Gym Community: Creating Lifelong Fans from Short-Term Members

Have you ever wondered why people support sports teams with unconditional love, even when they are giving them a bad time?

However poor your team plays, if you’re a fan – you stand by them. You don’t just throw away your branded goodies and declare yourself a fan of the next team that’s on a winning streak.

Real diehard fans stand by their team through the good times and the bad times.

The question is what can the fitness industry learn from the hyper supportive ethos of sports fans? Is it possible for gym owners to borrow ideas from the sports industry playbook and turn their relatively short-term members into lifelong fans? The short answer is yes.

We found 4 elements that make sports communities so loyal and united in their support for teams through thick and thin:

1. Season ticket holders
2. Expert players
3. Celebrating together
4. Walking adverts

Let’s look at how you can apply those concepts into the engagement and retention strategy of your fitness club!

1. Season ticket holders

What is it?

Season ticket holders are the absolute diehard fans who are willing to spend hundreds of hours and pounds to watch their team play (about 19 games per year). They, of course, engage with a lot more content digitally and in-store.

There’s no actual logic in how much fans spend on supporting their team, and that’s before we even mention that half of teams lose more matches than they win!

What’s undeniable is that their behaviour drives the community, since they are not only sharing knowledge and passion, but also leading by example when it comes to loyalty.

How can you apply it in your gym?

The customers who visit 10+ times per month are your diehard gym members who spend the most time with your brand. If you offer a fixed membership fee per month, these are the members that get the best value for money.

How can you create loyal community members out of your most frequent visitors and therefore increase their overall membership length?

Community building exercises:

    • Interview them… and don’t be scared to find out the truth about how they feel about the things they like and the things they are not overly happy about.
    • Trial new solutions with these members, they know what they want, and what they don’t want!
    • Tell them how important they are to you AND other members.
    • Share their successes and provide others with the tools to follow their example.

2. Expert players

What is it?

Players and Coaches are the face of the team.

Whether the team is winning or losing, they are interviewed weekly. There’s a great amount of interaction between them and fans through social media, interviews and even on TV channels.

Fans are more than happy to pay for their favourite players’ names to be printed on T-shirts and possibly have one or more posters at home.

How can you apply it in your gym?

Most gym members have no clue who works at their gym, especially with the high staff turnover in the fitness industry (about 80% on average).

There’s a direct link between members seeing new faces at the gym monthly and their trust towards the gym’s brand declining. Relationships with staff members become transactional and difficult to maintain, which directly affects the member retention in the long run.

What’s even more alarming… some members are willing to change gyms and follow the personal trainer that they have become comfortable exercising with, just like a fan would follow their favourite football player from one club to the next!

Community building exercises:

    • Understand the different types of member personas you are catering for in your gym and strategize how to connect with each type together with your team of staff.
    • Encourage ALL staff to spend quality time with your members.
    • Educate staff on how important it is to interact with members and provide training to do so – don’t just presume they are good at interacting with people.
    • Be creative with your approaches, but make sure to have a KPI for building meaningful relationships – this could be as simple as the number of 1-to-1 engagements weekly!

3. Celebrating together

What is it?

The most memorable days in the history of any sports team is when they win a trophy, stay in a division or qualify for a championship. For fans it’s the experience of sharing the emotions of a tough season and gloating to anybody ready to listen for the next few days about a massive recognition.

With a handful of trophies to be won each season, there is a high chance that YOUR team doesn’t win anything, oftentimes for many years on end. This, of course, only makes the victories even more precious!

How can you apply it in your gym?

Successful community building at the gym starts with your staff members. Before you shout about your ideas to gym members, it’s important to get your team aligned on your strategy and excited about the vision.

Getting together internally to brainstorm and finalise the team challenges can be the secret ingredient to improved communication and excellent results.

Make sure that the challenges you come up with are fun, inclusive and with the right balance of demanding and rewarding. You can set up competitions against different teams internally and even different gyms externally!

Community building exercises:

    • Announce monthly member and even staff awards! Get people on all levels participating, voting and sharing the excitement. 
    • Join some external competitions and offer groups / training sessions / advice based on that type of training, such as a marathon that’s happening in your city or nearby.
    • Create different types of challenges and offer rewards for signing up, not just for the winners.

4. Walking adverts

What is it?

Many fans don’t actually attend games in-person. They watch from afar, from the pub or in the convenience of their living room. But all fans are more than likely to purchase branded merchandise to show the love for their teams, from clothing and car stickers, to getting tattoos and naming their child after a player’s name.

This phenomenon of fans becoming “walking adverts” results not only in multiple streams of revenue, but it also means free marketing for the sports teams.

How can you apply it in your gym?

Branded objects have increased in popularity over the years due to their affordability. The most popular branded items that gyms offer include locks, water bottles, towels, workout bags and plenty of other clothing options.

Community building exercises (if you sell branded items):

    • Create social media campaigns to collect user-generated content, for example see who can get the best traveller photo with a branded water bottle!
    • Give branded presents to members when they achieve a milestone.
    • Provide the option to purchase branded merchandise in-club or online.

We agree that we have listed some far fetching examples in this blog, but we hope it’s provided you with an opportunity to see the game of gym retention from a different point of view.

We want you to have lifelong members who don’t move to the next, newly invested gym around the corner. The best way to shape up your community is to continuously spend time with your members and offer regular opportunities to create memories together!

Craig McNeill 👋


Starting his journey back in 2001, Craig’s knowledge of the leisure sector is varied and he has held numerous roles within the industry, including those of Fitness instructor, Club Manager, PT, PT Tutor and Assessor. Today Craig supports our clients in 20+ countries and blends his passion for fitness and technology as the host of our podcast mPowered where he chats with global health and tech experts.