NBC 6 Responds

Unsettled: How COVID-19 Is Changing South Florida's Fitness Industry

NBC Universal, Inc.

Fitness centers in South Florida are back open, but with coronavirus cases spiking, not everyone is ready to head back to the gym. 

Personal trainer Porshia Pryor told NBC 6 that when the pandemic hit, she went from meeting clients at the gym to meeting them online in order to adapt to their concerns. "It was like a hit or miss, some people wanted to stay home," Pryor said.

She started using social media and video fitness sessions as a way to stay connected to her clientele. "We can still work out, and we can still keep on moving, just go with it," Pryor said, noting that her goal was to keep getting people motivated to exercise.

Now, her virtual sessions take place everywhere from her home to local parks. She said the sessions have been a "game-changer" as she struggles to rebound financially.

“It has been challenging. It has been difficult to regain that income. Overtime, I have been very fortunate and blessed enough to get back on my feet,” Pryor said.

In March, South Florida’s fitness industry took a hit when Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order forcing gyms and fitness centers to shut down. But by early June, they were back open in South Florida.

Since then, fitness companies across the country have filed for bankruptcy, including YouFit Health Clubs, LLC and 24 Hour Fitness, as they struggle to keep clients.

"We found that about 30% of members have cancelled their subscriptions (since the pandemic), and that means 70% haven't," said Stephen Tharrett, co-founder of ClubIntel, an international club industry consulting and research firm.

He said the company’s research shows a high number of avid fitness enthusiasts in and outside the U.S. have already returned to health clubs in some way, but consumer expectations have changed since the first round of shutdowns.

“If you want to get your millennials and Gen Z back, you better have a digital platform,” Tharrett said. Outside of increased cleaning and social distancing protocols, he says rebounding may rely on how well clubs are able to connect with members.

“Studios, our research shows, are more likely to accomplish that than big clubs because they have a closer connection with their audience and they did a better job connecting during quarantine with digital content,” Tharrett said.

It’s the type of connection Pryor hopes she has established. “The fitness industry will make a comeback,” she insisted.

A recent report released by the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association found that in a survey of nearly 1,200 people, nearly 90% of members who have returned to their clubs have “expressed complete confidence in the safety precautions their fitness centers have taken."

In a statement about the company’s restructuring, 24 Hour Fitness told NBC 6:

“As a result of the impact of COVID-19, 24 Hour Fitness has taken important steps since last summer to restructure its financial and business operations while continuing operations for the benefit of all members and guests, including carefully, phased U.S. wide club re-openings as state and local government and public health agencies indicate it is safe to do so.

As a part of our restructure, we reduced the company’s club footprint and workforce to create a more focused approach to delivering a personalized health and fitness experience for each member. Earlier this week, 24 Hour Fitness achieved another important milestone in its restructure, with the support of our largest creditors, a strong indication that the business plan in place is continuing to put the company in a strong financial and growth position for many years to come.  Our long term strategy includes our continued investment in innovation to keep pace with the evolving fitness needs for consumers and club members alike.

In recent months, this has included enhanced offerings of over 1,500 workout options on our free 24GO personalized fitness app that can be executed anytime and anywhere—with or without equipment, and based on the time you have available.  We also recently introduced 24GO LIVE, our new 24/7 workout experience broadcast on the 24 Hour Fitness YouTube Channel, among other virtual fitness solutions.”

The statement went on to say:

“In this pivotal moment in our lifetime, 24 Hour Fitness remains committed to taking the actions necessary to ensure our long term ability to continue changing lives every day through fitness serving over 3 million loyal members in over 300 clubs nationwide; in Florida, we currently operate 11 clubs—6 in Miami and 5 in Orlando.  We strongly believe that with proper health and safety protocols, the fitness industry is not the problem when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, but the solution for building a healthy immune system. We also know that studies indicate fitness can help reduce the incidence of some concerning risk factors that further complicate COVID-19. Things like heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure can help be prevented with regular exercise and access to fitness. We are devoted to offering a welcoming club experience that provides for the health and safety of our team members, club members and guests both inside and outside of the club environment.”

YouFit also provided a statement to NBC 6:

"As it did for many industries, including other health clubs, the pandemic hit Youfit hard, and we have made the decision to restructure the company through a bankruptcy filing as a way to continue operating and providing an uplifting fitness experience to our loyal members. Over the last few months, our clubs have reopened across the country with new stringent safety protocols, and it has been truly inspiring to see our members back in the clubs. As we enter this new phase - designed to position Youfit for future success - we remain committed to helping our members live healthy, fit lives." 

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