24 Hour Fitness Leads Club Industry's Stories of 2014

24 Hour Fitness Leads Club Industry's Stories of 2014

The top stories in the fitness industry involve mergers and acquisitions, club closings, bankruptcies, lawsuits, the growth of wearables and club violence. Six of the top stories involved 24 Hour Fitness while others involved LA Fitness, Town Sports International, Gold's Gym, Equinox, Planet Fitness and more.

It was quite a year for 24 Hour Fitness.

Of the top 20 stories that Club Industry covered in 2014 and included in Club Industry's year-end photo gallery, six are related to 24 Hour. But that shouldn't come as a surprise. The sale of the company by private equity firm Forstmann Little and Co. attracted the most interest of any health club industry topic in 2014.

Club Industry broke the story of the impending sale in April, followed by the official announcement in May. Then came the formal announcements of 24 Hour's new CEO, Mark Smith, and his new executive team, which includes Frank Napolitano as president. The year ended with another big 24 Hour story: its acquisition of 32 Bally Total Fitness clubs.

The Bally acquisition was one of several acquisitions in the industry this year, which included the LA Fitness acquisition of Seattle's Vision Quest clubs, the Gold's Gym's acquisition of The Rush Fitness Complex, Active Sports Clubs' acquisiton of most of Club One's assets and the Equinox acquisition of the Sports Club/LA clubs from Millennium Partners Sports Club Management. In addition to the end of The Rush and Sports Club/LA brands, the Sport and Health brand also left the industry in 2014 with its acquisition by US Fitness, which later acquired Atlanta Fitness.

Acquisitions were not limited to traditional for-profit clubs. ClubCorp, which operates fitness centers in many of its golf and country clubs, acquired Sequoia Golf for $265 million. MediFit, which manages wellness companies, was acquired by EXOS, formerly Athletes' Performance. On the manufacturer side, Core Health and Fitness, the parent company of Star Trac and StairMaster, acquired the commercial assets of Nautilus from Med-Fit Systems. Also, Netpulse acquired Club Apps.

Club Industry determined the top 20 stories by how many page views that each story received at ClubIndustry.com in 2014. Club Industry did not include stories published before December 2013 or any non-news stories, such as photo galleries, Step by Step columns, trend stories, Resourcebeat articles and blog posts.

Other Notable Stories of 2014

Planet Fitness always draws an interest from Club Industry readers, even though no specific acquisitions or mergers were tied to the company this year. Several stories about Planet Fitness' dress code policy popped up around the country, as did a discrimination lawsuit from one of its members. One writer asked aloud if Planet Fitness was even a gym.

Questions were posed for other club companies, such as whether or not Life Time Fitness was still a growth company. Several Life Time shareholders sold shares of stock this year, and one activist investor bought a 7.2 percent stake in the company. Life Time also acquired ShapeMed, an Atlanta-based wellness clinic, this year.

The direction of Town Sports International (TSI) was a topic of discussion, too. TSI was scheduled to close up to nine clubs in 2014 and is converting 60 clubs to a low-price model by the end of this year. TSI also opened three new clubs in the Boston area and opened its second BFX Studio.

Technology continues to impact the industry. That was never more evident this year than the rise of the sale of fitness wearables. Fitbit, one maker of wearables, was among the top 25 most innovative consumer and retail brands cited by Entrepreneur magazine. TRX and Flywheel also were on the list. 

Manufacturers continued to keep up with the demand to connect members with the latest technology. Two of the companies leading the way were publicly held Life Fitness and Precor, which saw their sales increase throughout the year.

In court, Octane Fitness received a favorable ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, and its patent infringement case involving Icon Health and Fitness returned to district court. Cybex International agreed to a settlement over its move to go private after a class-action lawsuit was filed in late 2012. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was sued by CrossFit for a published article in which some participants cited overuse or injury as reasons they did not complete a CrossFit program.

Nonprofits, Universities and the Military

In the nonprofit sector, the YMCA of Milwaukee filed for bankruptcy and eventually sold some branches. Other Ys from Northern California to Southern California to Louisiana to Florida closed after serving their communities for decades.

The YMCA of the USA will get a new leader as Kevin Washington takes over as president and CEO early next year. Washington becomes the first African-American to hold the post. Also, Jack Lund, the president and CEO of the New York YMCA—the largest in the United States—announced he will retire next June.

Violence at or near fitness facilities continued in 2014, none more significant than shootings at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, KS, that left two dead. Another person was killed at a nearby Jewish nursing facility.

Expansion plans for student recreation centers continued at major universities, such as Alabama, Texas A&M, Colorado and San Diego State. As one story noted, more universities are including new and different amenities and classes to attract students to fitness.

The top four fittest colleges in the nation either have a tie to the military or are military based, according to a recent survey. Texas A&M was No. 1 on "The 50 Fittest Colleges in America 2014" list, followed by the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and The Citadel.

The Army introduced new physical fitness uniforms while the Air Force introduced a new fitness program.

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