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Jumping to new heights

Since the opening of the first indoor parks in 2014, trampolining has become one of the UK’s fastest growing sport and leisure trends. Tom Walker speaks to two entrepreneurs and finds out the reasons behind the rapid growth

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management May Jun 2017 issue 131
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Trampoline parks have been steadily growing in popularity with kids and adults alike
Trampoline parks have been steadily growing in popularity with kids and adults alike

“I’ve never experienced a boom like this with any other sport or fitness activity,” says David Stalker, CEO of Oxygen Freejumping, currently the largest trampoline park operator in the UK.

“The first indoor trampoline parks only opened two and a half years ago, with two or three operators testing the waters. Today, there are around 150 parks across the UK and there are a number of large operators who are all looking to grow even further.”

Stalker knows what he’s talking about. Before launching Oxygen Freejumping, Stalker spent eight years at not-for-profit trade body ukactive – seven of them as executive director. Before ukactive, he held senior operational roles at the likes of LA Fitness and First Leisure. In other words, he’s been in a position to see a number of trends come and go during his career.

There is something else unusual in the trampoline trend, he believes. “Most new active leisure and fitness trends surface in the US, before travelling across to the UK,” he says. “If they are successful in the UK, they then get picked up in Europe and spread to the rest of the world. Strangely, while the first indoor trampoline parks opened in the US, the concept was picked up in Australia before it travelled to the UK. So Australia is ahead of us on this one.”

Vernon West, CEO of Jump In – another major UK operator – says the fact that trampolining was “big” in two similar markets before it entered the UK has aided its rapid growth. “There are insights we can gain from having two mature version of the same market,” West says. “We can use the US and Australian markets to provide a guide for the way our market is likely to develop.”

JUMP START
Having the business model proven in two markets has certainly helped prospective UK trampoline operators secure funding for their expansion plans. Oxygen Freejumping was able to build up a £2.5m war chest for new sites with the help of Jacaranda Capital Partners, while Jump In secured banking giant Santander as a funding partner. According to West, the deal with Santander will see the bank invest around £3m by the time the “facility has been fully drawn”.

As a result of operators being able to secure funding, the growth has been impressive – and there are no signs of it slowing down. Oxygen, the biggest operator, currently has six sites open, with a seventh close to launch. Stalker has ambitions to more than double the number of parks in Oxygen’s portfolio by the end of the year. “All going well, we should have 16 sites secured by October,” he says. “Not all of them will be open, of course, but that should be where we are with our pipeline of sites.”

Over at Jump In, West says they’re not far behind. “We have five sites open, with another two launching by this summer,” he tells Sports Management, adding the company is on target to reach 20 sites by 2020.

Other operators have plans to expand too. Air Space, which is owned by high wire adventure company Go Ape, opened its first site in East Kilbride in November 2014. There are now three Air Space parks, with more in the planning. Scotland-based operator Ryze currently operates two parks in Edinburgh and Glasgow and has plans to open three more – a second site in Edinburgh, as well as parks in Dundee and London. Meanwhile, Castleford-based Gravity Trampoline Parks has so far opened six sites, mainly at existing retail or adventure centres.

The bouncing boom hasn’t gone unnoticed in the public sector, either. Eastbourne Borough Council, Waltham Forest Council in London and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council in Manchester are just three of the many local authorities that have invested in indoor trampoline parks as part of their leisure provision.

At Tameside, the new Total Adrenaline trampoline park, which opened in November 2016, forms an important part of a £20m investment project that aims to get people more physically active. “It’s a great addition to our leisure provision,” says Mark Tweedie, Active Tameside chief executive. “It will give local families a fantastic variety of options to choose from to have fun and get active.”

FILLING UP THE MARKET
With such rapid growth occuring, how near is the sector to saturation point? Can comparisons be drawn with the five-a-side football centre market, where congestion has resulted in some of the big players slowing down their expansion plans?

“I think we’re a few years off that yet,” West says, and estimates that the UK market can sustain somewhere between 250 and 300 trampoline parks. He predicts, though, that the rapid expansion rate we’re seeing now will eventually slow down.

“There are fewer great locations out there,” West explains. “Many of the best locations have gone and operators are already becoming more selective.

Stalker agrees. “The nature of the market is similar to the bowling or cinema sectors,” he says. “I see there being space in the UK for about 250 good quality, big sites.”

He also expects the market to experience its first park closures in the near future. “The boom has taken us up to 150 sites, but if you honestly analyse those, some of the parks are at places that ultimately will be superseded by superior venues.

“When the boom started, there were a lot of independent, single-site operators opening up at out-of-the-way industrial units with limited parking. The market had a low point of entry – you could set up an indoor park for about £500,000. So it was possible for a retired couple or a couple who had made a bit of money, to go into this.

“That model is now changing, with large operators opening sites at retail parks with easy access, lots of parking and a range of other leisure activities. Once competition begins, customers will vote with their feet.”

BOUNCING INTO THE FUTURE
While the future looks bright, both Stalker and West say that there ‘s no room for complacency. Both agree that for trampoline parks to be economically sustainable, they need to regularly refresh their offer.

“From a business point of view you need a well invested and thoughtfully designed experience with the opportunity to innovate”, West says. “You need to stay fresh and bring in new activities – and you have to have a plan and set aside money for that.

“We always build the capacity to add in new features at each site and continue to research what is going on in the US, Europe and Australia. At every site we try to put in something that is a first for the UK.”

Stalker gives an example of how Oxygen has added variety. “We’ve introduced dodgeball to our sites,” he says. “We’ve even set up dodgeball leagues, so we have people regularly coming down for games. We license all our sites, so while you obviously can’t drink and jump, you can play a dodgeball game and then have a beer at the end.”

Looking ahead, West says the continued investment in sites will be one of the factors that will be the difference between successful sites and those that might find it hard to attract people back in. And when it comes to investments, size matters, he adds. “Adding diversity to the offer at parks is an area in which big operators will outperform the single site operators,” West says.

What makes a good indoor trampoline park?

Vernon West:
We’ll look at anything in the 20,000-35,000sq ft range when choosing a site. Half of having a great indoor park is having a big open jump arena – but you also need lots of other cool features that kids can focus on. For the parents, the considerations are the comfort, the heating and the café offer – as well as the line of sight they have into the arena. You are less relaxed as a parent if you can’t see your children when they are inside the park.

David Stalker:
Our parks are between 25,000sq ft and 35,000sq ft in size and feature a number of attractions. As well as wall-to-wall trampolines, we have reaction walls, dodgeball, airbags and basketball hoops. We also focus on making our parks friendly for parents who come and drop their children off for a session. We provide a nice café area with fast internet access, healthy foods and good quality coffee.

Activities such as dodgeball keep people coming back
Activities such as dodgeball keep people coming back

Aiming high

Another early pioneer is JumpArena, which opened its first UK site in December 2015 and a second in 2016. An offshoot of family-owned budget gym chain TruGym, JumpArena launched its franchise package in October 2016. The company plans to have five further franchised parks open by the end of 2017, and in total has a target of 20 sites by 2018.

“Location and demographics of the site are key,” says co-founder Parm Singh. “We look for ‘go to’ leisure destination sites rather than warehouse locations out of town – we believe these sites have greater longevity. Within the parks, customer service and experience are key. And, of course, the safety of customers must be the industry’s number one focus.”

Grassroots boost?


As trampolining becomes ever more popular, will there be an increase in grassroots gymnastics participation? Will younger jumpers take up trampolining – and gymnastics – as a regular sport? David Stalker certainly thinks so.

“Definitely, 100 per cent,” he says. “Depending on the size of the park, we get between 19,000 and 30,000 visitors each month – so we’ve received a million people through the gates since we opened our first site.

“A huge number of those are children, so to have that many kids, bouncing and enjoying themselves and saying ‘I love trampolining’ – I think there can’t be any denying that some will end up taking it up as a sport.”

He adds that there’s room, however, for more cooperation between the commercial operators and the sport’s governing body, British Gymnastics. “I think British Gymnastics is still a bit nervous about what trampoline parks are all about,” Stalker says.

“For all the right reasons, they are purists, while we come from a commercial angle and simply want people to be active. But we do approach it as a sport too – our trampoline academies teach visitors to jump and use trampolines properly, giving them the skills and offering them the chance to improve.”

A statement from Jane Allen, CEO of British Gymnastics, outlines the concerns the NGB harbours. “Trampolining is great fun and growing in profile through achievements such as Bryony Page winning Silver at the 2016 Olympic Games,” she says. “We want people to enjoy trampolining and that fantastic feeling of flying, but of course we want people to enjoy it safely.

“Performing skills like somersaults and bouncing at height is exhilarating, but it introduces risk of significant injuries if things go wrong. Therefore, our advice is to learn how to do these skills properly through qualified coaches who have industry recognised qualifications and in environments with strict safety standards.”

"I think British Gymnastics is still nervous about what trampoline parks are all about"

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