By Max Clarke

Rogue entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has added to his sprawling leisure empire with the acquisition of the Esporta chain of fitness centres.

17 of Esporta’s racquets clubs, under the Esporta Operating Company which in turn has been owned by Societe Generale since purchase in 2009, are to be sold to Virgin active group for £77.6 million. The deal is awaiting the approval of the Office for Fair Trading.

“Esporta’s members and employees will benefit from being owned by Virgin Active, who are a more logical owner of Esporta’s operational business and whose strong balance sheet will allow the business to expand and prosper. This transaction is good news for members, employees and shareholders alike,” commented Richard Segal, Esporta’s chairman.

John Cleland will be joining Virgin Active as UK Managing Director at completion of this transaction and Richard Segal will remain as Chairman of NEH, where he will focus on the property assets owned by the Company.

John Cleland, Esporta’s Chief Executive, said “I am delighted with the improvements made across the Esporta business, the dedication of all our colleagues, and in particular the advances in service that have been recognised by many of our customers. Since Societe Generale took ownership of the business in June 2009, Esporta has experienced a dramatic improvement in its membership trends, with a return to growth following a period of eighteen months preceding this acquisition during which membership numbers were in a downward spiral. This improvement in membership performance has been delivered by attracting a greater number of new customers as well as through a significant improvement in the retention of existing members.”