Is the nation more active than ever?

With the recent release of the State of the UK Fitness Industry Report all eyes turn to see how the sector has managed over the past 2 years of disruption.  The report shows that there has been a slight decline in members from 2019 to 2022 by 4.7%.  This loss of 500k members has affected the market value to the tune of £300m and resulted in a penetration rate currently standing at 14.6% (down from 15.6% in 2019).

However, if our industry reported on ‘Active’ members and not just paying members could we being seeing positive movement over the last 3 years?  Looking outside our industry we can see this type of reporting on active users elsewhere.  Take Facebook for instance which reports roughly 3 billion monthly active users or YouTube with 2.1 billion monthly active users.  They have many more users but the focus is on those that are actively engaged with their platforms on a monthly basis.

Especially in an industry that has physical activity at its core, reporting on active users surely makes more sense.

Back in 2019 some leisure operators had up to 45% of their membership base dormant or ‘sleeping’ – yes, we couldn’t believe it ourselves either.  Accepting that this is a fairly extreme figure, we looked back on our records and estimated that 20-30% of most clubs’ membership were not active within the last 30 days.  Therefore the 15.6% penetration rate representing 10.4 million members back in 2019 was actually more like 8 million active users.  Following the repeated closure of facilities during the pandemic the industry experienced a boom in cancellations as sleeping members (some decades old) were woken up and subsequently ceased their payments.  So current sleeping member percentages are likely to be around 5-10%, meaning the actual active users in 2022 is likely to be around 9 million and therefore an actual increase on 2019.

I asked Dave Minton, Founder of Leisure Database Company, for his thoughts on this perspective.  “I believe that the industry and the brands within it need to be more open and transparent. We are now in discussion with the major brands to start collecting more data more often to provide the active monthly KPI.  The leisure industry needs this data to evidence its impact on the health of the nation and reverse the Government’s view that we are non-essential.

At Active Uprising on 28th June, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson presented the long-term strategy for ukactive and outlined Vision 2030 which plans to generate 5 million more users of facilities – which I strongly support.  But shouldn’t we be talking about active users?  More people, more active, more often.  I know this can be implied by the fact that customers have joined with good intentions but we know from previous years’ sleeping member percentages, this isn’t always the case.  Generating interest and gaining commitment to join a club or centre is only part of the journey.  Creating exercise habits and lifelong change is the hard bit!

And for operators thinking about the commercial benefits, an active user is hugely more valuable than just a sleeping member.  Active members refer more friends and family, add secondary spend income, are more likely to leave a positive review and contribute more to social value.

So my final thought turns to the 5 million more users.  Our sector is more than just gyms, studios and pools.  We have an abundance of physical activity spaces that might not generate a monthly subscription like a traditional gym membership but they offer something to communities that still has a positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing.  Let’s get 5 million more badminton players, 5 million more bowlers, 5 million more exercise referrals, 5 million more children swimming, 5 million more climbers – you get my point.  Our industry should play a huge part in improving the health of the nation and 5 million more active members can just be the start. 

AUTHOR: John Leaver
AUTHOR: John Leaver

Head of Marketing

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