Clubs Join with the Boys of Summer and Under Armour

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Chicago Athletic Club, Mountainside Fitness and Steele Fitness have created partnerships that could attract additional members to their brands.

Now that the long, snowy winter seems to have said goodbye to most of the country, many people's minds have turned to the warmer pursuits of spring and summer: running outdoors, playing fetch with the dog, grilling out. I am looking forward to gardening on cool evenings or warm Sunday afternoons listening to the baseball announcers on my neighbor's radio in his backyard. And as a perennial Kansas City Royals fan, I finally have reason to cheer again this year—so far. 

At least three club operators also have reason to cheer this year.

In March, Pat Cunningham, owner of the Chicago Athletic Club, hit what may turn out to be a home run of sorts for his seven-club company. He signed a letter of intent with the Chicago Cubs to be the health club tenant in a retail development by Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, that would also include parking and an open air plaza. The development has yet to be approved by neighborhood groups and the city of Chicago, but if approved, construction could start in 2014 or 2015. The current plan calls for the club to occupy about 40,000 square feet on two floors of a planned Sheraton Hotel, Cunningham says.

As part of the deal, the club might stage outdoor programs in the outdoor plaza area and do events with Cubs players, although nothing definitive has been set. The club will have some unique offerings compared to other Chicago Athletic Clubs, including batting cages, golf simulators and sports training for kids—specifically for baseball, Cunningham says.

The Cubs partnership is somewhat unique for the fitness industry but not completely. In December, Mountainside Fitness Centers, Tempe, AZ, opened a 13,000-square-foot club at Chase Field in Phoenix, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This club is the first in downtown Phoenix for Mountainside Fitness, which typically builds 40,000-square-foot clubs in the suburbs. The opening just adds to the partnership that Mountainside already had with the Diamondbacks. Mountainside served as the official health club of the team, the company's trainers led boot camps for Diamondback office staff several times each week, and Mountainside's founder and president, Tom Hatten, serves on the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation's executive committee

"It went from being a cool idea to something that, from a marketing standpoint, no one had ever done before," Billy Malkovich, CEO of Mountainside Fitness, told Club Industry in September 2011 when the idea was first announced. "It was a way for us to change the game in sports marketing."

The two-level facility is situated with good visibility from the stands, just beyond center field. It has a café, a steam room and a group exercise room that offers more than 60 group exercise classes each week.

But partnerships do not just come with baseball teams. Steele Fitness, a club company with five locations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, has signed a deal (for an undisclosed sum) with Under Armour to open a 2,500-square-foot retail store in its 12,000-square-foot Edina, MN, club and call it Under Armour for Steele. This location already has a retail store inside it, but the company will remodel the store and move out the merchandise from its current 15 vendors, instead selling only Under Armour workout apparel co-branded with Steele Fitness. The remodel is expected to be complete later this month.

The club company's owner, Steele Smiley, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his intent is to open an Under Armour store next to every one of his clubs by the end of the summer.

Partnerships with baseball teams, sports apparel vendors or other fitness-related vendors make sense for the fitness industry as it tries to demystify the gym for the couch potato who loves to watch sports but perhaps has never (or hasn't lately) set a foot in the gym. It also makes sense for those avid athletes who would never dare miss a day of workouts.

How can you take advantage of this opportunity? Well, if you don't have a professional sports team in your city, you may have a chance with Under Armour. The Baltimore Business Journal reported that Under Armour won't be stopping at the Twin Cities with its specialty stores. It plans to open more retail shops in other markets, naming Boston, Chicago and Vail, CO, as possibilities. These retail shops are part of the company's efforts to localize its retail shops.

Sounds like it's time to make a call to Under Armour before you enjoy that lazy summer day.

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