What sports centers can do to increase physical activity levels in society

Interview with industry experts Chano Jiménez and Mathias Lego

Image: Sports facilities

The results of the 5th Eurobarometer on Sport and Physical Activity

The results of the 5th Eurobarometer on Sport and Physical Activity have been published and the numbers are impressive. According to this study, 47% of Spaniards do not engage in physical activity or practice any sport and only 13% practice sport in the gym.

Regardless of how shocking this reality may be for all of us who work in the world of physical activity and advocate for healthier lifestyles, these data indicate that there is still much to be done in this industry and that strategies must be developed to increase the number of active people.

For this reason, we have contacted two experts and consultants from the sports, physical activity and fitness industry, Chano Jiménez and Mathias Lego, to tell us about the conclusions they draw based on these results.

What is your analysis on these results? Why are the numbers of people who workout in gyms so low?

Chano Jiménez: Well, first, it is necessary to read the fine print and read the report carefully, without falling into superficial observations. If one compares the indexes of levels of physical activity, it can be seen that the Spaniards are at a level similar to the European average, here it is necessary to distinguish physical activity from the ratio of penetration of gyms in society.

With the pandemic, it has been seen that many people have turned to sports activities, either outdoors or at home. These people have often found the offer of gyms a bit boring, or that the message of the sports center did not reach them, and they have started with physical activity in other places.

The strictly “Low-Cost” offer of gyms lacks the differentiation of the different types of physical activity that the different user profiles prefer, and thus many people turn their backs towards gyms. They are more attracted to other activities that are more personalized.

Mathias Lego: My first observation is that while for people in the industry like us these numbers may sound low, they are still numbers that are similar to and partially better than the European average, which is already high compared to other regions.

This does not change the fact that we should try to make this number grow even more, both from the industry and from politics and society.

One of the factors that, without a doubt, still has an effect is the pandemic. On the one hand, the temporary and permanent closures have pushed users to other alternatives such as the park or the home or directly to stop doing physical activity on a regular basis. This could explain the slight drop or at least the lack of progress that we see in this report compared to the previous one.

On the other hand, this does not justify that the penetration rate continues to show that almost half of the population does not engage in any type of activity and that only 1 in 4 people are part of a sports club or gym. This is mainly due to the fact that the offer of sports institutions is not aligned with what the majority of the public is looking for. If I’m a father who works full time and wants to reduce stress, decrease lower back pain and doesn’t want to lose his breath when going up the stairs, I am not going to buy a product that shows me advertising with a young man with a super toned body that is doing a biceps curl. That advertisement does not offer me a solution to the problems I want to solve. We have to rethink the way we present ourselves and how we communicate what we do.

What would you recommend to the different institutions to improve these numbers?

Chano: There are 3 levels where you can work a lot: At the state level, at the level of industry organizations, and at the level of sports center operators.

At the state level, there should be educational campaigns from a very early age on the value of physical activity. Here, even the ministries of health could recognize the value of a life with physical activity and work on campaigns to prevent diseases derived from sedentary lifestyle.

Another point that they could work on is, for example, at the tax level, reducing VAT or other types of taxes on sports services. This message would make people realize that these types of services are positive for the entire society.

At the level of the organizations in the sector, it would be interesting to work on quality standards (in all senses) in order to provide the end user of the gym with a high-quality experience in gyms. 

Finally, at the individual level of each of the fitness operators and gym owners there is much to be done. Here it is necessary to work on the variety of services, so that each one finds and works in their niche in order to reach a different audience. It is necessary to work on processes to reach more and more people, starting with having a varied offer and working hard on communication with the different types of clients that you may have.

You have to understand the psychology of the end user and transmit messages that reach what the user is looking for, even more so with those who are not regular athletes. The message of the offers should not be based only on prices and discounts, but on the objectives that people may have, in order to reach those who want to recover from an injury, those who want to lose weight, those who are looking for an activity to socialize. If we just talk to everyone with the same message, that membership is going to be worth €10 this month, then we shouldn’t be surprised.

Mathias: Clearly, a large part of the Spanish public does not believe that the gym has the solution to their aches and pains. However, science shows us that the opposite is true. So what can we do?

There are two key points here that we can address as an industry: Awareness and Offer. And both go hand in hand.

For awareness, we must work on a political and social level, with more sports offers in schools, with tax benefits for employers who offer or facilitate sports and physical activity solutions to their employees, education to reduce sedentary lifestyle and other measures. The vast majority of the population sees physical activity as something tedious, like an inconvenience, and they find reasons to give it a low priority in their day-to-day life. We have to increase the perceived value of sport, so that it gains priority within the users’ agenda.

In addition to that, it is up to us fitness experts to approach medical institutions and associate with them, to create solutions to those problems that doctors fight every day and thus form an alliance in raising awareness and solving the problems that affect their patients.

This brings us to the second point: the Offer. In part, it is the above-mentioned problem of the discrepancy between the product offered (or at least how it is advertised) and the solution to the problem that people are looking for. The most common mistake I see is that operators are asking themselves what equipment they want, what space they want, what they want to do, etc, and then they advertise all the things they have and are praying that someone is interested in what they offer.

If we want to increase the number of people who come to our gyms, the question is not “why don’t they buy what I offer?” but “what are you looking for?” and offer them exactly what they need. All people, no matter what, can benefit in some way from some form of physical activity. We must learn to communicate -and above all listen way better to people, discover what their problems are and how we can help them with all the tools and expertise that we have.

If the focus is on solving problems, products and services sell themselves. With this in focus, I’m sure we’re going to see an improvement.

About Chano Jiménez:

Chano Jiménez is an international consultant, researcher, author, and speaker specializing in strategic fitness marketing. Doctor in Economics, Postgraduate in Neuromarketing from the Copenhagen Business School, Master in General Business Management, Master in Sports Management and more than 25 years of experience in sports business management.

About Mathias Lego:

Mathias Lego is a strategic consultant, specialized in the sports sector. For a decade he has been working in the industry helping gyms and sports institutions in Europe, Asia and Latin America to adjust their way of seeing the market, take advantage of its strengths as well as its unique characteristics and apply marketing and sales strategies to improve their results. 

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Maike Kumstel

on September 26, 2022

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