Insight: When eturning to work

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How will digital opportunities and sports clubs work together to create a new offering for customers? Philip Mills, CEO of Les Mills, shares his views.

"The social and motivating benefits will encourage people to return to sports clubs," says Mills.

The October 2020 IHRSA report found that 95% of sports club members lack at least one aspect of their club, and more than half are dissatisfied with being forced to stop their training routine. Despite the intimidating stories in the media that the boom in home fitness inspired by COVID will mean the end of traditional sports clubs, it is gratifying that most sports club members want to return to training in the gym. "Since the reopening of the sports and fitness clubs in June and July, we have seen a large number of members want to return to the club as soon as possible, and we are almost back to the level of attendance before COVID," says Ant Martland, a fast-growing UAE chain. , Co-Founder and Marketing Director of GymNation. "The strength of the group classes and our club community is clear and we think it will be a key component in the wider recovery of the industry. People have spent a lot of time in isolation and now they can't wait to feel the thrill before a live group session. We have experienced queues of participants at the studio door to secure their place in the class. People are desperate to return to gym groups, and the last few months have been our best selling point. "

Sports clubs are becoming more popular

Many predict that digital fitness at home will cannibalize membership in sports clubs, but the numbers do not support it. Prior to COVID-19, approximately 85% of gym members already trained at home (Qualtrix, 2019), demonstrating the importance of being able to provide all kinds of fitness experiences if the club is to increase member loyalty. As the digital fitness revolution has grown in recent years, the number of subscribers to gyms and their popularity continues to grow. Europe, a market for early-stage digital fitness users, saw a 66% increase in sports club membership between 2009 and 2019. Indeed, given that there are around 375,000 mobile fitness apps and 77,000 were launched in 2020 alone (Source: App Annie), evidence shows that digital fitness is attracting more and more people. Gyms with impressive agility solved this COVID-19 challenge by introducing digital training solutions in a matter of weeks. With ClubIntel reporting that 72% of the world's sports and fitness clubs now offer online training to members on demand (compared to only 25% in 2019), the clubs have clearly made significant progress in a short period of time. In many respects, the pandemic accelerated the changes that sports and fitness clubs had to make in the same way. By implementing the club experience in people's homes, it is possible to reach those who do not usually attend the club. Some digital solutions, such as live streaming, can be a great way for clubs to gain new supporters, increase their brand image and ultimately transform such users into full club members. According to a study by Alliance Leisure in 2020, 96% of consumers who train online during isolation said they would take the opportunity to attend the club in person when it appeared. Meanwhile, a November 2020 survey of 9,000 Les Mills On Demand (LMOD) users found that 63% of people who had not attended a gym were interested in trying out Les Mills classes at the club.

Back to life

Although so much has changed, some things remain the same. These are our coaches and the team that inspired people to join, and they will be the key to getting them back. Consider the emotional contribution your team can make to helping participants feel safe again. "Instructors have the best connection to people than anyone else in the club, and now more than ever," said Kerry Kepple, president of IHRSA and MD at Illinois Styles Studios Fitness. "Instructors and coaches are the ones who will immediately resume their work and will do everything necessary to make the club members feel good again.

“More physically active = better vaccine results

Maintaining a stable flow of information on the safety of sports clubs will be key to helping to allay concerns and influence policy on COVID-19 restrictions, but we should also emphasize our impact on vaccination efforts. Several studies suggest that exercise may help increase the effectiveness of vaccination. A study from the University of Birmingham, UK, showed that people who did a few hours of hand exercises before the flu vaccine developed a stronger immune response. A study by the University of Saarland, Germany, found that elite athletes have a stronger immune response to the flu vaccine, suggesting that the more physically active you are, the more effective your vaccine will be.

Industry unity

One of the highlights of the past year has been the emphasis on the importance of sport and physical activity on the part of the government and society as a whole. We can compete with each other as entrepreneurs, but when it comes to COVID-19, we all need to work together as one industry team to ensure that people feel safe exercising. The lobbying efforts of industry bodies and the magazine HCM - in close collaboration with clubs and instructors - have achieved political victories and many positive headlines in the media. Several European countries have allowed sports and fitness clubs to operate, recognizing their role in maintaining people's physical and mental health and the very low number of COVID-19 infections in clubs. Data from UKactive, published in February, showed that out of 100,000 visits to sports and fitness clubs in 2020, only 1.7 people tested positive for COVID-19, and there is no evidence that the infection occurred in sports clubs or that people had virus when they visited the gym.

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