October 3, 2022

As Peloton and other virtual fitness behemoths are failing to live up to their pandemic hype, data shows that New Yorkers are leading a national return to in-person workouts at gyms and studios.
Foot-traffic analytics company Placer found that in June, visits to gyms across the country were up more than 26% compared with June 2019, and the increasee was even greater in New York City: 39.5%. The study compared seven major markets in the country, including Chicago and Los Angeles, and found that New York’s gyms recorded the largest gains, with higher foot traffic in every month this year than comparative months in 2019.
It’s welcome news for the brick-and-mortar fitness industry, which was predicted to suffer a long-term setback after the rise of virtual alternatives and the permanent closure of 15% of the nation’s fitness centers in 2020. But amid at-home workouts, many still longed for the gym. In a February 2021 survey, McKinsey found that 70% of fitness consumers missed the gym as much as they missed their relatives and friends during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now they are returning to gyms in droves.
“At its core, fitness is a community activity,” said R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at Placer. “There’s been a lot of pent-up demand to get out there and work out with others.”
The gains have not been felt equally, however. Visits to budget chain gyms have spiked, with foot traffic to Planet Fitness up 77.4% in June compared with January 2021. High-priced studio chains including F45, with memberships costing upwards of $239 per month, have thrived as well. But smaller, independent gyms such as Prospect Fitness in Brooklyn have been slow to recover.
“We’re seeing a steady increase, but we have not hit our numbers yet,” Prospect owner Mark Anthony said, speaking by phone in the middle of a workout with a client.
Prospect has no contracts, and it offers one-month memberships for $40. The small gym remains at about 80% of its pre-pandemic business, Anthony said, and it’s been a challenge to bridge the gap and bring in new customers.
“It feels like I need to put in an additional 80% effort just to get that last 20% of people to come through the door,” he said.
Hottovy of Placer said independent gyms were hit harder by the pandemic downturn and have been slower to recover—which is consistent with previous slumps. Corporate gyms have been more poised to keep prices down and also were quicker to launch virtual options.
Still, some trends have been universal. At Prospect Fitness, crowds at the gym’s morning workouts have thinned, and Anthony said about half his clients visit between 5 and 9 p.m.
That’s in line with the recently released data. In June, less than 15% of workouts took place before 9 a.m., and the figure has been dropping steadily in the past two years.
Americans also might be sweating more than before. The average length of workout went up at four major chain gyms, including a rise from 69 minutes to 75 minutes at Crunch Fitness since 2019. (Placer analysts warn the figure could reflect a jump in time spent socializing rather than time working out.)
Although gyms are embracing in-person visits, research shows the largest ones, including Anytime Fitness, Gold’s Gym and Planet Fitness, have held onto their virtual programs such as livestreamed workouts and online nutrition advice—which were created in 2020. Their hybrid business models are likely to continue, Hottovy said.
The bump in gym foot traffic might come as a surprise, as consumers generally have become spooked by high prices and less likely to spend. But Hottovy said gyms, with flat monthly membership fees, are more insulated from inflation than activities that require customers to spend for each visit.
“With these chains, you’re locked into the same price for at least a year,” Hottovy said, adding that it can feel like a win for consumers as they battle rising prices elsewhere. “They might say, ‘If I’ve got the membership, I’ll try and use it.’”
Still, independent gyms are at a disadvantage because they cannot spread their costs out across multiple locations.
View the discussion thread.
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