Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ollie Mansbridge
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Ollie Mansbridge, CrossFit’s regional manager for Europe, has noticed an interesting shift this year when it comes to demographic trends.
Mansbridge is the co-founder of CrossFit Bath, which is located about a two hour drive west from London. Bath as a city has a population of less than 100,000 and sits close to the coast, a sleepy town compared to the hustle and bustle of The Big Smoke.
But Mansbridge’s box is booming, part of a trend he’s seeing all over Europe, and quite frankly, the entire world in what could be described as the earliest days of the post-pandemic landscape.
“I live in a town that is about two hours from London and we have seen a massive uptick in membership in terms of people coming to the gym,” said Mansbridge, who has been working for CrossFit since 2019 when he started out as the country manager for the UK. “Because people were just fed up with training at home and in their living rooms, and so that was a huge positive from an affiliate perspective.”
However this shift has another side to it. As COVID vastly accelerated the work from home module, this meant busy office centers are no longer the hubs they used to be.
“Gyms in places like central London and the financial district have been really hurting because people don’t need to be in the office five days a week,” added Mansbridge. “They only need to be in the office one day or two days a week.”
Mansbridge, who oversees eight countries in Europe, stretching all the way to Scandinavia, said there has been a push to get back into gyms and interact when it comes to fitness. However he said the CrossFit community has remained resilient as trends shift and force businesses to adapt on the fly due to the ramifications of a pandemic no one saw coming.
“Gyms in those big metropolitan areas have found ways to pivot and adapt and still make it work, but it’s a real mixed bag to be honest, depending on who you speak to.”
To the surprise of no one, Mansbridge said CrossFit is booming in Europe in 2022, in large part to various countries’ switch to an endemic approach to fighting the virus, which means people are getting back to their normal lives with a renewed sense of physical fitness. Through the boom, Mansbridge said it’s important that CrossFit continues to build on the foundation of what it already has as well.
“On the whole one thing I am very conscious about is that we are growing and there are more gyms opening in Europe and the net growth is growing, but it’s really important that we continue to focus on our existing affiliates as well.”
Mansbridge said Europe has added a staggering 200 net affiliates in the past six months alone (bringing the total to 4,100 across the region). The growth of the Open in Europe from 2021 to 2022 saw a 50 percent uptick in registrations from 66,000 to more than 99,000 athletes.
Daniel Chaffey, CrossFit’s director of International, said there have been a number of factors playing into the rise of CrossFit in Europe. He gave credit to the 21 country members all over the world as playing a big part in growing the sport outside of North America.
“CrossFit’s expansion across Europe has been driven by the same factors as our broader global growth, in particular the Seminar Staff’s unwavering commitment to educating coaches, our efforts to translate key training materials into more than a dozen languages, the creation of local language media and social media pages to galvanize non-English-speaking communities.”
Europe’s biggest success story is France, which has the most affiliates outside of the US, and is closing in on 700. Mansbridge said the success of France is an interesting one, as anyone who wants to open a gym in the country needs to get a diploma to become a professional coach first.
France has the most CrossFit affiliates outside of the US, closing in on 700.
He said on the surface this might seem like a high barrier to entry, however what it does is creates strong, sustainable gyms which are filled with highly educated and talented coaches, which is seen as the nucleus of CrossFit. Mansbridge said the country success of CrossFit in Europe comes down to country managers knowing the industry, their affiliates and the needs specific to that nation.
“You have to start there, when I’m looking at how you support CrossFit in this region, you have to have a solid team in country who can be great leaders and show concern and care when they need it is hugely important.”
Of course there are challenges, especially in Europe where languages vary wildly and English is not the mother tongue of the vast majority of the overall population. He said one of the biggest initiatives he is working on right now is simply getting as much of CrossFit’s information, on its website, and what is sent to the community, translated into various languages for proper digestion.
Mansbridge said he is watching a number of trends very closely, and he knows what comes up, must come down and this rapid expansion of CrossFit in Europe will surely slow at some point.
“We saw the growth of Peloton and Mirror during the pandemic and the growth of their share prices now dropping because people want that human experience and to be with other people. And that’s one thing we all missed and craved during the pandemic, is having that connection with other people, that’s really played into Crossfit.”
Of course, this means the cost of living is going up in places like Bath, where Mansbridge is based, because more people are leaving the city, so there is always a downside to demographic shifts, which includes people having to make new decisions about how to spend their disposable income.
But the shift to working from home is something Mansbridge is a benefit for everyone in the long run, as people are spending less time doing things they don’t want to be doing, and more time doing the things they do.
“The thing that benefits CrossFit is there is less of the rat race, people have more time on their hands because they are spending less time commuting. So where people would be commuting one hour or two hours a day, that’s now time that they can spend at the gym so it’s definitely had a positive effect.”