Feature Article - June 2013
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2013 State of the Managed Recreation Industry

A Look at What's Happening in Recreation, Sports and Fitness Facilities

By Emily Tipping

Challenges & Issues of Concern

While the economy continues to be the top challenge for most of our respondents, there are other issues of concern driving their decision-making and facility management decisions. As in past years, equipment and facility maintenance is the top current concern for respondents. Some 56.1 percent listed this as a top concern now. (See Figure 28.)

Many of the concerns related to equipment and facility maintenance tie back in with economic and budgetary concerns. For many respondents, the budgets to keep their facilities in top working order are simply not there.

"Delaying maintenance and equipment replacement while at the same time still increasing fees does not lead to an increase in new customers and may impact the existing customer base," one respondent said. "The cost to catch up or begin renovation projects will push the timeline on all projects further into the future."

Looking back at the relative age of many of our respondents' facilities, it is no wonder that so many are concerned with maintenance. As more than one reader noted, even after just 12 to 15 years of operations, facilities can begin to show their age, while routine facility maintenance grows into a larger portion of operating expenses.

"As the facilities age, and equipment and furnishings wear out," another reader noted, "the annual cost to maintain a safe and aesthetically pleasing environment increases without added operation monies."

Staffing issues are the second most commonly listed concern among respondents, with 43.2 percent indicating it is a concern. In past years, staffing concerns have largely been driven by worries about turnover, and over the past few years of the economic downturn, by a lack of funding to hire needed staff. Others commonly worry about the ability to find high-quality staff. These concerns are still dominant, but looking through respondents' comments in 2013, many are concerned about the impact of health care legislation, including concerns about the cost of providing health care, as well as concerns about the definition of part-time employees, which create related problems. Worries about potential increases in minimum wage also appeared among reader comments.

"As Obamacare sets in, we need to reduce full-time staff and get more out of any full-time staff members," one respondent wrote. "Our city is raising water and electricity rates, taxes are increasing, and the only way to negate the impact of those cost increases is to cut payroll and benefit expenditure."

Of course, many of the issues of concern go hand-in-hand. Equipment and facility maintenance becomes an even greater issue with inadequate staffing, and these problems can lead to safety and risk management issues, as well as an impact on public perception of the facility, which can affect participation.

There was not much difference in the top concerns of respondents when those numbers are broken down by organization type. The top five were the same for all organization types, with private organizations (both for-profit and nonprofit) placing slightly higher emphasis on marketing and increasing participation than was the case for public organizations. Public organizations were more likely than others to be concerned about equipment and facility maintenance, staffing issues, youth fitness/wellness, environmental and conservation issues, and accessibility and availability. Private for-profit organizations were more concerned than others about legislative issues and older adult fitness and wellness. Private nonprofit organizations were more concerned than others about marketing and increasing participation; safety and risk management; creating new/innovative programming and general fitness/wellness.

There was some degree of variance between the top concerns among different types of facilities. Respondents from parks were more likely than others to list staffing issues, and accessibility and availability among their top concerns. Colleges and universities were more likely to list safety/risk management. Schools and school districts were more likely to list equipment/facility maintenance, and legislative issues. Health clubs were more likely to list general fitness and wellness. YMCAs were more likely to list marketing/increasing participation; creating new and innovative programming; and youth fitness/wellness. Camps were more likely to list environmental and conservation issues. And community centers were more likely to list older adult fitness/wellness.