No Pain, No Gain? Try No Politics, No Future for the Fitness Industry

The fitness industry is part of the first line of defense against chronic conditions and increased spending on health care. It’s time to take up arms and make your voice heard about your club’s value to your community. Not doing so leaves the future of the industry in the hands of people with preconceived and possibly false notions about it. (Photo by mrdoomits/iStock/Getty Images Plus.)

Warning: If you don’t read this blog because it’s about politics, you are doing a disservice to yourself and your business.

Opinion: The fitness industry must get more political—and by that, I mean interested in or active in politics.

Truth: The U.S. fitness industry, which generated revenue of $35 billion in 2019 ($96.7 billion worldwide) is not a large industry compared to the pharmaceutical industry (U.S. revenue of $484.8 billion in 2018 and worldwide revenue of $1.2 trillion in 2018) or the health insurance industry (revenue of more than $913 billion in 2019 with profits of $35.7 billion in 2019). We don’t have the money they have to curry favor with politicians through campaign contributions. We also don’t have the revenue to spend on advertising like pharmaceutical companies do—collectively, they spent $6.46 billion on direct to customer advertising in 2018.

But we are part of the first line of defense in this country—the first line of defense against obesity and the chronic conditions that arise from obesity. Study after study show that exercise can help prevent chronic conditions and help treat many of them.

Plea: I know you are busy trying to keep your clubs open and getting members to return, but this call for you to get political is a part of that fight for your survival.

I spoke with Fitness Formula Clubs CEO Gale Landers yesterday, one of the founders of an alliance of Illinois health club operators, and he shared that the alliance members being part of state COVID-19 task force meetings and inviting politicians into their clubs to see how clubs are cleaning and protecting members were important factors in getting health clubs reopened in the state. Alliances of health club operators have been formed in several states. And they are getting results.

It is a lot of work to set up an alliance, and it takes a lot of time to sit in on task force meetings. Kudos to those of you who have taken this upon yourself. You are warriors for the industry. But for the rest of you, I'd like to remind you that to get results, you have to put in the work. Isn’t that what you tell your members? So why would you think you could just sit on your butt and not put in the work to get to know your local and federal legislators, be involved in task force meetings, and lobby your city council members and U.S. reps in order to ensure they know the fitness industry is here and provides a vital service? That’s like expecting to build muscles without ever engaging in strength training.

Help: The lecture is over. Now, let Club Industry provide you with your training plan to build those political muscles. And we’ll do so for free. (Yes, you’ve always heard that no one values anything they get for free, but consider this a gift. You can send us a thank-you note later as payment.)

Our Future of Fitness virtual event (Nov. 16-18) includes four sessions that will exercise those muscles. One of the sessions focuses on why the industry needs state alliances, and how to join your state alliance or how to form one in your state if it doesn’t already exist. “The U.S. Health Club Industry’s Survival Requires Club Alliances” will occur at 12:35 pm Eastern on Nov. 17, featuring three club operators who helped form alliances in their states: the aforementioned Landers, Scott Gillespie of Saco Sport & Fitness in Maine, and JoAnna Masloski of Wellbridge in Colorado. Right after the panel session, which will be moderated by Al Noshirvani, chairman of Motionsoft, the group will break off into a live Zoom Q&A chat so that you can ask them more specifics about alliances, getting involved with your state alliance or creating your own alliance.

The day after this alliance session, we are presenting a panel, “The Fitness Industry Needs a Political Movement,” with panelists Rodney Steven of Genesis Health Clubs, Chris Craytor of ACAC, and Mark Miller of Merritt Clubs. Moderator Helen Durkin of IHRSA will ask these three politically active health club operators to share their efforts and the results of those efforts. Make sure to attend that at 10:15 a.m. Eastern on Nov. 18.

Part of the problem the industry faces is that it still suffers from a poor reputation due to bad actors of the past. That history has come back to hurt the industry today. So how can we elevate the reputation of the industry? We address that at 8:40 a.m. Eastern on Nov. 17 in “How to Improve the Industry’s Reputation and Build Confidence in Its Importance.” Kevin McHugh of The Atlantic Club and Ori Gorfine of U.S. Fitness Holdings will share their clubs’ efforts to communicate the professionalism with which health clubs now operate and the value health clubs provide to their communities. Find out how you can do the same by attending this panel, moderated by Maria Turco, CEO of Honor Yoga.

Before all of these sessions occur, however, we kick off the Future of Fitness event at 8 a.m. Eastern on Nov. 16, with David Stalker, president of Europeactive, presenting his keynote on “Power Is Local: Influencing Government Strategies.” He will share how to influence policies at a local level, including who to talk to and what to say to them to offer clarity around the essential role the fitness industry plays in the health of communities.

If you can’t tell, the staff at Club Industry believe members of the fitness industry can no longer sit around and pretend that politics plays no role in the industry. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, other issues will arise as city, county and state politicians deal with the aftereffects of the pandemic on their coffers. The industry must unite to have a strong voice, particularly because the industry’s monetary pull is outweighed by other groups. But you know that the benefits of the fitness industry to the communities you serve is just as great if not greater than that of pharma. It’s time to join together, bring your members along and be such a resounding chorus that politicians can’t ignore the logic of the message we are sending.

Register now for the Future of Fitness virtual event. Even if you can’t attend all the sessions live, by registering now, you will receive access to the sessions on-demand.

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