Gyms adjust to serve members both in-person and remotely

By Mark J. Burns

Premium health clubs, gyms and boutique fitness studios are in the midst of an economic rebound since the mid-March 2020 shutdown due to COVID-19. And while the future is still uncertain if and when memberships and subscription numbers will revert to pre-pandemic benchmarks, one factor is true: A hybrid relationship between the fitness industry and consumers, both in brick-and-mortar locations as well as at home, will remain, even in a post-pandemic era.

“Remote workouts using some sort of a digital streaming platform is here to stay, whether that’s on a connected piece of equipment or whether that’s individual workouts done via an iPad or an iPhone,” said Chad Waetzig, executive vice president of marketing and branding at New York City-based Crunch Fitness. “We see it as complementary to our business.”

Trainer Aliyah Sims prepares for a segment on Rumble TV, an on-demand and livestreaming platform that launched in February.rumble tv

“Gym operators are realizing, ‘Look, I know that if I want to keep my members long term, and I want that extra point of engagement with them when they’re not here, I need to have a digital platform with good content with my people that they know so that I don’t lose them,’” said Adam Zeitsiff, ex-CEO of Gold’s Gym and now CEO of Broomfield, Colo.-based Intelivideo, a content platform for gyms and health clubs like World Gym, Title Boxing Club and 9Round Fitness.

Zeitsiff referred to the Intelivideo platform, and other virtual offerings, as no longer a “nice to have” based on how consumer behavior has changed throughout the past 15-plus months. For Crunch Fitness, there’s been an online streaming platform incorporated into its membership model since 2013. During the pandemic, the company saw at times over 100,000 daily workouts between livestreamed or on-demand classes via Crunch Live. It marked a “75- to 100-fold increase” in the number of workouts every day compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Waetzig, now stabilizing at an estimated 10 times what Crunch Fitness recorded before the pandemic.

Minneapolis-based Life Time didn’t have a specific live or on-demand offering for members until COVID-19. It’s still working toward providing up to 1,000 livestream classes per week from a minimum of 25 clubs across the U.S., the company said, a process which was announced on Feb. 1. According to Jeff Zwiefel, president and chief operating officer, Life Time is still outfitting more than 150 clubs with those technological capabilities so virtual classes can be staged from group fitness, cycle and yoga studios.

9Round Fitness is among the gyms to use the Intelivideo platform for virtual workouts. intellivideo

“Business was going well, we were growing year-over-year top line revenue and EBITA double digits,” Zwiefel said. “This forced us to do things that we would have never done before.” 

Additionally, pre-COVID, Life Time had 250,000 juniors, or kids under the age of 14, on family membership plans, a number that dropped amid the pandemic but has since rebounded to over 200,000 as of July 16. Zwiefel added that compared to new memberships sold in June 2019, Life Time eclipsed 125% of that undisclosed figure in June 2021. 

Meanwhile, Crunch experienced a 5.6% growth in memberships from March 2020 to January 2021 across the company’s franchise network, according to Liz Eggert, director of marketing for Crunch Fitness. That includes 300 franchisee gyms and another 23 company-owned locations that follow a franchise business model, she said.

Ashley Camerini, CEO of Rumble, a boutique boxing and fitness brand with 15 locations across cities including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City, said that the Manhattan-based company is currently “operating at roughly 75%” of pre-COVID overall revenue.

Camerini explained that having a “digital footprint for Rumble had always been part of the business plan,” but the pandemic accelerated that strategy. In February, Rumble formally debuted an on-demand and livestreaming subscription platform dubbed Rumble TV, featuring more than six live classes daily and 40-plus in a week across boxing, high-intensity interval training, strength and running.

Over 30% of Rumble TV clients were first-time brand users during the time period when all locations were closed, noted Camerini, adding that “it allowed us to keep our community together.” Rumble’s brick-and-mortar gyms have started to reopen only in the past two months.

“Fundamentally, there’s still no replacement for the energy that you get when you are in a studio with 60 people all doing the same thing, all listening to the same instructor and all listening to the same music,” said Camerini, a sentiment also shared by Crunch’s Waetzig. “That is so hard to replicate.”

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