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13 Sep 2023
Having a gym membership can make people feel better about themselves – even if they don't go
By Tom Walker
Having a gym membership can make people feel better about themselves – even if they don't go
14 per cent of men said they valued the social status of a health club membership even if they didn't use it
Photo: Shutterstock/StevenK
People can feel real, powerful benefits from having a gym or health club membership even if they never step inside the facility they are members of.

A new research study which set out to understand why members continue to pay for a service they’re not using – often referred to as "sleepers" – found that nearly one in four (23 per cent) retain their membership because they love the idea that they "can go if they want to".

Perhaps more importantly, the study – conducted by Active Insight (formerly Leisure-net Solutions) in partnership with HCM – found that 16 per cent saying that having a membership simply made them “feel good”, with a further 10 per cent declaring that the social kudos of being a member of a specific club was a major factor in their decision-making process.

The Active Insight/HCM Health Club Sleeper Insight Report 2023 also found 16 per cent saying they kept paying for memberships because they think it will encourage them to be more active at some point in the future, with 11 per cent saying that it will motivate them to exercise, eventually.

Nearly 9 per cent agreed with the statement "I feel fitter just by having the membership”, while 8 per cent agreed that “I feel more active just by having the membership". Six per cent agreed that “I feel healthier by just having the membership”.

The research was conducted in June 2023 by deploying Active Insight’s consumer insight panel from a national database and representative sample of 250 people.

For the purposes of the research, a lapsed member was defined as a member of a facility (public or private) who had not attended in the previous three months, but who was still paying for their membership.

They were asked to select the reason or reasons that applied to their rationale for paying for membership but not attending.

The study was the brainchild of Liz Terry, editor of HCM magazine and CEO of Leisure Media, who has always hypothesised that people must experience tangible benefits from being a member of a health club even if they don’t use it.

“I was very keen to see the issue of ‘sleepers’ being thoroughly researched, to explore the possibility that some people feel powerful benefits from identifying as the kind of person who would have a health club membership – even if they didn’t use it – and that having this feeling about themselves has a real value to them," Terry said.

She added that, rather than being something the industry should be apologetic about, the whole issue of ‘sleepers’ was something that needed to be researched and better understood, so the health and fitness sector could gain more insight into what motivates customers, as well as identifying the benefits consumers perceive.

"Sleepers are likely to be gaining benefits in the vital areas of self-identity and hopefulness and feeling mental health and self-esteem benefits from being a member," she said.

“Hopefulness and a feeling of potential and opportunity are hard for some people to find in today’s world.

“I believe that having a health club membership can give people the feeling that there is opportunity there if they choose to take it. Even choosing not to go could be giving people a feeling of agency.”

• The study is the first of a series of research projects being planned and Active Insight and HCM who will also be partnering to conduct more sleeper research going forward.

• To read more about the study and the results – including how differently "sleeper" men and women see the benefits they get – click here for the latest issue of HCM

• The research is copyright Cybertrek Ltd 2023. Please feel free to refer to it in wider reporting, but ensure Active Insight and HCM magazine are credited as the original source of the research.

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