THE WEEKLY HOWL IS DELIVERING PACKAGES

Sports: The NFL has never met an opportunity to make money that it doesn’t like and the latest opportunity is team-branded gyms. The Dallas Cowboys opened one a couple of years ago and the San Francisco 49ers have followed suit. And it appears that there are more in the works. From Forbes:

 On Thursday, 49ers president Al Guido celebrated the opening of the 36,500-square-foot facility with a ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the San Jose venue. Guido was joined by 49ers Fit chairman Mark Mastrov, former Pro Bowl running back Roger Craig and close to a dozen members of the team's strength and conditioning staff.

"We're proud of the dynamic, comprehensive fitness and recovery experience that 49ers Fit offers to fitness enthusiasts," Guido said. "Based in the Bay Area, Mark and his team know exactly what people want out of their gyms and have done an incredible job delivering our vision of everything we wanted 49ers Fit to be."

The facility includes a 40-yard turf field with space for sprint work, functional training and group sessions. Workout warriors will also have access to an expansive area replete with free weights, cardio, power and speed training. A litany of fitness specialists will offer personal training sessions for athletes of all levels, while others can enroll in group classes in Zumba, boxing, yoga, barre and HIIT training.

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The concept of the NFL-branded fitness center is the brainchild of Mastrov, founder of M6 Football and 24 Hour Fitness. The ceremony marks the culmination of a two-year project undertaken by Mastrov and the 49ers. In May 2017, Mastrov opened Cowboys Fit, a 60,000 square foot facility overlooking the plaza at the Dallas Cowboys' headquarters in Frisco. The entrepreneur is targeting early-2019 to open a second Cowboys' facility in Plano, as well as Bears Fit, a similar concept in Vernon Hills, Ill. Mastrov has had discussions with several other NFL teams on adopting the model.

              The idea of professional sports branded gym may seem like a no-brainer but once you start to break it down, there is a lot less meat on the bone than you might have thought. It is counter-intuitive but there is not an established relationship between sports and fitness. There probably should be but watching sports and participating in fitness activities is not linked together. The NFL is the most popular sport to view in the U.S. Millions of people watch it but how many of them every play the sport? Running is the most popular sport to participate in but it is close to dead as a spectator sport in this country when the Olympics aren’t involved. 50,000 people ran the NYC Marathon this year but how many could pick Lelisa Desisa or Mary Keitany out of a crowd? And if you have no idea who Lelisa Desisa or Mary Keitany are, then you’ve proved my point. Watching a football game does not inspire people to go the gym. How many times have you ever heard someone say that their fitness goal is to look like an NFL player? Personally, I have never heard anyone say that. I understand why people would think that NFL-branded gyms are a good idea but there is no evidence that they actually are.

The next problem is that gyms are selected mostly on convenience (is it close to where they work or live?). It’s a real estate business and the 3 most important things in real estate are location, location, location. Not even the most die-hard 49ers fan is going to join a gym that is a 1 hour drive away from where they work or live. Any brick and mortar gym is going to live and die by its location. A gym cannot be a destination like a shopping mall or a restaurant could be. It is something that has to be trekked to multiple times a week. That means it has to be close by.  That means that there is a very small marginal benefit to being associated with the NFL. 49ers Fit might draw in some more members than it would if it was not branded but it won’t be a dramatically higher percentage. It is doubtful that this small benefit will cover whatever amount of money is being paid to the 49ers (I am sure that it is a significant amount of money.

Does this mean that I think that these gyms will crash and burn? No because it looks like they are executing everything else well. They are building nice facilities in good locations. They would do well without the branding. With the branding, they’ll do slightly better but probably pay way too much for it.

Pugilism: There used to be a thriving boxing scene in our nation’s capital. But now old school boxing gyms are on the way out and new fitness-oriented boxing gyms are moving in. From The Washington Post:

Today, the District’s boxing scene seems to be going through a rebirth, but with a much different look — one that reflects how the city has changed. A sport that once attracted largely blue-collar men in the District is now being marketed to the city’s influx of affluent residents — especially women.

In the past three years, Urban Boxing has opened locations in Foggy Bottom, Bethesda and Arlington. It remains the only chain to offer one-on-one sparring. NuBoxx has brought fitness-style boxing classes to NoMa, and it’s looking toward a second location on U Street NW. Later this year, Rumble — backed by Equinox — plans to open a location downtown, while an apparent challenger, Bash, is preparing to open in Arlington.

The growth is part of a broader boom in boutique boxing, driven by celebrities who have made it standard issue in their Instagrams and breakneck millennial spending on other workouts tailor-made for social media.

“Strong is the new skinny,” says Josh Leve, founder and chief executive of the Association of Fitness Studios. “Exercise, specifically boxing, has become an outlet for stress as well as building strength.”

              What’s weird about this these boxing gyms are falling victim to gentrification at the same time that boxing, a  traditionally blue-collar sport, is being culturally appropriated by white collar workers. I can’t think of another sport that has experienced this. Of course, this is happening because of the insatiable demand for boutique classes and cardio combat is always a strong category.

              What is also striking about this article is that it highlights the role reversal that has occurred. Affluent people are increasing their exercise levels (often with expensive classes) and the less affluent are becoming less and less active. This is leading to the death of old-school gyms at the same time that high-end cardio boxing gyms are opening in their place. I’m all for new gyms but it’s sad to see exercise options for less affluent people dwindle and die.

Good food quickly: One of the many reasons that we have an obesity epidemic in this country is because of fast food. The fast food giants have been able to deliver unhealthy meals at ridiculously low prices for years. This is often the cheapest and most convenient food that people have access to. Some people even consider the fast food hamburger to be a “modern miracle” for its ability to deliver so much nutrition for such a low price. But now prices at fast food restaurants are rising, threatening the industry’s main competitive advantage. From Vox:

Fast food prices are climbing.

Despite a preponderance of hot deals — McDonald’s $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu offers two-buck Bacon McDoubles; Burger King is virtually giving away nuggets at 10 for $1 — the price of regular, non-value orders is going up, Bloomberg reports.

“Median fast-food hamburger prices have jumped 54 percent over the last decade to about $6.95, according to menu researcher Datassential,” Bloomberg says, while humble chicken sandwiches — always the bridesmaid, never the bride — are up a still-notable 27 percent. Both, Bloomberg notes, “surpass overall U.S. price inflation during that same time.”

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But here’s the thing: Fast food should cost money. The price bump puts chains in a tough position but it also brings prices in line with what food production actually costs. Prices aren’t going up because of the cost of ingredients, they’re going up because of the increased cost of labor. It is expensive to pay people, and to (sometimes) give them benefits.

As the New York Times reported earlier this year, fast-food wages, which began to rise in 2014, have continued to increase faster than overall wages, although the pay “is still less than half the average for an hourly employee.” Given the tight labor market, that’s pushed companies to “offer more incentives — like dental insurance, sign-up bonuses, and even travel reimbursement — to entice workers.” (The actual positive impact of these benefits remains a subject of some debate.)

One side effect of keeping the federal minimum wage so low is that we are subsidizing the fast food industry. The minimum wage is not a living wage in most parts of the country so a lot of fast food workers are also beneficiaries of government aid programs like food stamps. This has allowed fast food restaurants to keep fast food prices artificially low. Reality is finally catching up to fast food but they’ve done their damage.

It’s one of the weird quirks of our society that has led to the obesity epidemic. There is a similar factor with extensive corn subsidies that have led to an abundance of high fructose corn syrup. That abundance had to find a home and it did by replacing sugar in soft drinks and a lot of our foods. Sometimes it feels like the deck is stacked against fitness and nutrition.

Late capitalism: Amazon has been going through a rough patch, PR-wise. The HQ2 audition process has been revealed to be a shameless lie and will result in the one of the richest companies in history receiving billions in tax subsidies. Concerns over the way that the company treats its warehouse workers have been increasing as the busy holiday season starts. Amazon could use a little good publicity. So there’s this. From Gizmodo:

On Monday, Amazon’s PR department touted the story of a woman who allegedly lost a ton of weight working for its Flex delivery service. In the company’s framing, Flex isn’t a dystopian project to reduce shipping costs by letting an army of expendable, plainclothes contractors compete to score “last-mile” delivery gigs. It’s a fun workout!

“Amazon Flex allowed this woman to lose 100 lbs in 18 months by creating a workout while delivery packages,” Amazon News wrote.

              Oh, for fuck’s sake. This sounds like a bad SNL skit. It turns out that this idea was already covered by Nathan For You, a Comedy Central show that parodied shows where business experts were sent to fix small businesses. It’s amazing how tone deaf these people can be. Amazon Flex has already come under criticism for exploiting workers and they have the balls to promote this story.  

I’m going to coin a new term: fitness washing. Fitness washing is associating something with fitness in order to improve its image. While I think that it’s great that fitness is viewed so positively, I don’t love that other entities are now seeking to co-opt that. Who else is doing this? Victoria’s Secret. From Refinery 29:

Each year around the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, stories about the models' elaborate and intimidating workout routines inevitably go viral. So, Victoria's Secret launched its own marketing campaign called "Train Like An Angel," which chronicles the models' workouts as they prepare for the show. In addition, Victoria's Secret produced free YouTube workout videos featuring the Angels and their favorite trainers: You can try the HIIT workout that Sadie Newman does with her personal trainer, learn Stella Maxwell's yoga workout, do barre alongside Martha Hunt, and even dress in the same Victoria's Secret workout clothes that the models wear. While the workouts are impressive and feature reputable trainers, they do seem to oversimplify what's attainable for the average person.

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In many ways, the brand's choice to publicize models' workout routines is just an easy way to counteract the stereotype that all models are unhealthy, or have disordered eating habits. But saying that plus-size and curve models don't mesh with the brand's "specific image," while simultaneously insisting that Victoria's Secret models are all just "aggressively fit," reinforces unattainable body standards and implies that there's only one way to look fit and healthy.

For the subset of models who get paid to adhere to Victoria's Secret's unobtainable and unwavering body standards, exercising is just part of the job. "People don't understand that the reason these women are where they're at in life is because they've worked their asses off to get there — but they're also naturally six feet tall and their physique is built for it," says Andrea Rogers, founder of Xtend Barre, who trains Victoria's Secret model Martha Hunt. Compared to her usual non-model clientele, Rogers says that models tend to be hyper-motivated and "extremely focused on their body as their instrument for their work."

             

              This is not egregious as Amazon but Victoria’s Secret has been doing this for years. They really want to distance themselves from the image of models starving themselves in order to maintain an unrealistic female beauty standard. So they are doing everything that they can to associate their models with 21st century fitness. That’s fitness washing. Oh, and watch the Nathan for You sketch here.

Cycling: The cycling wars have been raging for a few years now and SoulCycle has maintained its position at the top. That might be changing. From Recode:

Peloton appears to have finally pulled ahead in the race to be the most popular exercise-bike company.

Peloton had 4 percent more U.S. customers than SoulCycle last quarter, more than doubling its subscriber base over the last year, according to new data from Second Measure, a company that analyzes billions of anonymized debit and credit card purchases from all major cards. The number of people who made a SoulCycle purchase via debit and credit card in the third quarter declined nearly 10 percent year over year, according to Second Measure.

That’s a marked change from the beginning of 2017, when SoulCycle — which earlier this year withdrew its 2015 application to become a public company — had approximately three times as many customers as Peloton, according to Second Measure. Peloton, which plans to go public in 2019, was most recently valued at $4 billion.

If SoulCycle really wants to do a successful IPO, then I think that they have missed the boat on having a home option. They’re doubling down on high-end, in-person classes by expanding into disciplines outside cycling. I don’t think that it’s a bad strategy but it is far less ambitious than developing a Peloton competitor. The path that SoulCycle is going down isn’t really that of a publicly traded company. They currently have 88 locations. For reference, Target has over 1,800 stores and  Starbucks has over 28,000 locations. That’s what investors want to see. A publicly traded company needs a big market and selling $34 classes in the wealthiest cities just isn’t that big. If you want a big IPO, then you need to figure out a way to bring your product/service to the masses. The Peloton method is that way to bring it to the masses which is why it is headed for a successful IPO next year. It make me wonder if SoulCycle has given up on its IPO dreams or not. 

 What have you found: ClassPass mines its data and releases a report every year. It serves both as a way to view trends in the industry and as a trivia test for fitness. This year’s report just came. What did it day? From Fast Company:

On Tuesday, the fitness and wellness platform shared quite a few fun facts from the more than 60 million reservations booked by its members. On a nationwide scale, ClassPass observed the following workout habits:

  • Most popular day of the week to work out: Tuesday

  • Most popular day of the year to work out: February 28th, 2018

  • Most popular rest day: January 1st, 2018

  • Most popular class times: Weekday: 5:30 p.m., Weekend: 10:30 a.m.

  • Most popular fitness genre in the U.S: Strength training

  • Fastest growing trend: Treadmill classes, with an 82% increase in the last year

  • Time spent: ClassPass users were 33% more likely to book a class under 45 minutes (44 minutes or less) in 2018 than they were in 2017

ClassPass also took a look at the preferences of individual cities, which differed on everything from workout time to class cancellations:

  • Most likely to book class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier: Columbus, Ohio

  • Most likely to book class between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: Portland, Oregon

  • Most likely to book class at 7:30 p.m. or later: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Most likely to book class in another city: Orlando, Florida

  • Most likely to book class at the last minute: Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Most likely to book class with a friend: Atlanta, Georgia

  • Most likely to book a treadmill class–2018’s fastest growing activity: Washington, D.C.

  • Least likely to miss or cancel a class: San Diego, California

  • Most likely to book a class–any class: New York City

New Year’s Day is the most popular rest day? That is really surprising. I understand that a lot of people are very hungover but I would have thought that the New Year’s resolution factor would have balanced that out. I would have guessed Christmas or the day after the Super Bowl. Treadmill classes are the fastest growing trend. I guess that they’re becoming a thing. I’m still bearish on the Peloton treadmill though. 

Tidbits:

-Protein is King

-Standing desks aren’t going to save us

-The college where you have to run a half-marathon in order to graduate

-New solution for the obesity epidemic: make every man, woman, and child in the U.S. star in a Marvel movie

-Exercise, is there anything it can’t do?

-More gyms should do this

-The founders of LuLaRoe sound like swell people