Sports and Fitness Franchising

With the obesity epidemic splashed all over the news, it may seem a little counterintuitive to say that sport and fitness franchises are good to get into right now. A fast food restaurant might seem like a better bet. But, don’t discount the fact that a lot of people care deeply about being fit and active. And that means you can cash in on people’s desire to be healthy.

The sport and fitness sector is a popular one among franchisees. That’s probably because it’s so diverse. It includes: equipment supply, sportswear retail, sports bars, weight-loss clinics, personal coaching and gyms. So, if you’re more into the retail side of things, you can open an athletic shoe store, but if you want to help people lose weight, you can opt for a weight-loss clinic. You can even own a sports franchise. Yes, you! The United States Basketball League, for example, offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to own a basketball team.


Demand for fitness trainers and instructors is a particularly fast growing segment, estimated to rise by 24 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to, which is faster than the national average for all occupations.

It’s actually the aforementioned obesity epidemic that is driving the success of the fitness franchising industry by prompting people to want to get fit and lose weight. Thanks to shows like The Biggest Loser and the praise that people get for their weight loss achievements when they go public with them, people are starting to have that desire to get fit and get active.

A whopping 70 percent of Americans are considered to be overweight, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of those people, about 36 percent of adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents (2-19 years old) are considered to be obese.

Franchises that cater to the weight loss market are often fitness facilities (sometimes with a special niche) or diet centers. Revenue estimates for the gym, health and fitness club market are estimated to be about $26 billion annually, according to IBISWorld. Revenue for the entire weight-loss market is estimated to be over $65 billion annually with weight loss services accounting for about $2.5 billion.

The 50 largest fitness centers account for about 30 percent of revenue, according to Plunkett Research, and only a few dozen companies operate more than 10 centers. Since women make up the lion’s share of fitness club memberships, it’s no surprise that there are several fitness franchises that cater exclusively to women.

Fitness centers, health clubs, and weight loss centers, which make up the fitness franchising industry, account for revenues of over $70 billion annually in the US, says data from the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association. Fitness centers and health clubs generating over approximately $20 billion each, with the diet industry estimated to generate over $30 billion per year.


Competition in the sports and fitness franchising industry is fierce, with franchisees competing not only with each other, but with non-profit entities like the YMCA and community centers. There are also online fitness trainers and workouts people can do in their own homes, independent trainers not affiliated with companies, and people who do their own fitness program who don’t use a gym.

This is why a franchise is especially helpful in this market. You get to utilize the brand’s reputation and marketing power. Imagine having the power of the UFC brand name behind your marketing efforts. The name alone will draw people in, in addition to what you do to advertise. Plus, franchisees can use the franchise’s economy of scale to help purchase equipment, which smaller, independent places can’t do.


 We’ve already talked about fitness centers specifically geared toward women, but you can find other niches to fill. One huge niche market is geriatric fitness. Baby boomers are aging, yet people are living healthier for longer, meaning the boomers aren’t going to sit around wasting away, they’re going to stay active.

Researchers are projecting the number of seniors in the U.S. to increase each year through at least 2050, growing from approximately 37 million to 87 million people. That’s a huge market to tap into.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, is the youth market, which is also growing. Cutbacks to school physical education programs have left parents searching for places they can enrol their children to get them that much needed physical activity they used to get at school.

Fitness centers for children are the answer.

“Youth memberships have become one of the fastest growth areas for the fitness club industry,” says senior analyst Taylor Hamilton of research firm IBISWorld.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) predicts that the national obsession with obesity, particularly among children, will lead to an increase in the number of gyms offering youth classes.

You can also open a fitness franchise that specializes in one or a few types of classes or types of training regimens. Personal training, step/bench aerobics, cardio kickboxing, yoga, strength training, aerobics classes, spinning classes, boxing and MMA-based workouts are a sampling of the types of classes and activities that you can potentially offer depending on where your interests lie.

Technically Speaking

 Opening a franchise almost always means hiring people. But, thanks to advances in technology, fitness franchises are having to hire fewer people. Gyms and fitness clubs can now stay open 24 hours without having to hire night staff, thanks to people being able to check themselves in with a numerical code and a scan of their finger print.

Other gyms are bypassing the need to hire trainers because the equipment is so advanced that people can pretty much do their own workouts without the supervision of a fitness trainer. These advances in technology mean cost savings for franchisees.

The Peripherals

 So far, we’ve just talked about the actual fitness centers and gyms themselves, but there is a whole list of accessories and peripheral items to fitness that are ripe for franchising opportunities. Equipment, supplements and protein powder, clothing, weight reduction products and shoes all have franchises that you can start and make profitable.

The Sports and Fitness Industry Association estimates that the fitness equipment industry generates $150 billion in domestic revenue.


 Fitness isn’t the only big money maker when it comes to keeping people active and healthy. Sports-related franchises also play a big role in making staying healthy fun. Much like how the fitness industry is diversified, the sports industry can entail any of a number of different franchise types.

Retail outlets are an obvious franchise opportunity, but the sports industry is so varied, it also includes traveling drug testing franchises, artificial turf franchises, sports-themed hair salons, sports training facilities, recreation centers, sports leagues and many more opportunities.

Similar to fitness, most sports require equipment. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association says in its 2014 Manufacturers’ Sales by Category Report that the sports and fitness industry grew 2.8% in 2013, representing $81.4 billion in wholesale sales in the United States. That is an increase of almost $10 billion from 2009 when the industry reached $71 billion wholesale.

“Our industry has grown steadily since the Great Recession of 2009,” said VJ Mayor, SFIA’s Director of Communications and Research. “SFIA members continue to focus on the latest technology to drive both equipment and apparel development which is appealing to consumers. The emergence of sport style increasingly incorporated into consumers’ everyday fashion choices also bodes well for our members on the apparel side. Proof of this is best seen in the growth of the fleece/sweat and basketball footwear categories.”

Fleece/sweatshirts grew 11 percent to $1.63 billion wholesale, which was up $162 million from $1.47 billion in 2012. Basketball sneakers were also a big growth driver in 2013, up 15 percent ($134 million) from 2012, surpassing the $1 billion mark in wholesale sales for the first time.

And don’t forget sports fans! If people aren’t participating in sports, then they’re watching sports, cheering on their favorite athletes and buying sports apparel to watch the games in. Sports fans’ enthusiasm for supporting their favorite teams is good for anyone interested in opening a retail store that specializes in sports team apparel or opening up a sports-themed restaurant and/or bar. Thanks to the seasonal nature of sports, there is always a season beginning just as another league’s season is ending, meaning there are big games happening year-round to keep people’s interest peaked.

With so many different franchising opportunities to choose from, if you’re entrepreneurial minded, you will be able to find a franchise model and niche to match your interests in the sports and fitness franchise market. Do your research and find out what your area doesn’t have and you’re already well on your way to opening a successful sports and fitness franchise.

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