24 January 2022, by Herman Rutgers

The Fitness Industry in 2030: Will we make it to 100 Million Members?

Corona has caused a slump in the fitness market. But by the end of the decade, around 100 million people could still be working out in Europe's gyms. Ten reasons why we will most probably make it.

© Shutterstock

EuropeActive launched a few years ago the mantra of “100 million members by 2030”. After the market decline in 2020, and a rebound in 2021, the big question is of course whether this Corona induced decline will impact the feasibility of reaching that goal.       


In order to project the future, we need to learn from the past. So, let us have a look at the market evolution in the period 2009- 2019, the decade for which we have good market data.   The number of members was 39 million in 2009 and grew to 64,8 million in 2019, a growth of 66 % or an average of almost 7% per year.  If we look at the 5-year period 2014 to 2019, the annual average membership growth was a little lower at 5,5 %.


So, if we include a dampening effect on the European region of Covid-19 in 2020 at – 15% versus 2019 and assume that the overall membership growth in 2021 versus 2020 will be 5% and between 2022 and 2030 will be on average 5.5% per annum (same as the last 5 years pre- Covid) we arrive at 99 million, or roughly 100 million members, same as we projected before Corona!   


With this development, fitness will continue to be more “mainstream”, a lifestyle health and wellness activity and will be more broadly seen by policymakers as an essential service to society at large.


Ten reasons why we could make it       


Here are 10 reasons why this goal of “100 million members by 2030” is still a realistic objective (disclaimer; based on today’s information, without dramatic new pandemic developments short term and in the years to come)


1. Fitness penetration in the European region overall is still relatively low and has room for growth. The overall penetration of fitness membership as a % of total population in the European region (EU plus UK, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine or a total of 796 million in 2019) is only 8,2 percent in 2020.

With a predicted growth to 100 million members and a projected total EA population of 836 million in 2030, this represents 12 percent penetration; still relatively low compared to the fitness penetration in the Nordics and the USA of around 22 percent. 


2. Countries with larger populations (France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Turkey) have relatively low penetration rates and will be in for a catch-up in market penetration, thus adding to the total, both in number of members and clubs.


3. Positioning of fitness as part of “Health” (“Health is wealth” / “Exercise is medicine”) and increased cooperation with health insurance companies / medical community and government, promoting/subsidizing health club membership as part of new focus on prevention, will stimulate extra growth (Covid-19 effect of improved immune system through fitness). Fitness is part of the growing attention to and investment in prevention!


4. Overall digitalization (accelerated by the Covid pandemic) in the sectors ecosystem and substantial investments by Big Tech (notably Apple, Google, Amazon) in stimulating physical and mental fitness will give the market an extra push towards a more holistic approach and thereby widening the potential target groups.


5. It is expected that the sector will continue to develop new concepts and programming (possibly in partnership with actors/stakeholders mentioned above in 3 and 4) that will attract new and different target groups (e.g. seniors)


6. Rising middleclass and average spendable income combined with lower priced offerings from the sector and subsidies from insurers and employers will make fitness more affordable for the masses.


7. Increase in the number of locations in rural areas and digitalization will bring fitness closer to everybody’s home or workplace.


8. Corporate wellness programs – partly through intermediaries / platforms - will stimulate growth.


9. Improved customer service and better customer experience will be good for retention of existing members and attracting new ones.


10. Intensified investment in a diversified and qualified staff based on the European certification of staff and facilities. This will help improve service to the customers and the acceptance of our sector by authorities and the medical profession. The need for this has been amplified by the Covid-19 crisis.


And above all, the drive, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship of the stakeholders will be a crucial factor in the continued success of our sector!


Herman Rutgers, January 2022