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The big business of women’s fitness in Nigeria

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Fitness

They are glamourous, they are gorgeous, they are physically stunning and they make money by helping other women look and feel good. They are authors of self-help books and health recipes. They have huge following on social media, with Instagram serving as their network of choice.

Their following dwarfs several of Nigeria’s mainstream sport stars. They make cool cash while stimulating the sports apparel industry. Yet they are not usually considered when the sports economy is discussed.

Nigeria’s top celebrity fitness trainers are held in the same light like preachers, they have the power to transform from size 15 to size 10 in a matter of weeks. They are motivational speakers and role models all in one.

They command enormous respect within the fit-fam community with their successful business models. They have mastered the art of content marketing on social media, sharing regular content espousing the success of their fitness routines that offers hope to women all over the country that they can also achieve their dreams of fitting into pre-maternity dresses.

Instagram accounts like MeanTrainer, Shreddergang, Fitmrsfats, Allthingsfitnez, Shedamsfitness, Afrifitness and Ihuoma_fit_life and so many others that have between 10,000 and 200,000 followers each, are helping many women and men achieve health and fitness in Lagos and across the country.

An annual gathering called the Fitfamfest has been held since 2016 gathering hundreds of enthusiasts at the beachfront in Lekki to a full day of activities. Many fitness clubs registered their members to run the 2018 Lagos City Marathon last month.

A cursory search of the words fit and fitness on Instagram throws up several hundred gyms and fitness centres across the country that are benefiting from the increased interest in fitness across the land.

A 2016 report titled, Women and Sports in Nigeria, by TWOREPORT Limited, a sport market research company, indicated that 61% of female respondents indicated their interest in sport, with many of them involved in fitness and lifestyle enhancement regimes.

That same report showed that despite their interest in fitness and some form of sport, many women were not familiar with organised sport like the Nigeria Professional Football League.

While many people that work in Nigerian sport overlook the impact of the fitness industry, it is an oversight that does none of us any good. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) estimated that the global fitness and health industry was worth $83.1billion in 2016.

The fitness industry is responsible for buying the bulk of sport apparel and equipment that is available on the market. There are companies built on producing clothing for casual runners and fitness enthusiasts.

What we see in Nigeria is a focus on competitive sports which, apart from football, generates little or no money for the economy. The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics put the contribution of the Arts, Recreation and Sports sector at just 0.2 per cent in 2016.

While there is no breakdown of the NBS data, the economic activity generated by the fitness sector, a market tilted towards adult women and men is, therefore, one to watch closely.

The fitness industry provides jobs for thousands of fitness trainers, instructors, health food producers, equipment manufacturers, and apparel wear companies and increasingly, the content creators that ensure that celebrity fitness trainers’ videos are well packaged for social media networks.

According to the TWOREPORT document referenced above, more men than women are likely to be found at live sport events.

Yet, many more women are involved in fitness and healthy lifestyle activities. Competitive sport promoters need to begin to find what makes women avoid live sport in order to turn them into fans and promoters of their sport.

One widely held view in the pay television market is that women and children usually make the decision about what content is watched in many homes. It is time to start actively marketing live sport to women because where they go, children and men go also.

The fitness industry in Nigeria is one to keep an eye on. While it is growing rapidly in many middle class and upper middle class communities due to lifestyle and health issues, it is a segment of the Nigerian sport industry that could actually serve as an example of growth where the mainstream remains at standstill.

The modus operandi of celebrity fitness trainers could serve as an example for sports rights owners looking for ways to grow interest in their events.

The women and men in the fitness industry are excelling without government funding. They are leading the way forward and there are lessons to learn from them.


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