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

As the summer recreation season gets into full swing, we once again take a step back from the specific niches of the managed recreation, sports and fitness facilities across the United States—from climbing walls and playground surfacing to fitness programming and locker room design—to look at the more general trends impacting the industry and its various subgroups.

This helpful exercise gives us all a chance to determine if what we think we're hearing—in the news, at conferences and seminars, in the classroom, and in our own facilities in small towns and big cities alike—is backed up by hard numbers throughout the industry. Is budget crunching adding pressure to other facilities? Of course. Are others concerned about creating interesting program options and outstanding facilities to get more patrons in the door? Certainly. What is the public demanding, and how are facilities of all types responding?

Have a look through these pages, and you'll get a sense of where things stand today—and where they're expected to go tomorrow—for the industry. We've asked professionals from across myriad types of facilities, from parks and recreation departments operating city-wide to niche health clubs catering to a niche clientele, to take part in our industry-wide, confidential survey. We asked them to answer questions covering the most important aspects of their facilities, including operating costs and revenues, community usage statistics, planned upgrades and programming trends and more. Participants were invited via e-mail, fax and our Web site to respond to our questions, and more than 2,000 got on board and let us know how things are faring at their own facilities.

The end result is what you're holding in your hands: our special report on the state of the managed recreation industry. Keep reading to learn more about what others are saying—and where your own facilities stand in comparison.

Who's Talking?

Respondents to our survey came from a wide range of communities extending across regional boundaries and representing many facility types and methods of operating. In further pages, we will look more specifically at information based on regions, community types and facility types, with a special section considering trends in facilities that include an aquatic component.

As last year, when nearly a third of respondents were from the Midwest, the Midwest was again represented by more respondents than other regions in this year's survey. More than 30 percent of this year's respondents said they were reporting from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Other regions also did not see much change in representation. The second largest group of respondents was from the West, with nearly 20 percent of respondents hailing from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Some 19 percent of respondents are from the South Atlantic states, a slight increase from last year's report, when just 15.7 percent of responses came from this region, which includes Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

The Northeastern states, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, were represented by 17 percent of respondents.

Another 12.1 percent came from the South Central states, which include Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Finally, just under 2 percent of respondents represent international facilities, including military installations and bases located overseas. (See Figure 1.) More specific regional information can be found in Regional Trends.

Respondents also came from a range of communities, from the largest urban metropolis to the back woods, literally. The numbers in this area were virtually unchanged from last year's report. Nearly a quarter of respondents (24.5 percent) said they worked for organizations in urban areas. Another 43.8 percent said they were in suburban areas, and 31.7 percent were reporting from a rural area. (See Figure 2.) More specific information based on whether respondents were reporting from urban, suburban or rural communities can be found in Community Trends.

With the preponderance of parks and recreation organizations represented in this year's survey, it should come as no surprise that the majority (61.6 percent) of respondents represent public organizations. In addition to park districts, this group includes such entities as public schools and public school districts, universities, military installations, forest preserves, county and state departments, city government organizations other than parks departments, like public works and others, and so on.

The next largest group of respondents (17.7 percent) work for private nonprofit organizations. This includes such facilities as YMCAs, YWCAs, Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), Boys & Girls Clubs and others.

Finally, private, for-profit entities, including health clubs, corporate recreation centers, private recreation and sports centers, resorts and resort hotels, waterparks and amusement parks, and so forth, were represented by 12 percent of the respondents. (See Figure 3.)

Parks and recreation departments, along with publicly owned community recreation and sports centers, made up the largest percentage of respondents, at 41 percent. Colleges and universities made up another 13.5 percent of respondents, and schools and school districts were represented by 8.7 percent.

A combined category that includes health, fitness and sports clubs, racquet and tennis clubs, and privately owned and corporate-owned recreation and sports centers is represented by 13.2 percent of respondents. This new category represents a departure from last year's report's approach, which combined YMCAs and health clubs. Because of the different structures and more widely varying trends among these types of organizations, this year's survey has broken these categories into separate groups. YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs made up 5.8 percent of this year's respondents.

More specific information on these five categories can be found in special sections that follow. See Parks and Community Recreation Centers, Colleges and Universities, Schools and School Districts, Health Clubs, and YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs.

Other facility types represented in the survey are not covered in more detail, but are worth mentioning here. Camps and camping facilities, including campgrounds, private camps, youth camps and RV parks, were represented by 6.4 percent of respondents. Smaller numbers came from other types of operations, including military installations (2.9 percent), golf and country clubs (2.8 percent), resorts and resort hotels (1.9 percent), waterparks, theme parks and amusement parks (1.5 percent), ice rinks (1 percent), and stadiums, arenas and tracks (0.6 percent). (See Figure 4.)

More than half (51.6 percent) of respondents from all of these categories reported that their facilities included an aquatics component. We take a closer look at the trends affecting these facilities, and the recreational aquatics industry in general, in Aquatic Facilities.

While many respondents manage just a single facility, many others find themselves at the helm of multiple facilities. On average, respondents manage 4.2 facilities, with more than 36 percent overall managing a single facility. More than a third (34.5 percent) manage between two and five facilities, and nearly a fifth (19.9 percent) actually manage 10 or more different facilities. (See Figure 5.) Those who find themselves managing the largest number of facilities were most highly concentrated in parks and recreation departments, where 36 percent said they managed 10 or more facilities. Respondents working for YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs, as well as colleges and universities and health and fitness clubs were far more likely to manage just a single facility. Nearly 60 percent of respondents from YMCAs manage just one facility, and less than 8 percent said they manage four or more. More than 70 percent of college and university respondents said they manage between one and three facilities, and over three-quarters (76 percent) of health and fitness club respondents said they manage between one and three facilities. This compares with just over a third (34.6 percent) of parks and recreation respondents who manage three facilities or fewer. (See Figure 6.)

Partnerships are commonly formed across organizational boundaries in the recreation, fitness and sports industry. Many organizations partner to extend their reach into the community, or to build their funding potential, programming possibilities or to find creative new ways to meet the expanding needs of their user base. For example, a suburban park district lacking aquatic facilities may partner with a neighboring town's park district to offer its residents the possibility of accessing aquatic programming, or a health club might partner with a local medical center to offer an outlet for patients rehabilitating from surgery to get ability-appropriate exercise. A majority (84.6 percent) of respondents to this year's survey said their organizations had formed at least one partnership with an external organization.

Figure 6: Number of Facilities Operated/Managed, by Facility Type
Parks & Recreation12.6%22.0%15.5%13.9%36.0%
Health/Fitness/Sports Clubs & Private Rec/Sports Centers55.1%20.9%7.7%3.9%12.4%
School/School District17.9%18.5%20.8%18.5%24.3%
Campground/RV Park/Youth/Private Camp73.2%11.8%2.4%1.6%11.0%

Local schools were the most likely partner for this year's respondents. More than half said they had formed a partnership with local schools. Slightly less than half (46.1 percent) said they had partnered with nonprofit organizations—a number that has not changed much from last year's survey. Similar numbers were also reported for corporate and local business partnerships (38 percent), college and university partnerships (31.6 percent), partnerships with health care and medical facilities (19.3 percent), YMCA partnerships (17.1 percent), partnerships with the military (10.6 percent) and partnerships with private health clubs, which were once again the least likely partner for our respondents, just 3.7 percent reporting that they had partnered with private health clubs. (See Figure 7.)

Respondents to this year's survey were less likely than last year's to report partnering with government institutions and agencies at the local, state and federal levels. Nearly 17 percent fewer respondents this year said they partnered with state government. Similarly, 10 percent fewer said they had partnered with local government agencies, and 7 percent fewer reported partnering with the federal government.

YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were again the most likely facility type to form partnerships with external organizations. Last year, 100 percent of YMCA respondents said they had partnered with external facilities, while this year, 96.5 percent of these respondents reported forming such partnerships. Parks and recreation departments were also highly likely to form partnerships with other organizations, with 92.7 percent of respondents from these facilities reporting they had done so.

The only upward trend seen in the tendency of organizations to partner was among respondents working for health and fitness clubs. Last year, just 67.9 percent of these professionals said their facility had partnered with external organizations, while this year, nearly 80 percent reported such partnering, a jump of more than 10 percent. (See Figure 8.)


Probably not terribly surprising at any time, but especially in the midst of what some economists have labeled a recession, the top concern across the board for respondents was budgetary issues. More than 60 percent said the budget was one of their top current concerns, and it was also the most commonly projected concern over the next three years.

While few saw their revenue decreasing over the next several years, many expected their revenues to remain the same. At the same time, most were expecting increases in their costs. On average, respondents are expecting their annual operating expenditures to grow by 12.1 percent between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2009.

The number of respondents who charge a fee for using their facilities or becoming a member was virtually unchanged from last year. While 62.4 percent said they currently charge such a fee, 37.6 percent said there is no fee to use their facilities. (See Figure 9.)

YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were the most likely to charge a fee for membership or usage, with 97.3 percent of respondents from this category reporting that they do so. Health and fitness clubs were also highly likely to charge a fee for usage or membership, with 95.8 percent reporting such a fee.

Colleges and universities, and parks and recreation departments reported a similar incidence of usage fees, with 62.5 percent of college respondents and 62.7 percent of park and recreation respondents reporting that they charge a membership or usage fees.

Schools and school districts were the least likely to report charging a fee for membership or usage. Nearly three-quarters, (74.7 percent) of respondents in this category reported that they do not charge such a fee.

Last year, 48.5 percent of respondents anticipated increasing their fees from 2006 to 2007. This year, only 26.6 percent actually reported such an increase. Another 71.2 percent said their fees had remained unchanged for the year, and 2.2 percent said their fees had actually decreased.

More are projecting their fees to increase over the next couple of years, with 31.9 percent expecting a fee increase from 2007 to 2008, and 45.9 percent projecting an increase between 2008 and 2009.

In a similar vein, more respondents in last year's survey predicted revenue increases than actually saw such increases from 2006 to 2007. Last year, 60.6 percent of respondents projected that revenue would increase between 2006 and 2007. In fact, this year, just 38.7 percent said they saw higher revenues in 2007 than in 2006. Another 55.6 percent said their revenues had remained the same.

From 2007 to 2008 and from 2008 to 2009, just over 42 percent are projecting increases in revenues, while around 55 percent expect revenues to remain the same for these years. (See Figure 10.)

The greatest revenue increases from 2006 to 2007 were seen among respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs. More than 55 percent of these respondents said they had seen an increase in revenues in that time period, although another 14.9 percent reported their revenues had actually decreased from 2006 to 2007. Respondents in this category were also expecting increases in coming years, with more than two-thirds (67.1 percent) projecting increasing revenues from 2007 to 2008, and nearly three-quarters (72.7 percent) projecting an increase from 2008 to 2009.

Respondents from colleges and universities, and from schools and school districts were the least likely to report revenue increases. From 2006 to 2007, just 21.7 percent of college and university respondents, and just 19.8 percent of school and school district respondents said they had seen a rise in revenue. More than three-quarters in both categories said their revenues had remained even. Respondents in these categories also were not likely to be expecting increasing revenues in the coming years, with just 27.4 percent of university respondents and 17.6 percent of school respondents projecting an increase from 2007 to 2008, and just under 30 percent of university respondents and 17.8 percent of school respondents expecting increases from 2008 to 2009.

These mostly flat revenue numbers come at a time when operating expenditures are on the rise. Some groups of respondents are projecting their operating expenditures to increase by more than 15 percent between 2007 and 2009.

Overall, a 12.1 percent rise in operating expenditures is expected between 2007 and 2009, from $1,386,800 in 2007 to $1,554,700 in 2009. (See Figure 11.)

Operating expenditures reported in this year's survey are higher than reported last year. Last year's respondents projected operating costs would be $1,218,063 for fiscal 2007, but the respondents this year reported that their operating expenditures were actually 13.9 percent higher at $1,386,800 for fiscal 2007.

The highest operating costs are seen among respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs, though the greatest increases over the next years are expected among camping-related facilities and colleges and universities. YMCAs reported operating costs of $2,114,800 in fiscal 2007, 54.5 percent greater than the average for all respondents.

The greatest increases in operating expenditures were expected among campgrounds, RV parks, youth and private camps, and among colleges and universities. Respondents in these categories were projecting a 15.4 percent and 15.3 percent increase, respectively, in operating costs.

The smallest increases were projected among parks and recreation respondents. In this category, a 9.9 percent increase, from $1,668,800 in fiscal 2007 to $1,833,400 in fiscal 2009, was projected. (See Figure 12.)

Figure 12: Yearly Operating Expenditures, Fiscal 2007 to 2009, by Facility Type
2007 TO 2009
Parks & Recreation$1,668,800$1,743,900$1,833,400+9.9%
Health/Fitness/Sports Clubs & Private Rec/Sports Centers$983,600$1,051,300$1,107,700+12.6%
School/School District$1,018,700$1,044,900$1,161,200+14%
Campground/RV Park/Youth/Private Camp$835,000$887,750$963,300+15.4%

In some categories, operating expenditures were actually lower than expected in fiscal 2007, including among health and fitness clubs (20.9 percent lower than last year's projected operating expenditures for fiscal 2007, $1,189,352), and schools and school districts (4.1 percent lower than last year's projected operating expenditures for fiscal 2007, $1,060,090).

Facility Plans

The second issue of top concern to respondents across the board in the survey was equipment and facility maintenance. As facilities and equipment age, upgrades are a necessity, if not completely new construction. In addition, changing user demands create new challenges, as facilities struggle to compete with the latest and greatest recreation, fitness and sports facilities.

More than one-third of respondents said they were planning to build entirely new facilities, while a third also said they are planning to add to existing facilities. Nearly half also said they are planning renovations. Only 27.6 percent said they had no plans to build new or add to or renovate their existing facilities right now. (See Figure 13.)

For the respondents who do have plans to build, the average amount planned for those new or renovated facilities is $4.4 million, 15.8 percent more than respondents said they were planning to spend on construction in last year's survey ($3.8 million). While 35.6 percent are planning to spend less than $500,000, another quarter or so (26.6 percent) are planning to spend between $500,000 and $2.49 million, and 37.8 percent are planning to spend more than $2.49 million, with nearly 17 percent planning $10 million or more. (See Figure 14.)

Colleges and universities, as well as schools and school districts, are planning the highest spending on new and renovated facilities, at just under $7.3 million and $6.9 million, respectively. Organizations of all types are planning to spend more than last year's respondents, except for campgrounds, private camps and RV parks. In that category, last year's respondents reported spending plans of $988,523, 21.7 percent more than this year's projection of $812,000. (See Figure 15.)

In addition to the need to maintain equipment and facilities, respondents are surely using their new construction and planned renovations to address other top concerns, including safety and risk management issues, accessibility and availability issues, legislative issues and environmental conservation issues.

Across the board, the amenities most commonly included in facilities of all types were classrooms and meeting rooms, a change from last year, when outdoor sport courts were the most common amenity to be found in respondents' facilities. More than 60 percent of this year's respondents said their facilities included classrooms and meeting rooms, while just under 50 percent said they included outdoor sport courts. More than 50 percent also said their facilities featured locker rooms (56.5 percent), bleachers and seating (55.8 percent), playgrounds (53.8 percent) and park structures (50.2 percent). Besides outdoor sports courts, other features found in the top 10 most commonly included amenities were: fitness centers (49 percent), indoor sports courts and gymnasiums (46.7 percent) and community centers or multipurpose centers (44 percent).

Less than 10 percent of respondents included amenities for winter recreation and skiing (4.5 percent), waterparks (5.4 percent), amusements such as rides and arcades (5.8 percent), synthetic turf sports fields (8.8 percent) and ice rinks (9.9 percent). (See Figure 16.)

The top 10 amenities respondents said they are planning to add to their facilities include:

  • Bleachers and seating
  • Climbing walls
  • Playgrounds
  • Park structures, such as shelters and restroom buildings
  • Dog parks
  • Fitness centers
  • Splash play areas
  • Trails and open spaces, such as gardens and natural areas
  • Concession areas
  • Classrooms and meeting rooms

Bleachers and seating were the most commonly planned addition at colleges and universities, as well as at schools and school districts. Among both of these groups, the second most common item planned for addition in the next three years was synthetic turf fields for sports like football, soccer and baseball. In fact, nearly 18 percent of schools and school district respondents said they planned to add synthetic turf fields in the next three years. Fitness centers and classrooms were also popular choices for this group.

Climbing walls were the top choice among YMCAs and health clubs. In fact, nearly 20 percent of YMCA respondents said they were planning to add a climbing wall to their facilities in the next three years. Exercise studio rooms were the second most commonly planned amenity for both of these groups, and challenge courses and classrooms and meeting rooms were also common choices.

Among parks and recreation respondents, more than a quarter (25.1 percent) said they were planning to add a dog park in the next three years, and more than 20 percent said they were planning to add playgrounds and park structures. Just under 20 percent were planning to add splash play areas and trails and open spaces.


The third most common issue of concern for respondents across the board was marketing their facilities' offerings and increasing participation. Despite this fact, very few respondents were actually expecting to see the number of people using their facilities decrease between now and 2009.

Fewer respondents in this year's survey were optimistic about growing the level of participation at their facilities. While last year, 66 percent of respondents were anticipating increasing numbers of people using their facilities between 2006 and 2007, this year, only 43 percent reported such an increase. And while only 4.4 percent last year anticipated a decrease in the number of people using their facilities in that same year, this year 6.2 percent actually reported a decrease. Respondents were more likely this year to expect the number of people using their facilities to remain unchanged. About half (50.5 percent) said the number of people using their facilities had not changed between 2006 and 2007, and more than half projected more of the same from 2007 to 2008 (52.7 percent) and from 2008 to 2009 (55.8 percent). (See Figure 17.)

Respondents from YMCAs and health clubs were the most likely to report a decrease in the number of people using their facility between 2006 and 2007. Nearly 11 percent of YMCA respondents said they had seen those numbers decrease, while 9 percent of health club respondents reported a decrease. That said, YMCAs were also more likely than others to have seen an increase in the number of people using their facility, with 45.8 percent reporting an increase between 2006 and 2007. They also are the most likely to expect increases over the next few years. By 2008 to 2009, 60 percent of YMCA respondents are expecting increases in the number of people using their facility.

Respondents from schools and school districts were the most likely to be expecting their numbers to remain even over the next several years, Nearly three-quarters (73.5 percent) said the number of people using their facilities had remained unchanged between 2006 and 2007, and by 2008 to 2009, more than 80 percent are expecting their participation numbers to remain even.

By 2008 to 2009, very few respondents from any category were expecting to see a drop in the number of people using their facilities. No respondents from schools and school districts are expecting a drop that year, and just over 1 percent of college and university respondents, as well as YMCA respondents, said they expected to see decreases in the number of people using their facility that year.

Hard Work

The fourth most common concern among respondents—and the third most troubling issue over the coming three years—was staffing issues. With the baby boomer generation about to start reaching retirement age, with training and legislative issues, with the seasonal nature of employment at many facilities, plus the fact that most workers in the recreation, fitness and sports field have direct involvement with the public, it is no surprise that this is a challenging area for facility managers. Add recent economic challenges to the list along with budgetary issues that put a strain on already-stretched facilities and their employees, and you can see why staffing a facility can become a real headache.

On average, respondents employ 181.8 workers, a number expected to increase to 240.5 by 2011, a jump of 32.3 percent. This increase is largely driven by a rise in the number of seasonal workers rather than full-time employees. While the average number of full-time employees is projected to rise by 10.9 percent over the next couple of years, the average number of seasonal employees is expected to increase by 62.9 percent to 71.2. (See Figure 18.)

The greatest increases in number of employees are expected at schools and school districts. Respondents in this category projected an increase of 86.1 percent between their current employment level and the level projected for 2011. The only decreases expected were among respondents working for campgrounds, RV parks and private camps, who projected a 6.6 percent decrease in the number of employees.

Smaller-than-average increases were also expected among college and university respondents, who projected a 14.3 percent rise in employment levels, and health club respondents, who are anticipating a 24.6 percent increase. (See Figure 19.)

Figure 19: Average Number of Employees, by Facility Type
Parks & Recreation226.2 315.9+39.7%
Health/Fitness/Sports Clubs & Private Rec/Sports Centers109.6136.6+24.6%
School/School District226.3421.2+86.1%
Campground/RV Park/Youth/Private Camp130.3121.7-6.6%

Of course, staffing up is just the first step in getting your facility's workforce up to speed. Training that staff to handle their jobs properly is also a major concern, and among respondents, certifications are commonly employed to ensure certain staff members have the knowledge they need to get the job done. A full 90.1 percent of respondents said they currently require certification of some kind for staff members. Of those who do not currently require certification, nearly 30 percent said they plan to do so in the future. (See Figure 20.)

More respondents this year said they do require certifications, compared to last year's survey, when 82.9 percent said they require some of their staff to be certified. And those who do not currently require certification were also more likely to do so in the future compared to that same group last year, when only 16.9 percent said they planned to require certifications in the future.

Just as last year, respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to indicate that they do require certification of some kind for some of their staff members, followed by colleges and universities, schools and school districts, and parks and recreation respondents. More than 90 percent of respondents in all of these categories indicated that they currently require certifications. The least likely to require certification were respondents at campgrounds, RV parks and private camps, where less than 80 percent—still a substantial number—require certifications. (See Figure 21.)

The certifications most commonly required for staff members at the respondents' facilities included CPR, AED and First Aid certification, required by 82.3 percent of facilities. More than half also said they required a background check for their employees or a lifeguard certification. (See Figure 22.)

Innovative Programming

Hand-in-hand with increasing user participation goes creating innovative programming to draw them in, and indeed, this was the fifth issue most commonly listed as a current concern by survey respondents.

The most common programs included by all facilities included holidays and other special events, day camps and summer camps, and fitness programs, all of which were offered by more than half of the survey respondents.

Other more commonly offered programs include educational programs, sports tournaments and races, swimming programs, youth sports teams, programs for active older adults, mind/body balance programs like yoga and tai chi, and adult sports teams. (See Figure 23.)

Among respondents from parks and recreation departments and districts the top programs offered largely followed the trends for the general survey population, with holidays and special events, day camps and summer camps and youth sports teams all offered by more than seven out of 10 respondents in this category. Unlike the general population, parks and recreation respondents were also likely to provide environmental education programs, which is reflective of many parks' mission to get more people outdoors.

For colleges and universities, fitness tops the list of programs currently offered. More than three-quarters of respondents in this category indicated that they currently include fitness programs at their facilities. Other programs included by more than half of respondents at colleges and universities included sports tournaments and races, educational programs, mind-body balance programs, individual sports like running clubs and swim clubs (though this was the least common program included by all types of facilities, at just 8.7 percent), personal training and aquatic exercise.

For schools and school districts, the programs one would expect to be most common—youth sports teams and daycare and preschool programs—do indeed top the list, followed by sports tournaments and races, fitness programs and individual sports activities.

There are no real surprises in the health club category either, where fitness programs and personal training are provided by more than 85 percent of respondents. Mind-body balance programs, nutrition and diet counseling, and programs for active older adults are also included by more than half of these respondents.

Among YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs, the top programs, included by more than 90 percent of respondents, included day camps and summer camps and fitness programs. More than 80 percent also said their facilities offered swimming programs, holidays and special events, programs for active older adults, personal training, youth sports teams, mind-body balance programs, aquatic exercise programs and programs designed to reach teens.

Some of the programs that respondents said they were most likely to add over the next three years will simply offer patrons more of the same, including holidays and special events, day camps, fitness programs and so on. Others seem designed to meet the growing needs of an aging population with a growing waistband. The top 10 programs respondents across the board said they are planning to add to their offerings in the next three years include:

  • Programs for active older adults
  • Day camps and summer camps
  • Nutrition and diet counseling
  • Educational programs
  • Holidays and other special events
  • Fitness programs
  • Environmental education
  • Sports tournaments and races
  • Mind-body balance
  • Individual sports activities

The number-one slot for parks and recreation respondents was filled by programming for active older adults, followed by environmental education and adult sports teams. For colleges and universities, top new programs planned for the next three years include personal training, nutrition and diet counseling and fitness—all programs that should serve students well to build good habits that they may have missed out on as kids. For schools and school districts, the top new programs planned for the next three years include educational programs, youth sports teams and fitness programs. Among health clubs, the top additions will include nutrition and diet counseling, fitness programs and individual sports activities. YMCAs are planning similar additions, with the top new programs over the next three years including nutrition and diet counseling, individual sports activities and performing arts.

Money Money Money-and Other Concerns

Budgets were in fact the top concern of most respondents, and understandably so. Between rising energy costs, decreasing tax dollars and discretionary funds for people to spend on recreation, it's no wonder recreation, sports and fitness facilities are feeling the pinch.

One parks superintendent from Oregon put it succinctly: "Budgetary concerns have an effect on all of the other concerns and are tied together."

Another recreation supervisor from California also cited budgeting as the top issue of concern, saying, "The current fiscal problems will not be going away anytime soon. With the retirement of so many baby boomers the institutional knowledge to solve some of these problems will require the reinvention of the wheel in many instances."

A Texas-based park operations analyst added that her district is "facing increasing expectations, interest in new and higher service levels, without the expectation of resources being available."

The second top concern among survey respondents was equipment and facility maintenance. Some said they were operating in facilities that are 25 to 50 years old or more, and the budget for replacing older infrastructure simply isn't available.

A recreation and parks director in California said, "Demand for facilities are at an all-time high and they are used constantly. General maintenance of facilities, repairs and upgrading to meet code is the greatest concern due to lack of funding available.

A YMCA property director said expansion was an issue for his facility, adding, "We are operating a 42,000-square-foot facility with 11,000-plus members. Things are kind of cramped!"

A coach and pool and fitness center manager at a Vermont college said the current facilities needed to be upgraded, but there are not sufficient resources to make "significant changes." He added, "We are attempting to make as many low-budget cosmetic improvements as possible, however we have severe budgetary limitations."

Going hand-in-hand with these problems is the ability to market one's facility and attract and retain patrons, which was listed as the third top concern among survey respondents.

Some respondents whose facilities focus on specific sports, such as tennis and golf, said there was a need to get more people interested in those sports.

One general manager at a country club said the "current flattening of golf participation" was a chief concern. "Obviously this has a tremendous impact on us as a country club, and if we can't increase participation, our revenue stream cannot keep up with rising costs of doing business."

A YMCA program director in Massachusetts said the top issue for her facility was "getting families to choose to spend their money here over all the other options out there."

The fourth top concern among survey respondents was staffing. Many said they had a hard time finding qualified staff or problems with retention. Others had issues due to seasonal employment.

One respondent said "recruiting enough volunteers to meet our needs" was his top problem, adding, "This is always a concern, but right now it is becoming more and more difficult."

Another recreation superintendent in Wyoming said that solving staffing issues would help improve programming. Her top issue was "securing quality, motivated staff who can progressively and effectively initiate new programs within our division."

A respondent from a college in Virginia said that staff motivation was an issue. "We have a new type of staff that wants high pay for little work."

Finally, one respondent said a "lack of qualified applicants entering our industry is a concern."

Creating new and innovative programs is a big part of attracting and retaining patrons, and that's what makes it the fifth top concern of respondents.

One respondent said "creating new innovative programming as we try to reach out to a broader range of customers was his chief issue." He added, "We have pretty well tapped out our existing customers with our existing programs. To get new customers, we need to add new programs."

Another said, "We have offered the same fitness and intramural sports for several years, and they have been a success. We fear there will be a recession in participation in the next few years if we don't get creative and/or add some new programming."

Other issues were also a concern for respondents, including safety and risk management and accessibility and liability. Others cited conservation and environmental issues, or problems associated with general fitness and wellness, as their top issues. (See Figure 24.)

One director of operations said, "Environmental and conservation issues are becoming increasingly important, and reducing the carbon footprint will become an important initiative moving forward."

Another respondent said, "We are losing too many people to diseases that are controllable with education and opportunity," citing fitness and wellness as the top issue.

The good news is that recreation, sports and fitness facilities are well poised to handle some of these issues, though many expect the faltering economy to put a hamper on their ability to do so. Keep reading to learn more about the trends in specific regions, community types and sectors within the industry.

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