While COVID-19 has continued to wreak havoc on the sports calendar, it is useful to examine some trends of interest in specific sports that will be influencing the sports facility construction industry when the threat has passed.
One specific sport that was seeing enormous upticks of interest (prior to everything grinding to a halt) was sport climbing, which makes its medal debut at the summer Olympics next year. The sport has already established a place for itself on the international level in the World Games and interest continues to grow. Stateside, the sport is already seeing huge growth. In fact, to hear industry experts talk about it, it’s the darling of the Millennial demographic.
According to the most recent State of Climbing report from the American Alpine Club, that age group is not only trying out the sport, but they’re buying into it and prior to COVID-19, was taking out membership in the growing number of rock-climbing gyms around the nation. Also seemingly showing interest in climbing are functional fitness aficionados (i.e. the CrossFit contingent).
And climbing is social media-friendly, something else that appeals to Millennials. According to The Cut, “bouldering is very Instagrammable — the 2.7 million Instagram posts currently tagged #bouldering depict walls covered in bright, rainbow-colored lumps, and bodies which look inherently athletic, even virtuous, for attempting to navigate them.”
Back in the fall, The New York Times, which did an in-depth study of climbing among Millennials, noted, “Young professionals flock to [rock climbing gyms] after work because the exercise is intense, unstructured and sociable; the gyms may be one of the last urban locales where talking to strangers is encouraged."
And there's still going to be plenty of exposure for the sport, despite the stay-at-home restrictions. There are movies about climbing as well as multiple videos online about the sport, as well as at-home workouts to help individuals hone their strength in lieu of actually climbing -- meaning it's likely the interest will stay strong.
Many states have large population centers but still lack climbing gyms. And the success of the gyms in places without as many areas to climb actual rock formations (in other words, those not in mountainous or hilly areas but in the flatlands) has proven that people don’t need to be training for actual outdoor climbing in order to want to buy into this as a form of fitness. So it may be that sports builders serving indoor facilities as well as manufacturers of climbing walls will see an uptick once restrictions loosen.
In its 2018 Industry Report, the Climbing Wall Association projected revenue growth percentages well into the double digits for both 2019 and 2020, with the indoor climbing industry poised to break the billion-dollar mark in 2021. Gym operators were reporting strong growth in both membership and program offerings. Obviously, this was before the advent of COVID-19 and its restrictions – but it is likely business trends will begin to resume when the fitness economy opens back up.
So according to the experts, we can expect to see a demand for climbing gyms – or even just climbing walls in existing gyms – skyrocket when gyms reopen. And here too, there could be advantages. It may be that when facilities do start operating again, they may be limited to a lower capacity in order to allow individuals to keep a healthful distance from one another. By getting individuals to make appointments for use of both the wall and a belayer, the chance of overcrowding would be decreased – and an additional revenue stream could be realized.