Our 2022 Report on the State of the Managed Recreation Industry
Now in it's 16th year, the Industry Report has grown and adapted, just as the business of operating recreation and sports venues, fitness clubs and aquatic facilities has grown and adapted. The data have reflected greater trends in the world, from the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, with its obvious impact on budgets and construction plans to the more recent pandemic impact, with its facility closures and the challenges associated with providing a safe outlet for guests to find fun and fitness, sports and recreation. The biggest impact revealed in this year's survey is the obvious impact of the so-called "Great Resignation." Facilities want to hire talented and eager staff to help bring everything they do to visitors and members. Beyond that, the data largely reveal what looks like the beginning of a return to normalcy, with budgets and participation back on the upswing, and respondents looking to add new amenities, new programming, and indeed, new facilities.
In the following pages, you'll find an in-depth look at the responses to our annual 50-question survey, sent to professionals working in the industry's parks, recreation, sports, fitness and aquatic facilities. We offer up an overview of how things have been going over the past five or six years, as well as an even closer look at the trends of the past year.
The whole thing begins right here, as we break down the responses from all of the respondents, considering their plans for programming and construction, examining operating budgets and revenues, and detailing staffing, certification and other issues. In the following sections of this issue, we'll break the information down further, with individual coverage of specific survey populations. You'll find a discussion of the response from those whose facilities include aquatics beginning on page 36. After that, we look at each of the largest cohorts of facility types represented among survey respondents, including parks and recreation departments and districts (see page 52), colleges and universities (see page 62), schools and school districts (see page 68), fitness facilities and health clubs (see page 72), and finally, nonprofit facilities like YMCAs, JCCs and Boys & Girls Clubs (see page 78).
You'll find even more information if you head over to the RecManagement.com website, where we include additional breakouts of data for camp facilities, as well as community and private recreation and sports centers. And as always, we deliver a weekly dose of data in our Rec Report e-newsletter. Every week, we'll highlight a different data point, mixing and matching the information to bring you additional information not included in these pages.
Is there a piece of information you'd like, but can't find in these pages? It never hurts to ask! Send your message to email@example.com, and we'll see if we can find the answer to your questions.
Finally, don't forget to read your July issue of Recreation Management, where our annual Salary Survey will break down salaries and more career information from the Industry Report respondents.
We'll provide you with a lot of details about the respondents to the Industry Report survey and their careers in our upcoming Salary Survey report in the July 2022 issue of Recreation Management, but before we dive into the numbers here, let's take a quick look at the demographics of the respondents.
As is the case for the readership of the magazine, respondents to the survey were spread throughout a range of roles within their organizations, with most serving in leadership positions, such as directors, managers and even CEOs and owners. The greatest number of respondents (33.2%) said they are directors. Another 19.7% were in administrative and management positions, including administrators, managers and superintendents. Nearly one in five (17.3%) said they are the chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner of their organization or company. Some 14.8% work in operations and facility management, with titles including operations manager, facility manager, building manager or supervisor. Another 9.3% are in program and activity administration roles, including activity and program directors, managers, coordinators, specialists, coaches and instructors. A handful of respondents (2.2%) said they are faculty or teachers, and 3.5% said they hold a title other than the ones listed in the survey.
Considering that they tend to be leaders in their organizations, it is not surprising that survey respondents have a lot of experience in the field of recreation, sports and fitness. On average, respondents have been in the industry for 21.9 years (down slightly from 22.5 years in 2021), and have been serving in their current roles for 12.3 years (up from 11.7).
Nearly one-third (32.1%) of respondents in 2022 were from the Midwest, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin. (See Figure 1.)
They were followed by the Northeast and West, each home to 20.9% of respondents. The Northeast includes the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The West includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Some 14.1% of survey respondents make their living in the South Atlantic region. This includes Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.
Finally, 12.1% of respondents said they were from the South Central region, which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
As always, the largest number of respondents in 2022 said they were located in suburban communities. Some 44.3% of respondents were from the suburbs. The next largest group—35.5%—said they were located in rural communities, and another 19.2% were in urban areas. (See Figure 2.)
For the most part, the average size of the population served by facility representatives who responded to the survey has been gradually increasing since 2016, when it was 83,200. In 2022, respondents served an average of 106,600 people, up from 97,450 in 2021 and 92,030 in 2019.
Despite the increasing size of the average population for all respondents, well over two-thirds (68.5%) said their facilities reach a population of less than 50,000 people. In fact, 41.2% reach less than 10,000. Another 14.9% of respondents said their facilities serve a population of between 50,000 and 99,999 people, while 6.7% reach between 100,000 and 199,999. Just over one in 10 (10.3%) said they serve a population of 200,000 or more people.
Respondents from rec centers, Ys, and camps reached the largest number of people. Rec center respondents reached an average population of 203,200 people, while Ys served 141,200 and camps had an average population served of 121,500. Schools and colleges reported the smallest populations served, at 22,410 and 18,200, respectively. (See Figure 3.)
More than half (52.9%) of respondents said they were with public or governmental organizations. Another 28.8% work for private nonprofit organizations, such as Ys and Boys & Girls Clubs. Nearly one-fifth (17.6%) said they were with private, for-profit organizations, a big increase from 2021, when just 9% of respondents were with private for-profit facilities. (See Figure 4.)
The biggest cohort of respondents could be found among parks and recreation departments, park districts and similar organizations, though the percentage of park respondents has fallen over the past couple of years. In 2022, 31.6% of respondents were from parks, down from 42.7% in 2021. They were followed by respondents from schools and school districts (11.2%), campgrounds, RV parks and private or youth camps (11.2%), colleges and universities (10.1%), community or private sports or recreation centers (9.9%), YMCAs, YWCAs, JCCs and Boys & Girls Clubs (8.3%), and health, fitness and medical fitness facilities (5.7%). Fewer respondents were from other types of facilities, including: resorts and resort hotels (2%); golf facilities and country clubs (1.8%); waterparks, theme parks and amusement parks (1.8%); racquet and tennis clubs (0.9%); stadiums, arenas and tracks (0.5%); ice rinks (0.5%); churches (0.5%); homeowners associations (0.4%); corporate recreation and sports facilities (0.2%); and military installations (0.2%). Another 3.2% of respondents work for "other" types of facilities. (See Figure 5.)
While the vast majority of respondents from parks and from schools were predictably from public or governmental organizations (98.3% and 93.7%, respectively, were public organizations), other facility types were much more mixed. College respondents were predominantly from public schools (57.9%), but 36.8% were from private nonprofit schools, and 3.5% were with private, for-profit schools. A full three-quarters (75%) of health and fitness clubs were private, for-profit organizations, while 21.9% were private nonprofit facilities. The vast majority (95.7%) of Ys and similar organizations were private nonprofits. Nearly two-thirds (65.1%) of camp respondents were with private nonprofit facilities, with another 28.6% reporting from private for-profit facilities. And finally, rec centers were fairly evenly dispersed, with 37.5% representing private nonprofits, 32.1% with private for-profit organizations and 28.6% with public or governmental organizations.
On average, respondents manage 5.6 facilities, down from 7.2 in 2021 and 8.3 in 2020. There was a substantial increase in the number of respondents who said they manage just a single facility, compared with 2021. Some 44.6% of respondents in 2022 manage just one facility, compared with 34.7% in 2021. Combined with a relatively small change in the percentage who manage between two and three facilities (24.7% in 2021 and 22.7% in 2022), we can see why the average number of facilities managed fell in 2022. Some 11.3% of respondents in 2022 said they manage between six and nine facilities, while 8.6% manage 10 to 19, and 5.7% manage 20 or more facilities. (See Figure 6.)
Breaking things down by community type, respondents in urban communities obviously deal with larger populations and manage a larger number of facilities than those in rural communities. In fact, those from urban communities reach an average population size of 192,500 and manage an average of 7.2 facilities. For suburban respondents, the average population reached is 104,400, and they manage an average of 6.3 facilities. Rural respondents reach an average population of 68,380, and manage an average of 4.2 facilities. Nearly one-fifth (19%) of urban respondents said they manage 10 or more facilities. That number drops to 15.6% for suburban respondents and 9.9% for rural respondents.
As usual, park respondents managed a larger number of facilities, though that number has fallen slightly over the past couple of years. On average, park respondents manage nine facilities, down from 11.1 in 2021 and 12 in 2020. They were followed by respondents from schools, who manage an average of 7.1 facilities, up from six in 2021. Not surprisingly, respondents from health clubs had the lowest average number of facilities to manage, at 1.7. (See Figure 7.)
Many recreation, sports and fitness facilities work with other organizations, from nonprofits and government organizations to local businesses and friends groups, as a way to expand their capabilities. Savvy partnerships can help facilities do more with less, whether it means a broader scope for marketing efforts or the ability to provide a wider range of program opportunities for community members. More than eight in 10 (82.3%) respondents said they currently work in partnership with other organizations. This is down from 87.9% in 2021 and 89% in 2020.
As usual, local schools are the most common type of partner for all types of facilities. Nearly six in 10 (59.6%) respondents said they had partnered with local schools. (See Figure 8.) The next most common types of partners included local government (47.5%), nonprofit organizations (46.4%), state government (32.3%) and corporate or local businesses (30%).
Respondents from Ys, parks and schools were the most likely to report that they had partnered with other organizations, while those from health clubs and camps were the least likely to have partnered with others. Almost all Y respondents (97.9%) said they had partnered with other organizations, while 93.8% of park respondents and 92.1% of school respondents had done so. This compares with 62.5% of health club respondents and 67.8% of camp respondents. (See Figure 9.)
Considering the fact that Y respondents are so highly likely to partner with other organizations, it follows that they are also the most likely to partner with the types of partners covered by the survey. The only exceptions were state government, colleges and universities, and private health clubs. Y respondents were the most likely to indicate that they had formed partnerships with local schools (89.4%), local government (72.3%), nonprofit organizations (89.4%), corporations and local businesses (74.5%), federal government (38.3%), health care and medical facilities (57.4%), other Ys (61.7%), and military organizations (36.2%).
Respondents from schools were the most likely to report that they had partnered with state government (65.1% had done so), while colleges and universities were the most likely to form partnerships with other colleges and universities (65.5%), and health clubs were the most likely to partner with other health clubs (though only 9.4% had formed such partnerships).
Asked about the age range of the audience they typically serve, respondents were most likely to indicate that they reach all ages. Some 36.1% of respondents said their facilities serve an all-ages audience. The next largest groups primarily reach children ages 4 to 12 (20.2%) and adults ages 19 to 64 (19.3%). Smaller numbers of respondents said their primary audience was made up of teens ages 13 to 18 (11.8%), college students (9.1%), seniors 65 and older (2.9%), or infants and toddlers (0.7%). (See Figure 10.)
Broken down further, the respondents most likely to reach all ages at their facilities included parks (50.8% said they reach all ages) and Ys (48.9%). Those who were the most likely to serve an audience of children ages 4 to 12 included camps (33.9%) and Ys (29.8%). Respondents reporting that they reached an audience of adults ages 19 to 64 were most likely to be from health clubs and fitness facilities (68.8%), followed distantly by rec centers (25%). Teens were most likely to be the primary audience for respondents from schools and school districts (61.9%), while college students were obviously the most likely audience for colleges and universities (86%). Finally, 1.8% of rec centers, 1.6% of Ys and 1.6% of schools said their primary audience was made up of infants and toddlers.
Revenues & Expenditures
The pandemic had an obvious negative effect on revenues at recreation, sports and fitness facilities, with respondents in 2020 and 2021 far more likely than usual to report that their revenues had fallen in those years. This year's survey shows facilities recovering, with the fewest respondents in 10 years expecting revenues to be lower.
The year 2020 represented a dramatic departure from the norm, with nearly two-thirds (64.9%) of respondents indicating that their revenues for the year were lower than the previous year. By 2021, the number reporting a drop in revenue fell to 26.7%—still a dramatically different result from most survey years, but an obvious improvement over 2020. At the same time, while only 13.4% of respondents saw their revenues increase in 2020, by 2021, more than half (51.7%) were reporting revenues on the rise again—the highest number reporting an increase in eight years, though obviously with so many seeing a drop the preceding year, it should come as no surprise that 2021 showed some recovery. (See Figure 11.)
Looking forward, respondents were much more optimistic about 2022 and 2023, with 60% indicating they expect to see higher revenues in both years. At the same time, 9.8% still expect revenues to fall in 2022, while 5.4% are anticipating a decrease in revenues in 2023.
Operating expenses experienced a relatively steady climb from 2013 to 2019, before dropping amidst the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the average operating expense for all respondents was 12% lower in 2020 than in 2019. That followed a gradual increase adding up to 51.6% from 2013 to 2019.
In 2021, respondents reported an average operating expense of $1,810,000, a 5.2% decrease from the average in 2020, $1,910,000. (See Figure 12.)
Following this decrease, respondents once again reported increasing operating expenses over the years 2022 and 2023, no surprise given inflationary pressures across the board. In fact, the average for 2022, $1,980,000, is 9.4% higher than the average for 2021. And in 2022, respondents expect their average operating cost to climb to $2,100,000, a further 6.1% increase.
Urban respondents were the only group to report an increase to their average operating cost from 2020 to 2021, from $1,980,000 to $2,450,000, a 23.7% increase. While this is a substantial jump, it's not enough to offset the decreases for suburban and rural communities in the overall average. Suburban communities saw their average operating cost fall by 12.9%, from $2,320,000 in 2020 to $2,020,000 in 2021; and rural respondents reported a 6% decrease, from $1,330,000 in 2020 to $1,250,000 in 2021.
Looking forward, all community types expect operating expenses to increase from 2021 to 2023. Urban respondents projected the largest increase, at 18.4%, from an average of $2,450,000 in 2021 to $2,900,000 in 2023. Suburban respondents followed, projecting a 17.3% increase, from an average of $2,020,000 in 2021 to $2,370,000 in 2023, while rural respondents expect a 12.8% increase, from $1,250,000 to $1,410,000.
Respondents in the Northeast and South Central regions saw a decrease in their average operating cost from 2020 to 2021, while those in other regions reported an increase. Respondents in the South Central region reported a decrease of 38.7%, from an average of $1,810,000 in 2020 to $1,110,000 in 2021, while those in the Northeast saw a 36.7% decrease, from $1,470,000 to $930,000.
The greatest increase to operating expenses was reported by respondents from the West, who saw their average increase from $1,930,000 in 2020 to $2,210,000 in 2021, a jump of 14.5%. Those in the Midwest reported a 6.1% increase in the same time frame, from $2,120,000 to $2,250,000, and respondents from the South Atlantic region reported a more modest 1.9% increase, from $2,060,000 to $2,100,000. (See Figure 13.)
From 2021 to 2023, respondents from the Northeast are expecting the greatest increase to their average operating costs, projecting a jump of 52.7%, from $930,000 to $1,420,000. They were followed by those in the South Central region, who projected a 32.4% increase, from $1,110,000 in 2021 to $1,470,000 in 2023. Respondents in the West projected a 15.8% increase, from $2,210,000 to $2,560,000, while those in the South Atlantic region are expecting a 10% rise, from $2,100,000 to $2,310,000. Respondents in the Midwest projected the smallest increase to operating expenses from 2021 to 2023, expecting those costs to rise 5.8%, from $2,250,000 in 2021 to $2,380,000 in 2023.
When it comes to facility type, there's been a great deal of volatility in operating expenses reported by respondents over the past couple of years—unsurprising given pandemic-related challenges from temporary closures and fluctuations in membership and attendance to staffing and supply-chain issues. Respondents from parks and schools were the only cohorts to report an increase to their average operating cost from 2020 to 2021. Parks reported a 32.3% increase in that time period, from $1,860,000 in 2020 to $2,460,000 in 2021. Schools reported a smaller 8.9% increase, from an average of $1,690,000 to $1,840,000. (See Figure 14.)
Health clubs reported significantly lower operating expenses in 2021 than in 2020, with the average falling 62.9%, from $1,320,000 to $490,000. Camps also reported a significant decrease, with their average operating cost dropping 44.5%, from $1,550,000 in 2020 to $860,000 in 2021. Respondents from rec centers saw a 15.6% decrease, from an average of $1,350,000 in 2020 to $1,140,000 in 2021, while colleges saw a slightly smaller 14.3% decrease, from $1,610,000 to $1,380,000. Ys saw the least change from 2020 to 2021, reporting a 5.1% decrease, from $3,760,000 to $3,570,000.
Looking forward, the greatest increase to operating expenditures between 2021 and 2023 is expected among respondents from camps, while schools and parks were the only respondents to anticipate less-than-double-digit percentage increases. Camp respondents projected a 44.2% increase to their average operating cost from 2021 to 2023, with costs rising from $860,000 to $1,240,000. Respondents from Ys are anticipating a 35% increase, from $3,570,000 to $4,820,000. Similar increases are expected by colleges (26.8%, from $1,380,000 to $1,750,000) and health clubs (26.5%, from $490,000 to $620,000). Rec center respondents projected a 14% increase, from $1,140,000 in 2021 to $1,300,000 in 2023. Park respondents are expecting their operating costs to rise 6.1%, from $2,460,000 to $2,610,000, and school respondents projected a 4.3% increase, from an average of $1,840,000 in 2021 to $1,920,000 in 2023.
Multiple questions in the Industry Report survey aim to dig beneath the surface to help paint a picture of how organizations are funded, beginning with an examination of costs recovered via revenues. This number differs vastly depending on the type of organization represented. One would expect, for example, to see those who list themselves as private, for-profit organizations recovering far more of their costs than a nonprofit facility. On average, respondents in 2022 said they recover 56.1% of their costs through revenues, up from 52.3% in 2021, 51.7% in 2020 and 47.3% in 2019.
This increase over the past few years seems largely driven by increasing rates of cost recovery for private organizations, both nonprofits and for-profits. Public and governmental organizations in 2022 saw 43.5% of their costs recovered, down from 45.1% in 2021. Meanwhile, nonprofits recovered 67.7% of costs via revenues in 2022, up from 65.5% in 2021, and for-profit organizations recovered 75.7% of their costs in 2022, up from 73.6% in 2021. (See Figure 15.)
Respondents from camps, health clubs and Ys earned back the highest percentage of their costs via revenues. Camps recovered 74.9% of their operating costs in 2022, down slightly from 75.2% in 2021, while health clubs recovered 71.3% (down from 76.4%) and Ys earned back 68.4% (down from 72.2%). Rec center respondents saw a substantial increase in the percentage of costs they recovered in 2022, with 64% of their costs covered by revenues, up from 56% in 2021. Respondents from parks and schools earned back the lowest percentage of their operating costs via revenues, with park respondents reporting that they earned back 43.5% (representing virtually no change, from 43.3% in 2021), and schools earning back 33.6% (down from 45.6% in 2021). (See Figure 16.)
Last year's report saw a surge in the number of respondents who indicated that they had taken some kind of action to reduce their expenses, with 90.1% of respondents indicating they had done so. This year, that number fell again, with 83.8% of respondents reporting they had taken action to reduce their expenses. Interestingly, improving energy efficiency, which has long been one of the most common methods respondents use to reduce their expenses, fell out of the top five most common actions taken. Most commonly, respondents said they had reduced staff in order to cut their expenses, though the number who had done so is down significantly from 2021. Some 41.4% of 2022 respondents said they had cut staff in order to reduce expenses, down from 56.5% in 2021. Another 40.5% said they had reduced their hours of operation (down from 52.8%), and 40.1% said they had increased fees, up from 21.7% in 2021. Nearly one-third said they had cut programs or services (32.7%, down from 55.6%), or put construction plans on hold (31.6%, down from 34.4%). (See Figure 17.)
In a departure from the norm, Y respondents were not the most likely to report that they had taken action to reduce their expenses. Respondents from colleges and camps were the most likely to have done so, with 90.9% of college respondents and 90.3% of camp respondents indicating they had taken action to reduce their costs, down from 93.3% and 91.8%, respectively. Ys were next, with 89.4% reporting having taken such action, down from 97.4% in 2021. Some 86.7% of health club respondents in 2022 reported taking action to reduce expenses, down from 91.9%; while 84.1% of park respondents had taken action to reduce costs, down from 91.2%. Rec centers and schools were the least likely to indicate they had acted to reduce their expenses, with 79.2% of rec centers respondents and 63.9% of school respondents having done so, down from 95.6% and 71.4%, respectively.
Respondents from colleges were the most likely to report that they had reduced their hours of operation (70.9% had done so), cut programs or services (56.4%), closed facilities temporarily (38.2%) or instituted a hiring freeze (23.6%). Y respondents were the most likely to indicate that they had reduced staff (59.6%), put construction or renovation plans on hold (40.4%), or permanently closed facilities (4.3%). Camp respondents were the most likely to indicate they had increased fees, with 74.2% reporting they had done so. Schools were the most likely to report that they had improved energy efficiency (34.5% had done so), and park respondents were the most likely to report that they had shortened their season of operation (22.4% had done so).
Asked about their sources of funding for their facilities, respondents named admission and membership fees, as well as revenues from rentals and private events as their most common funding sources. Some 62% of respondents named membership and admission fees as a revenue source, while 60% said they earned revenues from rentals and private events. More than one-third said they earned revenues from tuition and fees (39.3%) or from private donations from individuals (37.6%). Another 30.3% said they were supported by government grants. (See Figure 18.)
Look to the following facility-specific sections to see the breakdown of funding for different facility types, a new addition to the Industry Report in 2022!
Membership & Usage
In most years of the study, around six out of 10 respondents report that they charge a fee for membership or for usage of their facilities, and this year is no exception to that rule. Some 60.7% of respondents said they currently charge a fee, up from 57% in 2021.
Respondents from Ys and health clubs were very likely to report that they charge a membership or usage fee, with 93.6% of Y respondents and 87.5% of health club respondents indicating that they do so. Falling in the middle, 66.1% of rec center respondents, 64.9% of college respondents, 61.2% of park respondents and 52.4% of camp respondents said they charge a fee for membership or usage of their facilities. Schools were not likely to charge a membership or facility usage fee. Only 17.5% of school respondents indicated that they charge such a fee.
In most years, about a third of respondents who charge a fee for membership or usage of their facilities report that they plan to increase their fees. The pandemic threw this trend out of whack, and in 2020, only 17.6% of respondents increased their fees, while the majority (74%) left their fees the same, and 8.4% reduced their fees—a big jump over the norm. In 2021, respondents largely continued to hold steady, with 72.2% indicating that their fees remained unchanged from the year before. Around a quarter (24.2%) reported a fee increase in 2021. (See Figure 19.)
Given the reduction in the number of respondents who instituted a fee increase over the first two years of the pandemic, plus the now-obvious inflationary pressures, it should come as no surprise that in 2022 and 2023, many more respondents are planning to increase their fees. In 2022, 40.4% of respondents say they will increase their fees, while 59.1% intend to keep their fees at the same level. And in 2023, nearly half (47.5%) of respondents are planning a fee increase, while 51.2% plan to hold their fees at the same level.
Camps and Ys were the most likely to be planning a fee increase in 2022, while schools were the least likely. Some 63.6% of camps respondents and 46.5% of Y respondents said they intended to increase their fees in 2022, while just 9.1% of schools indicated the same. In 2023, camps again are the most likely to be planning a fee increase, with 71% of camp respondents indicating they plan to do so. They were followed by rec centers, with 57.1% of rec center respondents reporting that they plan a fee increase. Schools were again the least likely to be planning any fee increase—just 10% had such plans.
The pandemic obviously had an impact on the number of people using facilities over 2020 and 2021, with respondents much more likely than usual to report that the number of people using their facilities had decreased. In 2020, six in 10 (60.5%) respondents said the number of people using their facilities had fallen, while in 2021, 23.9% reported a decrease. At the same time, respondents in 2021 were also slightly more likely than usual to report an increase in usage, with 55.8% reporting that the number of people using their facilities had increased. (See Figure 20.)
Looking to 2022 and 2023, respondents are much more likely to be expecting the usage of their facilities to increase. In 2022, 63.2% of respondents expect an increase in the number of people using their facilities, while 29.2% expect no change, and 7.6% expect a decrease. And in 2023, 62.7% expect an increase, while 34.4% expect no change and 2.9% expect a decrease.
In 2021, respondents from camps and Ys were the most likely to report that the number of people using their facilities had increased. Some 71.4% of camp respondents said they had seen an increase in membership/usership that year, while 69.6% of Y respondents reported the same. Respondents from health clubs and colleges were the most likely to report that the number of people using their facilities decreased in 2021, with 46.9% of health club respondents and 42.9% of college respondents indicating they had seen a decrease in membership.
In 2022, respondents from Ys and parks were the most likely to be expecting an increase in utilization of their facilities. More than three-quarters (76.1%) of Y respondents and 72.6% of park respondents said they expect an increase in 2022. Ys again lead the way in 2023, with 87.8% of respondents indicating they expect to see an increasing number of people using their facility. They were followed by health club respondents, with 74.1% indicating that they expect the number of people using their facilities to increase in 2023.
Considering the number of respondents who reported that they reduced staff to cut operating costs over the course of the pandemic, it is somewhat surprising to find that the average number of employees at the organizations has changed very little over the past few years. In 2022, respondents employed an average of 121.8 workers, representing virtually no change from 2021 (121.4) and up only slightly from 2020, when the average was 119.5. On average, survey respondents employed 25.7 full-time workers (no change from 2021), 43.4 part-time employees (up slightly from 42.1), 47.2 seasonal workers (up from 42), 40 volunteers (virtually unchanged from 40.4), and 11.7 "other" types of employees (up from 10.1).
As always, Ys employ the largest number of people, with an average of 237 employees of all kinds, up from 209.3 in 2021. They were followed by colleges, with an average of 133.7 employees (up from 109.8), parks, with an average of 125.6 (up from 120.4), and schools, with an average of 125.5 (up from 103.9). Camps, rec centers and health clubs all reported a decrease in the number of people employed at their facilities, with camps falling from an average of 138.3 in 2021 to 91.6 in 2022, rec centers dropping from 105.9 to 94.6, and health clubs decreasing from 67.7 to 43.9. (See Figure 21.)
While 2021 saw the highest number of respondents with plans to reduce staff in some time, 2022 sees a reversal, with more respondents planning to add staff than in most years. Though only 7.6% of respondents in 2021 reported that they had plans to reduce staff, that number was more than double the number planning to reduce staff in most years of the survey. In 2022, though, less than 1% of respondents indicated that they had plans to reduce staff. Some 37.1% of respondents in 2022 are planning to add staff at their facilities, a substantial increase over 2021, when 21.3% had such plans. (See Figure 22.)
Certifications, from career-specific credentials like pool operator or Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) credentials to broader certifications like foodservice certification, give professionals an opportunity to prove their competency through testing and continuing education requirements.
A majority of respondents (78.7%) said that they currently require certification of some kind for at least some of their staff. This represents a continuing trend, as the number requiring certification has fallen over the past few years, from 83.2% in 2019, to 82.1% in 2020 and 81.3% in 2021.
For the first time, schools replaced Ys as the most likely to require certification for some of their staff. Some 92.1% of school respondents said they currently require certification, up from 90.4%. Ys were the next most likely to require certification, with 87.2% of Y respondents indicating they do so, down from 95.6% in 2021. More than eight out of 10 college (86%) and health club (81.3%) respondents also said they require certification. Rec centers were the least likely to require certification of some of their staff members, though three-quarters (75%) said they do have such a requirement. (See Figure 23.)
Interestingly, all but one of the seven most commonly required certifications all saw an increase in the number of respondents who require them, among those who require any certification. CPR/AED/First Aid certification is the most commonly required credential, with 89.8% of respondents who require any certifications insisting staff members have it, up from 88.9%. Background checks are also a very common requirement, at 82.4%, down from 85.9%. Some 58.7% of respondents who require certification require lifeguarding credentials (up from 55.6%). Other commonly required certifications include aquatic management or pool operations certification (35%, up from 34.4%), personal training or fitness certification (30.9%, up from 28.7%), and foodservice certification (30.9%, up from 25.4%). (See Figure 24.)
Respondents from facilities that include aquatic elements are obviously much more likely to require lifeguard and aquatic management or pool operations certifications for some of their staff members. While 58.7% of all respondents who require certification said they ask some staff members to achieve lifeguard certification, for those with aquatic facilities, that number jumps to 88.7%. And while 35% of all respondents require aquatic management and pool operations certifications, 56.4% of those with aquatic facilities do so.
As with aquatics, different types of facilities are much more likely to require certain types of certification than others. CPR/AED/First Aid training was required by more than 85% of respondents at all facility types, but 100% of health club respondents and Y respondents said they require it. Park respondents were more likely than those from other facilities to require pesticide application certification (39% of park respondents who require any certification require it), playground safety certification (31.6%), CPRP certification (19.9%) and turf and grounds management certification (10.3%). College respondents were the most likely to require athletic trainer certification (28.6%). School respondents were the most likely to require coaching (75.9%) or teaching (65.5%) certifications. Health clubs were the most likely to require personal training or fitness certification (83.6%). Ys were the most likely to require background checks (97.6%), lifeguard certification (87.8%), aquatic management or pool operations certification (73.2%) and childcare or early childhood education certification (53.7%). Camps were the most likely to require foodservice (61.2%), climbing (26.5%) or security and law enforcement (10.2%) certifications.
Facilities & Construction Plans
The Industry Report has been tracking the age of respondents' flagship or main facilities since 2013. In that time, facilities have aged from an average of 27.5 years in 2013 to 37.3 years in 2022, up from an average of 35.6 in 2021.
The ages definitely skew older in this year's survey compared to 2021. Some 40.3% of respondents said their main or flagship facility is at least 41 years old, up from 35.8% in 2021. More than half of those, 23.1% of all respondents, said their main facility is at least 50 years old, up from 18.2%. At the same time, only 10.3% of respondents had facilities that were 10 years old or newer, compared with 12.1% in 2021. And only 3.6% said their main facility was five or fewer years old, down from 6%. Another 31.3% of respondents said their main facility is between 21 and 40 years old (up from 28.6%), and 18.1% said their main facility is between 11 and 20 years old (down from 23.5%).
As usual, camps had the oldest facilities, while health clubs and colleges had the newest facilities. Camp respondents reported the average age of their facilities at 53 years, down from 57.4 in 2021, but still over the average of 51.8 years reported in 2020. Health club respondents, on the other hand, reported an average facility age of 20.7 years, down from 27.1, while college respondents reported an average age of 25.5 for their main facility, down from 28.2. Falling in the middle were rec centers (35.1 years on average, up from 31.7), parks (35.5 years, no change), schools (37.6 years, up from 33.5), and Ys (43.6 years, up from 39.9 in 2021). (See Figure 25.)
Amidst the pandemic, the number of respondents reporting that they had plans for new construction, additions or renovations fell, but that number began to rise again in 2022. Since 2013, the number of respondents with construction plans grew from 62.7% to a high of 72.9% in 2020. According to a May 2020 update survey taken to assess the impact of COVID-19, 34.3% of respondents in that year had chosen to put their construction plans on hold, and in 2021, just 64.9% of respondents said they had plans for construction. In 2022, that number has grown again, and 70.5% of respondents report that they have plans for new construction, additions or renovations at their facilities over the next several years.
In 2022, more than half (53.1%) of respondents said they were planning to renovate their existing facilities, up from 48.7%, but still well below 2020, when 57.3% said they had such plans. Another 29.1% were planning to make additions (up from 28.8%, but still lower than 2020's 34.6%), while 29.5% were planning new construction (up from 27.1%, but still lower than 2020's 31.1%). (See Figure 26.)
Considering they have the oldest facilities, on average it comes as no surprise that camp respondents are the most likely to be planning construction, but the fact that 92.1% of these respondents have such plans is a surprise, as it's a big jump from the 77% who were planning construction in 2021, and even the 85.3% who had such plans in 2020. Respondents from parks were the next most likely to be planning construction, with 82% reporting they had such plans. This is up from 71.8% in 2020, and is even more than the 80.8% who had such plans in 2020. Y respondents were also highly likely to be planning construction at their facilities, with 74.5% indicating they had such plans, up from 66.7% and about in line with 2020's 74.4%. Health club respondents were the least likely to indicate they had plans for construction, though 50% did indicate they are planning construction (down from 51.4% in 2021). They were followed by rec centers (55.4% in 2022 are planning construction, down from 59.1%), colleges (56.1% in 2022 and 52.7% in 2021), and schools (57.1% in 2022 and 58.3% in 2021).
Camp respondents were the most likely to be planning all types of construction. Some 44.4% of camp respondents said they were planning new construction, up from 39.2% in 2021. Another 44.4% of camp respondents were planning additions (up from 34.2%), while 66.7% said they had plans for renovations (up from 62.2%). Parks followed camps when it came to new construction, with 40.4% reporting that they had such plans (up from 32.9%). Schools followed camps on additions, with a third (33.3%) reporting they were planning to make additions to their facilities, up from 22.6% in 2021. Finally, two-thirds of Y respondents (66%) in 2022 said they had plans for renovations, up significantly from 44.7% in 2021.
Despite the increase in the number of respondents planning construction, the average budget for that construction has fallen significantly over the past couple of years. In 2021, respondents were planning to spend $5,140,000 on average for their construction plans, a decrease of 8.7% from 2020, when they were planning to spend $5,630,000. And in 2022, respondents are planning to spend an average of $4,200,000, 18.3% lower than in 2021, and the lowest average construction cost reported since 2016, when the average was $3,519,000. (See Figure 27.)
Only park and camp respondents reported an increase to the average spending for their construction in 2022 over 2021. Camp respondents to the 2022 survey are planning to spend 39.6% more than their counterparts from 2021—spending an average of $1,410,000 vs. $1,010,000, while park respondents in 2022 are planning to spend $5,330,000, a 3.3% increase from 2021's average of $5,160,000.
The biggest decreases to average construction spending were found among rec centers and health clubs. Rec center respondents in 2022 were planning to spend an average of $2,900,000, 55% lower than the average in 2021 of $6,450,000, while health club respondents were planning to spend $1,980,000 in 2022, 38.1% lower than 2021's average of $3,200,000. School respondents saw a 16.1% decrease from their average construction spending in 2021 of $6,760,000 to $5,670,000 in 2022, while Y respondents saw an 8.7% decrease, from an average of $5,190,000 in 2021 to $4,740,000 in 2022. Colleges reported virtually no change to their construction budgets, with a 0.7% decrease from $7,690,000 to $7,640,000.
When facility construction budgets are broken down by region, only respondents in the Northeast reported an increase to the average amount they were planning to spend on construction in 2022. Northeastern respondents reported a 6.3% increase in 2022, from an average of $2,840,000 to $3,020,000. Respondents in the South Central region reported a substantial decrease of 62.9%, from an average of $5,820,000 in 2021 to $2,060,000 in 2022. The South Atlantic region reported 16.6% lower construction budgets in 2022—$4,320,000 vs. $5,180,000 in 2021. Respondents in the Midwest saw a 14.3% decrease to their construction budgets, from an average of $4,620,000 to $3,960,000. In the West, respondents reported a 4.2% decrease, from $7,340,000 to $7,030,000. (See Figure 28.)
The top amenities included in respondents' facilities in 2022 include: locker rooms (56.4% of respondents currently have locker rooms); classrooms and meeting rooms (56.3%); playgrounds (55.9%); Wi-Fi services (55.9%); outdoor sports courts for sports like basketball or tennis (55.4%); bleachers and seating (54.1%); open spaces such as gardens and natural areas (50.3%); concession areas (49.9%); natural turf sports fields for sports like football, baseball and soccer (48.6%); and indoor sports courts for sports like basketball and racquet sports (48.1%). (See Figure 29.)
The number of respondents who claim to have specific amenities tends to vary slightly from year to year. This year saw decreases for most types of amenities. However, the following types of features saw an increase of at least one percentage point from 2021: challenge courses and ropes courses (up 2.9 percentage points, possibly driven by the increased interest in ninja-challenge amenities); synthetic turf sports fields (up 2.6); climbing walls (up 2.5); locker rooms (up 1.8); ice rinks (up 1.1); and indoor aquatic facilities (up 1).
Respondents from parks were more likely than other respondents to include: playgrounds (87.4% of park respondents had playgrounds); park shelters (83.4%); park restroom structures (76%); outdoor sports courts (74.9%); open spaces like natural areas (73.1%); community or multipurpose centers (59.4%); bike trails (46.9%); skateparks (38.9%); dog parks (36%); community gardens (36%); fitness trails and outdoor fitness equipment (32.6%); splash play areas (32.6%); ice rinks (21.1%); golf courses (18.3%); waterparks (13.1%); and bike or BMX parks (11.4%).
College and university respondents were the most likely to include: fitness centers (96.4%); locker rooms (94.5%); indoor sports courts (90.9%); exercise studio rooms (80%); indoor tracks (65.5%); synthetic turf sports fields (60%); and climbing walls (41.8%).
Respondents from schools were the most likely to include: bleachers and seating (88.9%); classrooms and meeting rooms (81%); concession areas (77.8%); natural turf sports fields (77.8%); and outdoor tracks (68.3%).
Health club respondents were the most likely to include Wi-Fi services (65.6%).
Respondents from Ys were more likely than others to include indoor aquatic facilities (71.7%) and childcare centers (71.7%).
Camp respondents were the most likely to include: walking and hiking trails (77%); campgrounds (57.4%); challenge courses and ropes courses (50.8%); waterfronts and marinas (49.2%); outdoor aquatic facilities (41%); disc golf courses (36.1%); nature centers (27.9%); skiing and winter recreation areas (13.1%); mini golf (11.5%); and amusements such as rides and arcades (4.9%).
Last year's report saw a drop in the number of respondents who had plans to add features at their facilities over the next few years. In 2022, those numbers began to turn around. In 2020, 43.3% of all respondents said they had plans to add features at their facilities over the next three years, a number that then dropped to 37.1% in 2021. In 2022, 39.1% of all respondents said that they are planning to add features at their facilities over the next few years.
Only respondents from health clubs and rec centers bucked the trend, with a decreasing number in each category planning to add features. In 2021, 21.6% of health club respondents and 39.1% of rec center respondents said they had plans to add features. In 2022, those numbers decreased to 18.8% and 25%, respectively.
The greatest increase from 2021 to 2022 in the number of respondents planning to add features at their facilities was found among camp respondents. They also were by far the most likely to report that they had such plans. Some 60.3% of camp respondents in 2022 said they are planning to add features at their facilities, an increase of 18.4 percentage points from 2021. The next largest increase was found among Y respondents. Nearly half (48.9%) of Y respondents in 2022 said they had plans to add features at their facilities over the next three years, a 10.3-point increase from 2021. Smaller increases were seen among respondents from colleges (31.6% are planning to add features, up 7.7 points), parks (53.4%, up 6.6 points), and schools (23.8%, up 3.8 points). (See Figure 30.)
The top planned features for all facility types include:
- Splash play areas (21.4% of respondents with plans to add features are planning to add splash play)
- Synthetic turf sports fields (19.5%)
- Playgrounds (17.7%)
- Fitness centers (15.5%)
- Park shelters (14.1%)
- Dog parks (13.6%)
- Park restroom structures (12.7%)
- Fitness trails and outdoor fitness equipment (12.3%)
- Exercise studio rooms (11.8%)
- Disc golf courses (11.8%)
- Concession areas (11.8%)
The vast majority of respondents report that they provide programming of one kind or another at their facilities. In 2022, 96.4% of respondents said they currently provide programming options to their members and communities, down slightly from 97.6%.
The top 10 most commonly offered programs include: holiday events and other special events (57.2% of respondents host holiday events and other special events); day camps and summer camps (54.3%); fitness programs (52.8%); group exercise programs (52.8%); educational programs (51.2%); youth sports teams (50.3%); mind-body balance programs such as yoga, tai chi or martial arts (43%); arts and crafts (41.3%); sports tournaments and races (39.3%); and swimming programs such as swim teams or learn-to-swim (38.4%). (See Figure 31.)
Most respondents—96.4%—said they currently offer programming of some kind. As in 2021, a full 100% of respondents from health clubs, Ys and rec centers said they currently provide some type of programming at their facilities. They were followed by parks (97.7%), colleges and universities (96.4%), schools (93.7%) and camps (93.5%).
As has always been the case, Y respondents were the most likely to offer the most different kinds of programs. They were more likely than those from other types of facilities to offer: holiday events and other special events; day camps and summer camps; group exercise programs; educational programs; youth sports teams; mind-body balance programs like yoga and tai chi; swimming programs; programs for active older adults; teen programs; aquatic exercise programs; daycare and preschool; special needs programs; trips; therapeutic programs; and adaptive sports programming.
Park respondents were the most likely to offer arts and crafts programs, adult sports teams, sport-specific training like golf instruction or tennis lessons; festivals and concerts; and performing arts programs such as theater, music and dance.
Health club respondents were the most likely to offer fitness programs, functional fitness programs, personal training, and nutrition and diet counseling.
Camp respondents were the most likely to offer environmental education programs, camping, and water sports like canoeing and kayaking.
Finally, college respondents were the most likely to provide individual sports activities like running clubs or swim clubs, as well as climbing programs.
Some 35.7% of respondents in 2022 said they had plans to add more programming options to their facilities' lineup over the next three years, down from 36.1% in 2021, but more than in 2020 (35.1%) and 2019 (31.4%).
The 10 most commonly planned program additions were:
- Mind-body balance programs (29.9%, up from 23.4% in 2021)
- Fitness programs (27.9%, up from 25.5%)
- Group exercise programs (27.9%, up from 25.7%)
- Educational programs (25.9%, up from 20.8%)
- Arts and crafts programs (21.9%, up from 17.4%)
- Teen programs (21.9%, down from 23.7%)
- Functional fitness programs (21.4%, up from 17.8%)
- Performing arts programs (21.4%, up from 17.4%)
- Environmental education (20.9%, up from 20%)
- Holidays and other special events (20.4%, down from 21%)
Respondents from parks and Ys were the most likely to report that they had plans to add programs at their facilities over the next few years. In fact, nearly half (49.4%) of park respondents indicated that they had such plans, as did 42.6% of Y respondents. They were followed by rec centers, where 35.7% of respondents had plans to add programs, and colleges and universities (35.1%). School respondents were the least likely to have plans to add programs at their facilities over the next few years. Just 12.7% of school respondents said they had such plans. They were followed by health clubs (21.9%) and camps (23.8%).
When asked about various initiatives their organizations are involved in, respondents chose the following as their top 10:
- Wellness initiatives (47.5%)
- Outreach to underserved populations (41.4%)
- Outreach to economically disadvantaged populations (39.7%)
- Inclusion initiatives for those with physical disabilities (39.7%)
- Outreach to minority populations (35.7%)
- Inclusion initiatives for those with developmental disabilities (35.4%)
- Programs to connect people with nature (28.9%)
- Resource conservation and green initiatives (25.1%)
- Initiatives to reduce hunger and improve nutrition (18.8%)
- Disaster recovery assistance (8.7%)
Staffing Concerns Dominate
For most facilities, the number-one challenge in any year is economic in nature—how to stretch the budget to meet the needs of the facility and its members or visitors. But it's certainly not the only concern. Closely related, and top of mind for a majority of Industry Report respondents in 2022, is staffing. In fact, every other issue measured by the report saw a decrease in the number of respondents naming it a top concern—except for facility and equipment maintenance, which saw no change—while staffing issues saw an increase of 15.8 percentage points. Some 63.2% of respondents in 2022 named staffing issues a top industry concern—no surprise given the so-called "Great Resignation" and the related pressure on hiring and pay.
Issues that saw increases amidst the pandemic—including fitness and wellness concerns, as well as social equity and legislative issues—have fallen back to pre-pandemic levels.
After staffing, equipment and facility maintenance was the next most commonly chosen industry concern, with 50.1% calling it a top issue. This represents no change from 2021. It was followed by: marketing and increasing participation (36.4%, down from 38% in 2021); safety and risk management (28.6%, down from 34.9%); general fitness and wellness (24.5%, down from 28.9%); creating new and innovative programming (23.9%, down from 34.4%). (See Figure 32.)
Meanwhile, the data also reveals the waning impact of COVID-19 on facility operations. Far fewer facilities were closed in 2021 than in 2020, and operations and programming began to return to normal. Where 62.6% of respondents in 2021 said they had opened their facilities with social distancing measures in place, in 2022, just over half (50.7%) had done the same. And while 57.2% of respondents in 2021 said they had closed indoor facilities, in 2022, 38.4% had done so. Some 26.2% of respondents in 2021 said they had closed outdoor facilities, while less than half as many (12.9%) in 2022 said they had closed outdoor facilities. The only measure that held relatively steady was converting indoor programming to outdoor: 34.3% had done so in 2021, while 33% converted programming from indoor to outdoor in 2022. (See Figure 33.)
With COVID-19's impact on the wane, we asked respondents to tell us about their top goals for their facilities in the coming year. The most common responses centered around increasing participation and membership, as well as building and renovating facilities. Recruiting and training staff, as well as just "getting back to normal" also made up a large number of the responses.
Here's a sampling of respondents' goals for the coming year:
- "Financial goals are always No. 1."
- "Sustain the gains from 2021. (We reopened faster than any other aquatic facility in our area and increased membership substantially.)"
- "We plan on having another banner year. Camping has been really busy during the Covid days."
- "Be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Serve the public via creative, educational and valued programming. Provide safe, efficient, pleasing facilities."
- "Equity and access to QUALITY facilities is our top priority now and into the future."
- "Engage students. Covid has caused issues with isolation, and it is hard to get students back out into recreating."
- "Completing a comprehensive strategic plan for our organization, encompassing action steps for the next three years. Addressing facility renovation issues; filling multiple open staffing positions."
- "To open all areas that were operational pre-Covid; to continue offering remote/virtual programming that was successful while facilities were closed; catch up on deferred maintenance items that were sidelined due to Covid and revenue loss."
- "Continue to add program offerings to reach or exceed pre-Covid levels. Run successful capital campaign in order to build a new facility that will meet the needs of our community for decades to come. Offer training and in-service to our staff that will make them a high-functioning team focused on safety, customer service and innovation."
- "To be relevant in some way in every citizen's life, whether that would be using our indoor facilities, utilizing our golf course, going to a park or concert, watching their grandchildren play a sport at one of our venues, or maybe just utilizing our dog park. I want every citizen to say they utilize parks & recreation that we provide in some way."
- "My top goal for our facility is to get people to come together and enjoy recreational activities as we strive to bring the community together after living with Covid for two years." RM