The Paradigms of Parkour Gyms

It’s still very early in the days of parkour gyms. As of yet there have been roughly 3 paradigms of how parkour gym businesses come to be.

The first is a space built for another movement discipline that was adapted to accommodate parkour: such as gymnastics facilities or trampoline parks. The second is a space built and dedicated specifically to parkour/freerunning that may or may not allow alternative movement disciplines to use the space to supplement the rent. And the third and least common paradigm is a non-movement facility that uses parkour as an addition to the existing business primarily through branding.

The 1st option is the lowest risk and most common, the 2nd is quickly catching up and becoming more standard practice, and the 3rd remains a high risk and culture blending experiment that needs more time to fully understand and develop properly. All of these paradigms are essential if we are to maximize the total net worth of the Parkour Economy – but the balance between the businesses is crucial for us to keep an eye on at this critical point in time.

The lowest risk and most common gym scenario is a parkour athlete coming to a gymnastics facility and either bringing in parkour equipment or using gymnastics equipment to teach parkour curriculum. This is also common with trampoline parks such as Move To Inspire or BOUNCE. The risk is lowest because ownership and assets are dispersed across several business models and they are often not linked financially. It’s also possible that a gymnastics facility is less likely to experience the same landlord and rent issues that parkour specific gyms have faced (same for trampoline parks). This type of facility also has theoretically the lowest potential for growth in the community as it will never be the primary monetary incentive for the nonparkour business owners. (That’s why it’s so hard to convince some gym owners they should let traveling athletes train there for free).

The Parkour specific gyms represent a great middle ground that in recent years has improved dramatically despite an increasingly competitive fitness market. Many parkour specific gyms have been forced to partner with other movement disciplines (just like the gymnastics facilities) in order to make the rent more affordable. In this case parkour businesses benefit most from the financial relationship and these other movement disciplines are able to assume a low risk opportunity to ply their skills to an alternative audience. Many of these gyms generally can be described as what are essentially Chuck E Cheese’s without the arcade games and pizza – by that I mean the bulk of their revenue comes from birthday parties and summer camps. It is this paradigm that we will see challenged most over the coming decade of our community with coming innovations.

(Since the writing of this article several gyms have reached out to assert that monthly memberships make up the bulk of their revenue – birthday parties and summer camps represent a smaller but still crucial part of their income annually).

The third venture is the highest risk reward velocity of them all – where you take something that has nothing to do with parkour or movement and mix it together. The best example I can give here was a company called Scape Treader in Denver, Colorado. What Scape Treader attempted was to run a Yerba Matte Cafe and Lounge with a built in parkour facility and aesthetic in order to attract customers and blend culture. A more familiar example perhaps is Firehouse Subs. While their business is just another sandwich shop, their differentiating factor is their narrative and relationship with firemen and first responders – it is built into the media perception and language of the business and has nothing to do with the sandwich you pay for at the register. This is the most untested paradigm and ultimately most crucial to broader adoption of parkour within mainstream society.

(See what I mean? That had absolutely nothing to do with selling sandwiches.)

What WFPF and several other gymnastics entities are now preparing to do is leverage their existing businesses to maintain dominance over how and when parkour can be practiced. Most of this is still conjecture at this point but we know FIG has a vested financial interest in the media future of the sport specifically tied to the Olympics and all the sponsorship money and endorsements that come with it. In the coming years it may become more difficult for parkour entrepreneurs to make significant changes when engaging with relationships within this paradigm. It’s still too early to really tell but proceed with caution.

What we have experienced so far has been a total vacuum of parkour business, the very thought of making money from parkour being taboo, to entering the spaces of existing movement businesses with limited market share but the ability to amass and monetize a community, to a burgeoning economy of parkour owned and operated businesses that are quickly becoming the preferred paradigm for any member of our community wishing to start their own business to provide value.

We have so far experienced limited control of the total market share of the sport (gymnastics companies made money like Red Bull did – or didn’t) and for the first time have either contested or surpassed the total market share of profiting off parkour – it’s difficult to quantify and there are no metrics to prove where we are yet in terms of the shift. The reason FIG is so threatening to us is because each of us wants a future for the sport where the members that helped build the sport can decide its future instead of a multinational foundation steering everyone else.

If we are to surpass the market share threshold we need to assume higher risks in order to reap the benefits of the current wave of growth parkour is experiencing. If we think of global attention as the world wide web then every few years represents waves on the ocean of our culture – at the peak of these waves we can either ride or crash. Most entities that have crested the wave have failed because they have not reached a true narrative resonant with the media majority. RedBull couldn’t figure out how to make parkour competitions profitable even after a decade of putting on comps and countless films and TV shows have tried and failed to understand the parkour community and their unique story.

While parkour stunts are on the rise in films, the understanding of the sport and its origins are lower than they were in 2005 or 2011 respectively. In fact many of our new generations have no knowledge of the sport from even just a decade ago, and with no centralized media entities we are unable to educate them in an organized and palatable fashion. (Say what you will about the NFL but it understands the story of football better than any other entity and that’s why it dominates it).

We need to invest heavily in parkour media creation and documentation so that we preserve and accelerate this paradigm shift toward the majority of the market share being owned and operated by grass roots members of our community. This coupled with innovating the current paradigm of what a parkour specific facility is will allow the sport to stratify like the martial arts communities were able to over the last few decades. With gyms gradually evolving differing philosophies but still roughly the same business model. However one could argue that the true high risk high reward opportunity within this paradigm is to create an entirely new parkour gym business model that generates the bulk of its revenue from something other than birthday parties and summer camps. The idea here is to create something more akin to Equinox or Cross Fit gyms in order to capture more market value within other crucial age and socioeconomic groupings besides just children.

So what do you all think? Which businesses would you like to see more of and how can existing ones adapt to overcome the looming FIGtastrophe? Thanks so much for reading and being patient with my posting less frequently the past few weeks. I hope to stimulate more conversations like this about where the sport exists today so we can forge a brighter future together tomorrow. As always thanks for your support and let me know what you’d like to read next.

*Cover image provided courtesy of Unparalleled Movement

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