Even though obesity numbers in children—20 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds are obese while 18 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are obese—would indicate a revenue opportunity in serving this market, some club operators are experiencing revenue growth by catering to a different segment of America’s youth.
In sharp contrast to the stereotypical image of today’s children as video-game-playing couch potatoes, millions of kids regularly compete in a more active way, through school athletics. Sports participation for the 2010-2011 school year reached a record-breaking total of 7.7 million participants, according to figures from the 50 state high school athletic/activity associations, plus the District of Columbia, that are members of the National Federation of State High Schools.
“Adolescent and children’s sports performance programs are some of the hottest and fastest-growing services in the industry,” says Gregory Florez, CEO of First Fitness Inc./FitAdvisor.com, Salt Lake City. “They help children gain skills and a strong work ethic for any sport when they are administered correctly.”
And for a fitness business operator, properly implemented youth sports performance programs can help increase non-dues revenues.
“We help clubs capture the 7- to 18-year-old demographic and drive it similar to small group personal training,” says Bill Parisi, founder and CEO of Parisi Speed School, Wyckoff, NJ, which has 50 licensed sites in health clubs throughout the country. “Clubs run our business similar to a personal training business, so the returns can be similar while reaching a non-traditional health club audience.”
One club that has had success from its licensing agreement with Parisi, despite the $20,000-$30,000 price tag that comes with a name that has helped send 130 players to the National Football League, is Pasedena, CA-based Breakthru Fitness. The club launched the program when it opened three years ago and has seen profits from it more than triple during that time.
“I had researched every program out there and, since we had no experience with youth sports performance, I wanted to make sure we had the best system out there,” says owner Phil Dozois, who has also been a trainer for more than two decades. “We were profitable after the first eight months. We have grown from $88,000 in year one and expect to close the year out at $275,000. It’s been a fantastic return on investment for us.”
Other facilities are seeing similar success on their own as they build their reputation as a sports performance facility on the back of their reputation with traditional members. Akron General Health and Wellness, Akron, OH, started its own sports performance program in 2007 and has had success working with the area’s young athletes.
“Akron General Sports Performance’s goal is to be known as the experts in sports performance in northeast Ohio because we get results and help athletes achieve their goals,” says Amanda Kephart, club coach and head sports performance coach at Akron General Health and Wellness. “It helps our goal to not be limited by policies and ideas of an outside company. Anybody can make someone tired and make them feel like they had a good workout, but very few programs can teach athletes proper bio-mechanics and physics of speed, strength and power. That is why we feel we are the best and why our athletes get so much better. Parents sometimes look just at cost/convenience and do not realize the stark differences in program philosophies and staff.”
Meanwhile, Plymouth Fitness has had enough success with its individually tailored junior sports and fitness programming that it has recently invested in a new outdoor training facility to expand its reach—which now extends to toddlers.
“Our newest addition to our youth sports development is the addition of the UK Sports Development program (UKSD Plymouth), a soccer skills training program for kids as young as 2 years old,” says Nathan Graham, fitness director at Plymouth Fitness, Plymouth, MA. “We have decided to invest in and construct an outdoor training facility to host more of these events. It includes a one-quarter scale track and field and three multi-purpose training stations, including monkey bars, dips, pull-ups, band work, steps and stairs, tires and ropes.”
Programs such as these come with their challenges beyond determining whether to take the program on with in-house staff or using a program such as those offered by Parisi Speed School and Velocity Sports Performance, Costa Mesa, CA.
“The biggest challenge with a performance training business is community awareness as to what performance training actually is,” says Paul MacGregor, vice president of franchise development and operations for Velocity Sports Performance, which has 40 standalone locations as well as another seven franchised locations within health clubs. “Performance training is still a relatively new concept for the public sector.”
Although revenues from the programs are a driving factor for many club operators who go into the sports performance market, many have learned there is an additional benefit to targeting youth.
“Kids have parents, and not all of those parents are members,” says Florez. “And even if they are members, parents are keen on moving their children ahead in sports. Net-net, it is more members for the club owner.”
Dozois echoes the parent-effect these programs have in building a member base, even more so than turning the youth into future members.
“I don’t know that our youth athletes are future members, but I have seen parents get inspired by their kids in the program and decide, ‘Why just sit and watch when I can be getting fitter myself?’” he says. “Parents are supposed to be the role models, but some of our Parisi kids have flipped that formula on its head.”
Velocity takes it a step further and targets adults as well as children with its performance programming, offering more bang for the buck. The company has programs that focus specifically on fundamental performance (grade-school athletes), competitive performance (middle-school athletes) and elite performance (high school), but it also customizes programs for collegiate and professional athletes.
“Velocity’s adult fitness series has something for the ‘get backs’ and for the weekend warriors who are still competitive and are used to being trained by a coach because they played organized sports in high school, college or beyond,” MacGregor says.
Although it takes some different staffing and marketing considerations than the traditional health club model, branching out to youth sports performance—be it through licensing or in-house—may help not only drive revenues but build memberships today and tomorrow.