NEW YORK – Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is considering acquiring Bally Total Fitness as a way to extend its Virgin fitness club business in the United States, according to the The New York Post.

Since December, Bally has been working with JPMorgan Securities Inc. and the Blackstone Group to investigate its options including a possible sale or merger.

After the news, Bally Total Fitness shares increased more than nine percent, up $1.45 to $9.12, on the on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this week.

Chairman and CEO Paul Toback, who was nearly ousted by a dissident shareholder at the annual meeting, said he wouldn't speculate on the strategic sales process. At the Virgin Life Care booth at the IHRSA show, however, several Bally employees came by to see how the possible sale would affect the Bally clubs nationwide. For more information, look for our April issue of Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro.