'The Moving Communities: Active Leisure Trends' report from the ukactive Research Institute gives unprecedented insight into how people are using leisure centres.

The ukactive research was compiled in collaboration with the DataHub. It provides a comprehensive picture of who is visiting leisure centres, when they are visiting and what they are doing when they are there. Such intelligence can help operators make informed decisions to ensure their centres reflect trends as well as local community need to drive participation.

Gathering data

The research uses data from more than three million customer memberships collected in 315 different leisure centres over the last two financial years.

There was a 17 per cent increase in overall number of visits to the 315 leisure centres from 2015 to 2016. In 2017, 17,541,369 visits had been made up to the end of April so early indications suggest this could reach a similar level to 2016.


The Who

Membership demographics

  • Total membership increased by nine per cent from FY16 to FY17, indicating an increasing desire to exercise and take part in fitness activities.

  • Almost half of the adult membership base is aged between 16 and 34.

  • 52 per cent of members are female.

  • Almost three quarters of members are white, less than the UK population figure of 86 per cent.

  • The over 65s make up just nine per cent of the membership base compared to 22 per cent of the UK population highlighting a big opportunity for operators.

The what

Group exercise

  • Over the last three years swimming, group workouts and fitness (gym visits) have been by far the most frequent reasons for visiting a centre making up over 80 per cent of total visits.
  • Before 2017, 40 per cent of visits to leisure centres were for swimming. In 2017 (YTD), this dropped to 35 per cent, possibly reflecting the expanding product portfolio that is now on offer and the increased popularity of group workouts.
  • The most popular group workouts are cardio classes followed by indoor cycling. Combined, these two activities make up over 50 cent of total group workout visits.
  • However, the popularity of cardio classes is declining as indoor cycling becomes more popular - from 2016 to 2017 (YTD) there was a 79 per cent increase in the proportion of recorded visits for indoor cycling classes.

Enduring appeal of swimming
Although the percentage of visits for swimming has declined, for the past three years, swimming has been the most popular activity at leisure facilities.

  • So far in 2017, more than one in three visits is still for this activity.

  • Swimming is similarly popular for both males and females with 53 per cent of member visits for swimming so far in 2017 made by females.

  • Most strikingly, the prevalence of swimming dramatically increasing as people age. Although less than one in ten visits by 16-24 year olds are for swimming, this increases consistently up to the 75+ age group where swimming represents over one in three visits.

Sports participation
For the purposes of the research, sport is defined as anything outside of swimming, group workouts and fitness (gym). The report shows:

  • the percentage of visits to leisure centres to play a sport was 19 per cent in 2017 and 20 per cent in 2015 and 2016.

  • More than 40 different sports were offered at the 315 leisure centres and the composition and order of the most popular five sports has remained unchanged over the last three years, with only minimal changes in the percentage of visits dedicated to each.

  • Football is the most frequently played sport accounting for one in three sport based visits. This includes all forms of the sport including 5 a side, outdoor and walking. This was followed by badminton, squash, tennis and climbing.


Members vs casual users

In 2017, 40 per cent of visits to leisure centres were made by casual users. Yet, they use the centres distinctly differently to members:

  • Half of casual users go swimming, which compares to less than a quarter of members.

  • Fitness visits for casual users (visiting the gym) are also far lower than those of members, with just four per cent of visits being for this purpose compared to 27 per cent for members.

  • Casual users are also more likely to play a specific sport, with 31 per cent of visits to leisure centres being for a sport based activity.

  • Members are less likely to visit for sport based activity, with a total of 16 per cent of visits being to play a sport outside the core three activities of swimming, group workouts and fitness (gym visits).

  • The specific sports that members and non members play also differs, with football by far the most popular for non members. This makes up nearly half of sport related visits for non members.

  • For members, badminton is the most popular sport making up 32 per cent of visits.

  • Football and squash both make up over 10 per cent of visits for members.

  • There are a few sports that are far more frequently played by casual users than members. Aside from football, these include trampolining, bowls and climbing.

Why data is power

 “As more and more operators join the DataHub platform they are gaining access to unparalleled levels of insight around prevailing market trends, which is vital in designing and delivering facilities which meet consumer demand and are fit for purpose,” says Steven Ward, CEO of ukactive.

"What’s more, the platform places operators on a much stronger footing to attract investment by virtue of possessing more insightful market data - a common stumbling block at present. Data, once our sector’s biggest blind spot, is fast becoming our strongest asset. Those harnessing the power of the DataHub now have a comprehensive overview of who their customers are and exactly what they want”.

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