Virgin flexes muscles with Esporta deal

VIRGIN Active yesterday announced that it had snapped up rival Esporta’s 55 gyms for £77.6m, making it the UK’s biggest gym chain.

The acquisition will see 159,000 Esporta members transferring to Virgin Active.

That takes its total UK membership to around 479,000 – ahead of David Lloyd Leisure Operations with 426, 692.

The company, which is majority owned by Sir Richard Branson, also said full-year underlying profit is up 13 per cent to £114.6m for 2010.

Revenues rose 14 per cent to £445.2m. Virgin Active chief executive Matthew Bucknall said: “This demonstrates the resilience of health club demand and the importance our members continue to place on health and fitness.”

Before the deal for Esporta, owned by French bank Societe Generale, Virgin had 194 clubs across the world.

Virgin Active is planning to open another 17 clubs worldwide over the next year in addition to the expansion from the Esporta deal.

The deal, which requires approval by the Office of Fair Trading, will be the first big acquisition for the Milton Keynes-based firm since it bought Holmes Place about five years ago.

Senior leisure analyst at Mintel Michael Oliver said: “This seems to be a good deal for Virgin which has a good track record in turning round struggling businesses as it did when it bought Holmes Place. It takes it to the top spot by membership.”