting a decrease of 43.7 percent. YMCAs reported the second steepest drop in part-timers, with a decrease of 33.4 percent.

Anecdotally, many have reported cutting back on seasonal help, and this was definitely the case among respondents. Schools and school districts were again the most likely to make cuts in this area, with a 65.6 percent drop in the average number of seasonal workers employed. Colleges and universities followed, with a 55.7 percent drop.

While you might expect a greater reliance on volunteers in light of staffing cuts, in fact, there were significant drops in the number of volunteers serving our respondents as well. The highest percentage drop was seen among college and university respondents, who reported an 81.6 percent decrease in the number of volunteers serving them. They were followed by schools and school districts, who reported a 60.6 percent drop in volunteers.

This year we also asked respondents about their planned staffing changes for 2010. While the majority, 73 percent, said that they plan to maintain current staff levels, more than one in 10 (11.3 percent) are planning to add staff, and 15.7 percent are planning to make cuts to their staff. (See Figure 23.)

Of the respondents who are planning to add staff members to their team, 68.8 percent are planning to add one or more full-time employees in 2010. One or more part-time employees will be added by 62.3 percent of these respondents. Some 40.9 percent plan to add one or more seasonal employees. And, 21.1 percent are hoping to add one or more volunteers. On average, respondents who are planning to add staff will hire 28.6 employees this year.

When it comes to certifications required for staff members, similar levels of respondents this year indicated that they were required. The majority of respondents (87.1 percent) do require some form of certification for their staff members. Of those who do not currently require certification, around a quarter (24.3 percent) said they plan to require it in the future. (See Figure 24.)

This year saw a decrease in the percentage of colleges and universities, schools and school districts, YMCAs, and camp respondents who indicated that they require certification. That said, YMCAs are again the most likely to require certification, with 97.8 percent indicating it is required. They are followed by health clubs, where 92.1 percent require certification. Those from camp facilities were the least likely to require certification, though 85.2 percent of these respondents indicated that it is required. All facility types indicated that they plan to increase their certification requirements in the future. (See Figure 25.)

The top five types of certification required by respondents remained the same this year, though some of them actually saw a slight bump in the number who require it. CPR/AED/First Aid certification is required by 84.8 percent of respondents in 2010, and is the most commonly required credential. (See Figure 26.) This was followed by background checks, required by a full 79.6 percent of respondents, a jump from last year, when 77 percent required background checks.

Fewer respondents this year indicated that they require an aquatic management/pool operations certification, with 31.9 percent reporting it is required, compared with 34.4 percent last year. Likewise, personal training/fitness certification is required by fewer. Just 27.9 percent of respondents require this type of certification, compared with 26.9 percent of last year's respondents. On the other hand, certifications for pesticide application, coaching, playground safety certification, teaching, athletic trainer and turf/grounds management all saw an increase of at least 1 percent over last year's response.


Last year's respondents indicated that the top three programs they were planning to add included educational programs; fitness programs; and mind-body/balance programs like yoga, tai chi and Pilates. This year's respondents did report slight increases in all of these areas, and more. Only 3.2 percent of respondents said they offer no programming at their facilities. Other programs showing an increase of 1.5 percent or more among this year's respondents include: special needs programming (up 3.6 percent); performing arts, such as dance, theater and music (up 2.9 percent); youth sports teams (up 2.7 percent); sports tournaments and races (up 2.7 percent); personal training (up 2.3 percent); festivals and concerts (up 1.9 percent); nutrition and diet counseling (up 1.9 percent); day camps and summer camps (up 1.8 percent); sport training, such as golf instruction, tennis lessons, etc. (up 1.8 percent); and adult sports teams (up 1.7 percent). (See Figure 27.)

More than one-third (33.8 percent) of this year's respondents indicated that they are planning to offer additional programs within the next three years. Among these respondents, the most commonly planned additions, along with their positions in last year's top 10 planned programs, include:

  1. Fitness programs, including cardio, strength, aerobics, etc. (2)
  2. Teen programs (6)
  3. Educational programs (1)
  4. Mind-body/balance programs like yoga, tai chi, pilates and martial arts (3)
  5. Active older adults programming (7)
  6. Day camps and summer camps (3)
  7. Environmental education (10)
  8. Individual sports activities like running clubs, swim club, etc.
  9. Adults sports teams (7)
  10. Sports tournaments and races (10)

Notably, fitness programs continue to grow in popularity, moving from the second most commonly planned program addition last year, and all the way up from the sixth position in 2008. Teen programming, which wasn't even on the list of most commonly planned programs in 2008, was the sixth most commonly planned program in 2009, and is second this year.

Falling off of the list this year from last year's top 10 most commonly planned programs were holidays and special events and sport training.

Top Concerns

While the economic downturn continues to be a pressing influence for most of our respondents, we also wanted to gauge other concerns they have at their facilities. Like last year, equipment and facility maintenance are the most common concern now and over the next several years. This is likely exacerbated by the crunch to operating budgets and revenues many respondents are reporting for 2010. With less money to deal with these problems, the concern has grown. While last year, 54.6 percent of respondents reported this as a top concern now, and 43.1 percent said it would continue to be a top concern over the next three years, this year, 55.1 percent are concerned now, and 49.7 percent anticipate this will continue to be a difficult area over the next three years. (See Figure 28.)

"Our No. 1 priority is to keep our facilities well maintained and safe for our users," one respondent said, "not only for the present, but for the foreseeable future. We are in the process of renovating two 50-year-old facilities now that when completed should give us an additional 50 years of usage with only normal maintenance and upkeep."

Perhaps as a result of this focus on facility upkeep, safety and risk management also seems to be registering a higher level of concern this year.

One respondent made this clear: "We have an aging infrastructure—from docks, marina facilities, bait shops, showers, etc. All need renovation or replacement, and costs are high, and available funds from parent organizations are tough to come by. As facilities age, safety becomes more of an issue year by year."

Another respondent discussed how staffing cuts can affect facility maintenance: "Maintenance on the number of current facilities is at a level of 'make sure it's safe and passes any code or other mandated requirement.' With additional and renovated facilities due to come online in the township over the next year or two and the township's current method of not replacing full-time personnel's vacant positions to balance the bottom line, this may well impact the quality and longevity of these facilities."

Other issues that this year's respondents are more concerned about currently than last year's respondents include general fitness and wellness, youth fitness and wellness, legislative issues, older adult fitness and wellness, and accessibility/ availability.

Marketing and increasing participation was cited as a top concern by 42.3 percent of the respondents. One respondent discussed how closely marketing is tied to a facility's ability to continue in its community: "This is our main concern because if we do not increase participation, we may not be able to sustain ourselves as an important cog in the community. In order to increase participation, we must market ourselves to the fullest extent possible to keep drawing in our core customers and also to reach those who do not know what they are missing."

On the other side of that coin, another respondent talked about how the level of participation at their facility was leading to the need to build. Citing "availability" as a top concern, this respondent said, "We are so crowded right now that if we don't get some construction under way to expand, it is going to hurt our ability to provide open recreation to everyone."

In the next three years, the top areas of concern will continue to be equipment and facility maintenance, followed by marketing and increasing participation at facilities, and staffing issues.

One respondent discussed the need to adapt to a changing marketing landscape: "Traditional advertising does not seem to be working as in the past. We need to reach people through electronic media, and we are working toward that."

Another respondent agreed that there is a need to adjust marketing strategies: "I think the way we market our programs is changing (with the Internet becoming a more popular resource), and trying to get the word out about our facility/programs to more people while not spending more money is a challenge."

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