Businesses that closed in 2020 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 included fitness centers, an industry that may never fully recover from the shutdown.
Gym memberships have seen a resurgence since restrictions were lifted, but 1 in 4 former members who haven’t returned to the gym say they don’t plan to go back, a new survey shows.
The fitness consumer survey was conducted in 2022 by UpSwell Marketing, an agency focused on helping gyms attract new members and improve member retention.
Only half of the 617 respondents – all U.S. adults who had a gym membership before the onset of the pandemic – said they returned to the gym within nine months of restrictions lifting, while nearly one-third said they still have not returned.
The pandemic closed the fitness centers at all YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City locations for eight weeks and its child care and youth sports programs for 17 weeks.
“By December 2020, we had lost one-third of our membership,” President and CEO Kelly Kay said.
“We’ve had a pretty dramatic recovery since January ’21, but we’re still down 20% from 2019 when membership was at an all-time high,” Kay said. “We’re excited to be on the other side now … to continue serving our community.”
That 20% reduction in membership comes to $4 million in lost revenue for the year to date and there still is one more quarter to go, he said.
The YMCA’s nonprofit status makes a big difference. While lost membership revenue has caused many private gyms to go out of business, the YMCA is supported by the United Way of Central Oklahoma and other funders and donors. It has been able to continue providing $2.5 million in assistance to families annually, Kay said.
Despite the pandemic, lost memberships, inflation and wage increases to retain staff, the 14 central Oklahoma YMCA locations have remained open, he said.
“Some are extremely busy with very large memberships, and some are still trying to recover,” Kay said. The Midtown branch was closed due to low usage, but that wasn’t related to the pandemic, he said.
An analysis of gym membership prices across 80 U.S cities shows Oklahoma City’s average cost per month for one adult is $30.88, well below the national average of $44.98. Tulsa is slightly higher at $32.14.
The research, conducted by fitness resource Total Shape, reveals that New York is the most expensive area of the country for a gym membership at $106.06 per month, followed by San Francisco, with an average monthly cost of $101.27. Mesa, Arizona, is cheapest area with an average monthly fee of $18.29.
The monthly fee at the YMCA is $44.50 for one adult age 25 or older and $34 for younger adults. A household membership (two adults and children up to age 23) costs $69.50 and comes with discounts for youth programs.
Planet Fitness was named the best value gym membership by the Good Housekeeping Institute Wellness Lab among more than 450 fitness clubs. The basic membership is $10 per month and includes unlimited access to a home club and free fitness training. For $24.99 per month members get additional perks such as access to 2,300 locations and the ability to bring a guest.
While 25% of U.S. gyms closed permanently as a result of COVID-19, no Planet Fitness clubs were shuttered, spokeswoman Heather Pearson said.
The franchise has seven locations in the Oklahoma City metro area and five in the Tulsa area.
“We’re currently in an earnings quiet period and cannot speak to current membership trends,” Pearson said.
Second-quarter 2022 numbers show the company added 300,000 new members for a total of 16.5 million, and 34% of mature clubs were at or above pre-COVID membership levels. Systemwide membership is down 6%.