5 October 2021, by Herman Rutgers

The fitness sector is rebounding strongly

Germany, France or Spain: Where does the European fitness market currently stand? Herman Rutgers from EuropeActive with encouraging, country-specific facts and figures, and a look at the operators.

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In this article, you will find some encouraging facts and figures, based on recently published data of some leading operators and country research. From these we can draw the positive conclusion that the European fitness sector is on the way back to pre-covid membership levels.

In the annual European Health & Fitness Market Report ( EHFMR 2021) published by EuropeActive & Deloitte in June this year for 2020, the revenues in comparison with the record year 2019 were down by 33 percent and membership overall was down by 15percent. This drop was entirely due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, which resulted on average for most countries in a closed period of 2/3 of the year.


Lockdown instead of New Year's business

In 2021, the C-19 lockdown is even more serious with a closure for most countries in the first five months of the year. This is particularly disturbing as the beginning of the year is always a very important period for new joiners. From June onwards most countries started to reopen again and currently all clubs are back in business, be it with some restrictions.


Despite Covid: Total number of studios in Europe remains stable

Against this background, it is surprising that the European market in 2020 only lost 1.4 percent of the number of clubs and ended the year with 62.775 facilities. Of course, there were some closures and bankruptcies of clubs but at the same time, new clubs were opened.


Expansion plans: industry players signal confidence

It is indicative for the trust in continued growth for this and next year that quite a few major operators have announced plans for new club openings, i.e. Pure Gym, Basic Fit, David Lloyd, Life Fit, The Gym Group, RSG, Fitness Park. Market research by Deloitte and McKinsey in June of this year show that there are differences between countries in the willingness of the consumer to come back to the clubs, but the vast majority feels safe to return.


Selected country updates

Germany: The trough seems to have been passed

Data recently published by DSSV (Employers Association of German Fitness and Health Facilities), DHfPG (German University for Health and Prevention Management) and the magazine fitness MANAGEMENT suggest a return to membership growth. End June, the national membership was estimated at 9.3 million, against 9.0 million at the end of March 2021, a 4 percent increase. It should be noted, that this compares with 10.3 million per end 2020 and 11.7million ultimo 2019. So we have still some way to go to reach pre-covid membership levels but industry experts are optimistic this can be reached beginning of 2022. Contrary to the experience in France, the introduction of a “pass sanitaire” in Hamburg did not have the same negative effect on new member joining.


France: bumpy restart due to "pass sanitaire”

The introduction of the “Pass Sanitaire” in July this year had a negative impact on the upswing that took place since reopening. However with vaccination numbers rising in recent weeks the market experts see a rebound after the vacation period, providing no further lockdowns or restrictions are imposed.


Spain: Membership losses even without nationwide lockdown

Spain did not suffer a countrywide lockdown during the second wave, but the sector has been impacted heavily. However, in recent months the joiner numbers are promising despite low absolute numbers due to the summer months.


Switzerland: The return to the studios has begun

Recently published figures by DHfPG and swiss active suggest a return of members to clubs and operators expect an increase of members by 7 percent until December 2021 compared to reopening numbers in May 2021.


Selected Operator developments

Basic-Fit: Solid membership growth in the second quarter

Stock market listed Basic-Fit – with 973 clubs the largest European value for money operator – reported membership numbers per end June 2021. 2.066.000 or an increase of four percent versus the first quarter. Rene Moos, CEO commented; “The member development shows that fitness fulfills a real need and that people are eager to be active again and work on their health and fitness”.


The Gym Group: membership growth and more frequent visits

The Gym Group (190 clubs in UK) reported in August that their membership had risen again to 730.000 per end June 2021 or 24 percent higher than end December 2020.

As an illustration that members are happy to come back to the clubs they reported that the average number of visits per member per week was up to 1.4 from 1.2 in 2019 same period; 17 percent higher.


PureGym: Defying the Danish Corona Restrictions

PureGym with 506 clubs in UK, Denmark and Switzerland reported per end June to have recorded 8.2 million visits, an increase of 14 percent versus December 2019. There were some restrictions that slowed down the upswing in Denmark where members were only allowed to enter of they could show a “coronapas” as proof of vaccination, but this measure has been dropped now.


LFL fitness: back to pre-Covid levels by mid-2022

The LFL paying member base as a percent of 15 August 2019 was 88 percent in the UK, 83 percent in Denmark and 79 percent in Switzerland. The company expects LFL members returning to pre-covid levels in firstt half 2022.


SATS: More members reactivated in 2021 than in 2020

SATS with 254 clubs in the four Nordic countries reported per end June an average membership per club of 2.409 or two percent higher than end March. The company reported: “we have reactivated more members vs. re-opening last year and those members are working out up to ten percent more”


David Lloyd Clubs: Back to pre-pandemic levels with record sales

David Lloyd Clubs (115 clubs in UK, Ireland, the Netherlands,Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) reported in a press release on August 9, 2021; “following four consecutive months of record sales we have bounced back to pre-pandemic membership levels with over 660.000 members smashing the initial recovery forecast of spring 2022.”


Potential of the industry not yet exhausted

It is clear that investors think very positively about our sector’s future! One new investor in the sector recently stated “The $97bn health and fitness industry is a highly resilient, growing, global sector that is still discovering the benefits of digitization.”

Next to several operators collecting significant funds in order to accelerate or reinforce their expansion, strategic and financial investors continue to have an interest in the entire health & fitness ecosystem. This is also illustrated by the many companies that were able during the pandemic to raise new capital. Examples are Basic-Fit, PureGym, The Gym Group, Aspria, David Lloyd and Third Space. Also suppliers received investment funds, like  egym, VAHA, Sport Alliance, USC and Gympass, just to mention a few.


IPOs despite pandemic

In the USA there were stock market listings by Beachbody, F45, Xponential Fitness, and in Brazil market leader Smartfit listed on the stockmarket while lowcost operator Bluefit announced to plan to go public in Sao Paolo as well. Further IPO plans have been announced by PureGym in the UK, and by LifeTimeFitness and iFit (Icon) in the USA.


Positive future indicators: more than a silver lining

The OECD published in September an overall economic growth of 4.3 percent for the Euro area in 2021 and for 2022 a plus of 4.4 percent. A Pulse survey in June among 275 decision makers in the gym industry in Europe and North America indicates, that 74.5 percent intend to make “technology investments” in their clubs in the next year.

This, in combination with the indications mentioned in this article, point to a bright future and the continued belief that the goal of 100 million members in fitness by 2030 in Europe is still possible!