Indoor trampoline parks are springing into action across the country, along with leaping games of dodge ball, high-flying basketball and rigorous calisthenics.
Just ask Akory Coates, who lived out his basketball dreams for an hour recently at a Sky Zone trampoline park in Torrance, Calif. He jumped; he twirled in the air; his fingertips grazed the rim and he made four baskets. Not an easy feat for a 9-year-old, but a series of trampolines beneath his feet gave him all the lift he needed.
"Hey, Dad, look at me," Akory said as he went up for a basket and made it. His father took the fourth-grader and friends to the park for the boy's birthday. Across the warehouse a SkyRobics exercise class was underway, and a small group of parents watched their kids tumble.
The indoor trampoline business is booming, with dozens of parks open or in the works across America. "Since early to mid-2010, the whole industry has exploded," said Jeff Platt, chief executive of Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park, a Los Angeles company that opened its first location in Las Vegas in 2004. "People started feeling a little bit better about the economy and were looking for something new to do."
Experts say trampoline parks appeal to people of all ages eager for a relatively inexpensive activity and exercise. An hour at these parks typically ranges from $10 to $15. Many of them offer birthday parties, aerobics classes, corporate events and dodge ball games. There are also foam pits for people to jump into, and there are pizzas and hot dogs at the snack bar.
"We've seen them take off," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., an industry consultant. "They're not taking off like the space shuttle, but we are seeing a reemergence of them."
Speigel said trampoline parks came into existence in the late '50s and early '60s but fell out of favor because of liability. Today's trampoline parks, he said, are attractive to teens and preteens who like extreme sports such as skateboarding, BMX and snowboarding.
Sky Zone has opened 27 parks — three company-owned and 24 franchises.
At least four other companies have opened trampoline parks across the country. Sky High Sports has 15 outlets. Jump Street has nine locations combined in Arizona, Colorado and Texas, with plans to open two more. Xtreme Trampolines has two locations in the Chicago suburbs. Rebounderz has one outlet in Florida.
Jerry Raymond, CEO of Sky High Sports and a founding member of the International Association of Trampoline Parks, estimates there are just over 100 facilities in the United States and expects that number to grow. Most of the parks are franchises; none of the companies involved released profitability information.
Franchises for bigger companies such as Sky High and Sky Zone typically cost more than $1 million each to open, including insurance coverage, fees and facility costs.
Platt, Sky Zone's CEO, said the key to a successful trampoline franchise is introducing new activities.
After Sky Zone's revenue started to decline in 2009, five years after opening, it introduced dodge ball, then workout classes and basketball hoops. The moves paid off. Last year Sky Zone posted about $16 million in revenue, and it's projecting $70 million for 2013.
Park operators say they make special effort to keep trampoline parks safe, but they acknowledge that injuries and liability are always a concern. "Injuries aren't something that we'll ever be able to eliminate, but we can try," Platt said.
As trampoline parks continue to multiply so will injuries, said Seattle lawyer Sim Osborn, who has represented clients who have injured themselves at trampoline parks. He said bodies can't absorb the impact of accidentally landing on the pads that border the trampolines, the facilities can get overcrowded, and employees can't always supervise jumpers.
"Frankly, the way they're designed and built, you cannot make them safe," he said.
Although trampoline injury rates have decreased every year since 2004, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found there were almost 98,000 injuries in 2009, the latest year data were available.
In September, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning about possible safety hazards involving trampoline use. The group also recommended that operators inform participants of possible risks. Park operators said they provide instructional videos and safety brochures, and have supervisors monitoring participants.