Since Covid-19, we have increasingly been working and training independent of time and place. ‘Hybrid’ is the zeitgeist vocabulary of the hour. How will we keep fit in the near and distant future? What role do companies play in this? Benjamin Roth is CEO and co-founder of the sports and wellness provider Urban Sports Club. He has a few answers to these questions.
Urban Sports Club offers its members access to more than 12,000 partner studios with 50 sports in six countries. Gradually, these are now opening their doors again. Your co-founder Moritz Kreppel spoke on the ‘Capital und n-tv’ business podcast about Urban Sports Club having the strongest months in its history after the first lockdown in autumn 2020. Can a similar rush be expected in the coming months?
After the first lockdown, in September/October 2020, members actually came back quickly. There was a big catch-up effect. After all, not all sports can be replicated well at home - just think of team sports, such as football, or classic outdoor sports such as climbing or water sports. There is much to suggest that there will be a big rush now, too - even if the lockdown was significantly longer now than it was then. In England, where fitness studios reopened in December, people are already talking about new records. I am optimistic about the future of our partner studios, but I am more cautious about the fitness industry itself.
Who will come first? Which target groups will increasingly visit ‘classic’ sports facilities again?
In autumn, it was first the young who dared to go out among people again. This time, the vaccinations could also give the older target group more confidence and self-assurance. How exactly the situation will develop remains to be seen. In any case, we can expect those who want to meet friends for sports and do something for their health again.
Keyword community: A recent study by YouGov, undertaken in partnership with your company, showed that listlessness and loneliness increased during Covid-19 among those who work for companies. 75 per cent of employers felt prompted to introduce additional benefits such as sports memberships or wellness offers, among other ideas. One third of managers surveyed (37 per cent) stated that this increased motivation, team cohesion and willingness to perform.
It is difficult to establish a clear correlation between wellness or exercise and employee satisfaction. We think a lot about how to measure the effectiveness of such benefits. One thing is certain: it is essential to go broad. On the one hand, geographically, i.e. to create sports facilities close to the workplace or place of residence. On the other hand, we have to make sure that we reach all people. So also those who have only recently started to do something good for themselves and their health. This is done step by step.
So it's about lowering the first hurdles. What has prevented many people from exercising more so far?
Company culture plays an important role. If health and fitness promotion is taken seriously, employees spend their lunch breaks doing sports as a matter of course. No-one is ‘looked at’ because they don't show up at the office until 9.30 am after their morning yoga session. So it's all about integrating sport and fitness into everyday life. Exercise is lived and thus part of the corporate culture - and creates better group cohesion.
And what role does technology play?
A crucial one. Technology helps people find what really drives them. Many are unmotivated because they haven't found a sport or wellness activity they enjoy. They are bored. Apps, algorithms and the virtual community help people find the right thing for them, start to actually participate in sport - and stick with it.
About Benjamin Roth
Benjamin Roth founded the sports and wellness platform Urban Sports Club in Berlin together with Moritz Kreppel in 2012. Before that, he worked as a consultant, among other things. He studied economics in Munich and completed a Master of Business Administration in the USA. He is married and a father of three.
What experiences do your corporate clients report?
The benefits are extremely well received - that's why the majority of our corporate clients stayed with us during the pandemic. We took a closer look at the figures during the lockdown: 90 per cent of all the companies that entered into a partnership with us in 2018 have stayed with us. They speak of a valuable offer.
Companies themselves are also likely to gain indirectly from the benefits. Studies show: people who are healthy work more efficiently. Employee health can be the decisive competitive factor, as a study recently discussed in the Deutsches Ärzteblatt proves: effective company health management reduces fluctuation by 40 per cent, turnover per employee increases by 11 per cent and share price by as much as 76 per cent.
That's true, and employers today are not only those who transfer money every month. Expectations towards companies have changed - especially among younger employees. We talk about ‘caring’ - employers have to take care of their workforce. Sporting activities and health promotion fit in very well with this concept - and increase loyalty and identification with the company. Today, it has become normal to talk not only about salary but also about benefit packages - especially in big cities. These extra offers help to bring highly competitive talent on board and to retain them in the long term. Many of our customers now refer to Urban Sports Club extra offers in their job advertisements.
A study by Forsa and Urban Sports Club found that 86 per cent of respondents would find it ‘good’ or ‘very good’ if employers focused more on the topic of health and supported them financially with pro-health measures.
It is a simple formula: the higher the subsidy from the employer, the lower the threshold and the higher the utilisation of the offers. The positive side-effect of this is that when companies spend money on benefits, they have an interest in ensuring that the corresponding offers are actually used. So they invest in internal marketing. This also benefits us. In some companies, the percentage of employees who actively use Urban Sports Club sports offers is 50 per cent.
And how do companies find out which offer is best for their employees?
On the one hand, this can be ascertained retrospectively by looking at which courses and offers are used the most. On the other hand, socio-demographic characteristics of occupancy can also provide information in advance: how old is the workforce? How many are already regularly active in sports? We can advise our corporate clients on this. It is also possible to conduct a team survey to evaluate which sports are in demand. This is also informative for us - we are constantly optimising our offer.
About Urban Sports Club
Urban Sports Club offers a flexible sports and wellness flat-rate membership. Its corporate offering includes in-studio, outdoor training and online classes via livestream. Members can put together their individual training plan in more than 50 sports. At more than 10,000 partner locations in six countries in Europe (Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Portugal), it is possible to check in for training via app. Companies in Europe such as FreeNow, Delivery Hero and DRK use the diverse and flexible benefit.
In what way? What trends can be identified?
At the moment, pole- and chair-dancing are in high demand, also online. Dance - also with fitness elements - is also very popular. The pandemic has also unsurprisingly boosted demand for outdoor sports.
You have already hinted at it: we are experiencing a transformation of the fitness market. What is your vision for the market in the near future?
Some trends have already emerged: we work remotely, in a home office, and are making our daily lives much more flexible. Flexibility is increasingly in demand - I see the fitness market of the future as a hybrid model. In addition, sport, whether in the gym or at home, must become an experience. The trend towards individualisation is also exciting. Providers have a lot of catching up to do.
What role does technology play in the future of this market?
A big role - in many places. It's not just about sports at home, not just about online courses. Topics such as gamification will increasingly occupy us, and tech also helps to optimise the offer and make it more customer-centric. Today, it is no longer enough to offer a room with equipment.
You talked about hybrid offerings. Urban Sports Club has ‘hybridised’ itself through the Covid-19 pandemic. What has been your experience with your partners' live online courses over the past year-and-a-half?
That's right, we have ‘hybridised’ - and will stay with it in the long run. Members want to train both in the studio and location-independently. Our online offer via livestream was well received; for many of our customers it was new, they had previously only trained on site. It was also a lifesaver, because during lockdown, studios were able to retain members and the members in turn were able to train live online at home and keep in touch. At the moment, ten to 12 per cent of the sports offered are used online, and the rest will happen on-site again. We are going for a mix, and I expect the online share to increase, possibly to a ratio of 80:20.
Let's jump five years into the future: how do you imagine a modern, hybrid Monday in 2026?
The office will have become much smaller. Not everyone will turn up for meetings, work will often be done from home - especially in the service industry. It will be taken for granted that everyone will have done their morning exercise. On Mondays, people will talk about the sporting activities they did over the weekend. Work-life balance will become a workout-life balance.