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Fitness brands shape up for Saudi expansion plans

The Saudi fitness sector has growth potential as currently gym members make up only 3.7 percent of the population Pexels/William Choquette
The Saudi fitness sector has growth potential as currently gym members make up only 3.7 percent of the population
  • Saudi fitness sector worth SAR16bn
  • GymNation to open 50 centres
  • Champs eyes Saudi market

GymNation, founded in Dubai, has revealed plans to open 50 new fitness centres in Saudi Arabia as it seeks to capitalise on the kingdom’s billion-dollar fitness industry.

The mid-market brand was set up six years ago and currently operates 11 gyms in the emirate, with a further six set to open before the summer.

Founder and CEO Loren Holland told AGBI there are currently six sites signed off in Saudi Arabia and going through the fit-out process, in Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar, with a view to opening by the end of the year, plus another two still to be finalised.

“We’ve always had an ambition to go to Saudi,” he said. “We believe there’s a market opportunity to open at least 50 gyms there in the next five years.”

The Saudi fitness sector is valued at about SAR16 billion ($4.26 billion), according to Raid Ismail, head of Mena direct investments at Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP reached 0.15 percent in 2022, with a workforce of more than 23,000 professionals.

Another Dubai-grown sports company, Champs, is also planning to expand into Saudi Arabia.

Launched in the emirate in 2021, Champs, which incorporates a gym with basketball courts, padel tennis, karate and food and beverage outlets, currently operates in three venues in Dubai, with a 2,000sq m “high-end” gym set to open soon in Dubai Mall’s Fountain Views.

Founder and CEO Fadi El-Khatib told AGBI the company was looking to expand further into Abu Dhabi and across Saudi Arabia, where they have struck up a partnership with Saudi-listed Leejam Sports Company, which runs more than 170 gyms in the kingdom and UAE.

Expansion plans include as many as three flagship Champs venues and 20 basketball locations in 2024 and a similar amount in 2025, spread across Riyadh, Jeddah and potentially Khobar.

“We’re expanding big in Saudi,” said El-Khatib, a Lebanese former professional basketball player.

Fitness goals

Under the kingdom’s Vision 2030 quality of life objectives, the Saudi government aims to raise the proportion of the population that is physically active – taking part in sport and other activities every week – to 40 percent. 

UK-based fitness brand PureGym signed an agreement with its franchise partner, Ektimal, in 2022 to open at least 130 gyms across the region, including 40 in the kingdom by 2025.

“Every man and his dog is investing into that market right now. All the international brands are going in,” said Glen Stollery, CEO of fitness group Les Mills IMEA.

According to the Riyadh Sports Index, a biennial survey involving 1,000 residents in the Saudi capital, 49 percent of the city’s population now actively participate in exercise at least twice a week.

However, gym membership country-wide currently stands at 3.7 percent, according to data from the World of Statistics.

“There’s a pretty significant gap there that we’ve got to fill,” said Stollery, who revealed that 60 percent of the company’s regional growth is coming from Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE.

“In terms of our group priorities, Saudi is our largest growth opportunity, full stop, just because of the investment that’s going in there.”

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