A year after their reopening, sports halls see the end of the tunnel

A full year has passed since some 6,500 fitness, climbing or 5-a-side football rooms in France were allowed to reopen and Thierry Marquer, general manager of the “L’Orange Bleue” group, ensures: “We are back to business, the trust is there”.

In 2019, the network included 396 theaters in France -and 4 in Spain- “366,000 members”. Thereafter, “we dropped to 260,000 during the Covid. There we are at 323,000 and we believe that in September we will be back to the level we were before.” the pandemic, this 50-year-old told AFP from the company’s headquarters in the suburbs of Rennes.

Other players are showing more moderate optimism as gyms come back from afar after a dozen months of closure during the pandemic.

‘This is probably the sector that has suffered the most, just after nightclubs’Virgile Caillet, Union Sport & Cycle general representative, told AFP, one of the industry’s representatives.

“Ugly Ducklings”

Shared, this observation is often tinged with a strong bitterness for officials who always claim that their rooms have been falsely presented as high spots of contamination, “ugly ducklings”grinds Patrick Mazerot, the vice president of the Active-FNEAPL union.

In June 2021, this employers’ association had published a first estimate of the damage, with a loss of almost half of the sector’s 6.5 million members, and a turnover increase of more than a billion in 2020.

The return of customers did not mean the end of the worries, emphasizes Patrick Mazerot, by giving a tour of a Paris room of his group “L’Appart fitness”.

“We had the meters, the pass… We had to pay a lot for a service that often only happened halfway”until final restrictions are lifted in March, he notes.

During the closures, the gyms were placed under artificial respiration by the government, with state-guaranteed loans (PGE), the fixed-cost support system and massive appeals for partial unemployment among the approximately 70,000 workers.

Then, in the second half of 2021, “between 350 and 500 branches” have disappeared, ie almost 10% of the market, reports Mr. Mazerot.

This period was also marked by the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which delayed recovery.

“turning point”

From now on, “we are reaching a tipping point” Virgile Caillet is getting ready with the start of the reimbursement of PGEs.

Spread over several years, they pose an even greater challenge in the current context of inflation and rising costs.

In the industry, activities such as 5-a-side football are among the fastest regaining activities, as opposed to yoga spaces, officials said.

At the head of a 5-a-side football complex of the “Urban soccer” group near Montpellier, William Dodeuil calls “a sharply rising electricity bill”by pointing out the multiple lighting of the farmlands.

In his case, sales are on track to return to 2019 levels.

The general trend, on the other hand, will be “-10 to -15% turnover at the end of 2022,” says Patrick Mazerot.

To reach this new milestone, the sector is counting on the development of the “digitized” offer (online courses), and above all on an increased interest from the French in their “health capital”.

Alexandre Boyer, manager of a room “L’Orange bleue” in Rennes, claims to see more members “on the cardio part, to catch your breath”

Like all interviewed managers, he also reports a rejuvenation of the clientele. “Today we have 25% of young people exercising, it wasn’t like that in the past”he says.

Newcomer, Maëlle Lejop, a 20-year-old business student, explains that she felt the need to… “taking charge”, “after being home for so long”

“Being indoors, seeing people play sports, that motivates”she says, adding with conviction: “I asked a friend. (…) She will come along from next school year”.