Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

February 2022

Fitness Facilities Continue to Struggle With COVID Closures

New Industry data shows yet another increase in the number of health clubs, gyms and studios that have closed since this time last year, according to IHRSA, the Global Health & Fitness Association. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, 25% of all fitness facilities have closed across the country, and 30% of studios closed as of Jan. 1, 2022, an increase of 11% since Jan. 1, 2021.

The ongoing struggles with keeping fitness business open amidst the pandemic has led the industry to look to Congress for support.

The health and fitness industry has been disproportionately affected by state and local government closures. Gyms were among the first businesses mandated to close and the last businesses allowed to reopen. Gyms were consistently tied to restaurants, bars and live events venues for state closures and other mandates. However, gyms have not received the same consideration as these industries when it comes to federal relief. Unlike restaurants and hotels, gyms did not receive a waiver from the SBA's affiliation rule, resulting in many gyms being unable to access Paycheck Protection Program support due to the employee cap and how SBA counts employees.

The new data underscore the dire threat gyms are facing and why Congressional action is vital. And, though optimistic about future support from Congress, IHRSA's president and CEO, Liz Clark, is concerned about the lack of federal focus on physical health.

"With the CDC recommending physical exercise as a solution to combating the spread and severity of COVID-19, I am shocked that the federal government has done so little to support neighborhood gyms and studios," she said. "With each wave of the pandemic, the small business owners in our industry keep getting knocked down, and because of past failures by Congress, each time fewer of them get back up. We can't wait anymore, especially with the rise of additional COVID variants. Congress must act now to save America's community gyms and studios."

IHRSA is strongly urging Congress to establish a recovery fund similar to the GYMS Act of 2021 (H.R. 890/S. 1613). This proposal provides grants to affected businesses, and will be the first federal assistance most gym owners would have access to. The grants would allow gyms to retain staff, make COVID safety improvements and cover normal business expenses in order to keep their doors open.

"This recent data shows that as COVID has continued to impact the country, gyms and fitness facilities have remained one of the hardest-hit industries," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), one of the GYMS Act champions. "Even during the limited periods when restrictions on gyms have been lifted, gyms and fitness facilities have had no way to contend with the expenses accrued during periods of closure.

"The Omicron variant's rise … has also stunted what is typically a peak business period for gyms. Congress must provide this struggling industry, that plays a crucial role in Americans' health, with the vital support it has and continues to need in order to survive."

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