Feature Article - June 2011
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Health, Fitness & Sports Clubs

A Look at Trends in Health, Fitness & Sports Clubs

By Emily Tipping

According to a report from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) released in April 2011, U.S. health club membership reached 50.2 million in 2010, strong growth in a field that has been challenged, like others, by the economic downturn. It represents a 10.8 percent increase over membership in 2009. Total industry revenues in 2010 were up 4 percent to $20.3 billion.

"One year does not constitute a trend, but it is certainly a positive sign that 2010 saw real membership growth after four years of treading water," said Jay Ablondi, IHRSA's executive vice president of global products. "The health club industry has weathered the economic storm of the past few years better than many other industries."

Our report also shows health club respondents recovering well. While there are many possible reasons for this, it is likely that the operating structure of most health clubs—their tendency to be for-profit, privately operated facilities—makes them more flexible and able to adjust.

And, in fact, a majority of our health club respondents were from private, for-profit facilities. Nearly seven out of 10 (69.9 percent) respondents said their facilities were under private ownership, on a for-profit basis. Another 15.1 percent said they worked for private nonprofit clubs. And 15.1 percent worked for public facilities.

Health club respondents were most likely to come from the Midwest, with more than a quarter (26.8 percent) indicating that this was their region. Another 23.9 percent were from the West. The South Atlantic and the South Central states each had 16.9 percent of health club respondents, and 15.5 percent were from the Northeast.

Half (50 percent) of health club respondents reported in from suburban communities, and another 30 percent said they worked in rural communities. A fifth (20 percent) said they were working in urban areas.

Unlike other respondents working for organizations that managed multiple facilities from a centralized department, respondents from health clubs were far more likely to report that they manage just a single facility. In fact, more than three-quarters (76.7 percent) of health club respondents said they manage just one facility. Another 15.1 percent said they manage two to three facilities. And, just 4.1 percent of our respondents said they manage 20 or more facilities.

A majority (80.3 percent) of health club respondents said that they partner with other organizations. The most common partnerships for health club respondents departed from the norm for other respondents, i.e., local schools. The most common partners were health care and medical facilities (45.1 percent of health care respondents partnered with them), corporate or local businesses (42.3 percent), local schools (39.4 percent), local government (26.8 percent), and colleges and universities (21.1 percent).