Health Club Membership Growth Comes from Female, Youth Markets, IHRSA Says

The profile of the average health club member may be shifting, suggests a new analysis of the industry from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). The recently released IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report revealed that the female and youth markets made up a significant portion of the membership growth that the association reported earlier this year.

Health club membership rose in 2010 for the first time in several years, jumping 10.8 percent to 50.2 million members in 2010 from 45.3 million the previous year, according to research IHRSA compiled in collaboration with Sports Marketing Surveys. In its analysis of the membership growth, IHRSA found that a slight majority of the 14.6 million who joined clubs in 2010 were female.

Although existing, long-term club membership was split almost evenly between men and women, 57 percent of new members in 2010 were female and only 43 percent were male.

This shift could present a challenge to operators, as female members tend to visit clubs less frequently than their male counterparts, the survey found. Men reported visiting their clubs an average of 101.8 times per year, whereas women checked-in on an average of 93.4 days.

To promote more regular usage by the majority of new members, IHRSA suggests operators tailor programming to appeal to female club-goers. Increasing group exercise offerings, which women are more than twice as likely to participate in as their male counterparts (68 percent compared to 32 percent), and “soft exercise” programming, such as Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi, which attracts a similar balance of members (64 percent female, 36 percent male), could be a good start. Other typical club activities were more evenly split, with cardio machines only slightly more popular with women (at 53 percent) and weights and resistance equipment favored by men by the same margin.

The report also showed that more young people joined clubs in 2010. About 10 percent of current club members were 6 to 17 years old, but that same age group represented almost 18 percent of new members in 2010. Likewise, 18- to 34-year-olds, which made up 30 percent of existing membership, joined clubs last year at the higher rate of about 34 percent. New membership of 35- to 54-year-olds (32 percent) was lower compared to long-term membership (37 percent) in that age bracket. The 2010 new membership figures also showed that the expected boom of Baby Boomers joining health clubs may be still to come. Boomers represented 23 percent of long-term members over 55 years old and only about 16 percent of new members.

The report was derived from a study conducted in collaboration with Sports Marketing Surveys, based on research compiled in January and February 2011, according to IHRSA. The data was collected through 38,742 online interviews of individuals and households in the United States by the U.S. Online Panel operated by Synovate.

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