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How Audiovisual Systems Affect Member Retention

One fitness center designed a scientific study to determine whether entertaining its members kept them coming back.

Helping members stick with their exercise programshas always been a challenge. One solution that many fitness centers have chosen is entertainment. Television allows people to disassociate with exercising, and can play an important part inexercise participation and member retention. One university fitness center created a study to find out just how much installing television sets affected its member participation rates.

Studying the value of entertainment

In August of 2003, the University of North Texas opened a 138,000-square-foot recreation facility with a large variety and supply of cardiovascular equipment. A majority of the equipment faced a row of 12 wall-mounted televisions, with a selection of six different stations playing at all times. Participants could insert their personal headphones into a receiver box and choose from six different cable channels and eight different digital music stations. The stations were selected by the facility staff, but chosen in hopes to accommodate various tastes. The cost for the equipment and installation was around $20,000, not including the cost of the TVs. The remaining cardio equipment was without a view of a television and was located along windows and on the second level beside an indoor track.

The casual observer could see that the area with the mounted televisions was quite popular. Moreover, it was apparent that the cardio equipment without TV support located along the windows was being under-used. Due to this disparity, fitness center staff decided to buy individual flatscreen TVs for the pieces of cardio equipment located away from the wall-mounted TVs. This purchase was a much greater expense than the wall-mounted TVs. The total cost for 34 personal 15-inch LCD screens (for freight, controllers, stands and installation) came close to $45,000.

The individual TVs were installed in the early part of the second semester in front of nearly all of the cardio equipment that was not facing the wall-mounted TVs. The individual TVs allowed users to select any station of their choice. The controller for each TV was located within hand's reach, and could be changed by the participant at any time. It was unclear, however, how individual TVs would change workout patterns.

TV sets affect equipment usage

This unique situation opened up a wonderful opportunity to see first-hand if audiovisual equipment could really affect participation and preference of equipment. To determine the usage of each piece of equipment, hours recorded on each piece were retrieved from the outset of the fitness center's opening.

At the start of the 2004 spring semester, the treadmills located in the area of the wall-mounted TVs were by far more popular than the ones located along the large glass windows. From the beginning of March and on, when the flat screen televisions were installed in front of the remaining pieces of cardio equipment, the hourly usage of the treadmills practically flip-flopped (see Figure 1).

During the first two months of the semester, the treadmills without TVs averaged 69 hours a month, and the treadmills with the wall-mounted TVs averaged about 93 hours a month. After the flat screen televisions were installed, those treadmills averaged about 146 hours a month, and the treadmills in front of the pre-existing wall-mounted TVs averaged about 61 hours a month. This difference in usage was statistically significant (p<0.0001). Interestingly, the new TVs not only drew more participants than the wall-mounted TVs, but the total hours of all cardio equipment was greater. Thus, there was more total member usage of the facility.

The elliptical crosstrainers in the facility exhibited a similarly significant difference (p<0.0001) in usage when comparing the presence or absence of audiovisual equipment. There were four crosstrainers facing the wall-mounted TVs, and four crosstrainers that eventually received individual flat screen TVs. The crosstrainers with the individual TVs got used a great deal more than the crosstrainers facing the wall-mounted TVs (see Figure 2).

When these data were analyzed in aggregate, it revealed that both types of cardio equipment received greater usage when they had individual TVs. Figure 3 illustrates a three-month average hourly usage rate on a comparison of cardio equipment with wall-mounted vs. individual televisions.

Members weigh in

In addition to looking at hourly usage, members were given a survey about what equipment and audiovisual support systems they preferred. The surveys were left at the control desk located on the weight room floor for members to fill out at any time of the day. A total of 82 people filled out the survey (44 men and 38 women). Seventy percent of the participants surveyed were students, and the remaining respondents were faculty, staff, alumni and guests. (Thus, the sample represented users across a large age range.) About 80 percent of the members responded that they used the cardio equipment more than once a week (48 percent, two to four times a week; and 32 percent, five to seven times a week). On average, half of the participants used the equipment from 10 to 30 minutes, and the other half used it for 31 to 60 minutes.

Participants were asked to select the ideal spot and type of audiovisual support for their favorite pieces of cardio equipment: 1) in the area of the wall-mounted TVs; 2) in front of the individual TVs; 3) in the area where no TVs are available, but placed in front of a window; 4) in the area where there are no TVs, but placed in the workout area; 5) no preference of location or type of audiovisual support. Forty-seven percent of the participants preferred to be in front of the individual televisions. The next highest response, at 16.9 percent, was in the wall-mounted section. There was a significant difference between responses in favor of individual televisions and the other choices (p<0. 01) (see Figure 4).

Distraction leads to member satisfaction

Two findings in this study became apparent. First, the presence of audiovisual equipment creates significantly improved usage rates by participants over similar equipment without audiovisual equipment. Secondly, individual televisions in front of each exercise station seemed to be significantly more popular than the wall-mounted televisions, or cardioequipment without audiovisual support.

The members of this fitness center responded well and immediately to the installation of new television sets. The effect of increased member usage is something to consider when deciding on entertainment options for your members.

[Editor's note: to have a copy of the Figures faxed or mailed to you, please send an email with your request to edit@fitnessmgmt.com.]

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