From attracting new customers to retaining members, entertainment systems can provide a vital marketing advantage for clubs.

So you think your club has no couch potatoes working out. And you are certain the best mu-sic choice for your aerobics classes is dance music. After all, only the sedentary souls watch television and only teens walk around with headphones on all day. Right? Guess again!

Is it a paradox to deliver a product associated with a sedentary lifestyle to members while they work out in your club? Not according to club managers, who have seen prospective members' faces light up when they discover televisions and Internet access in the cardio room.

According to Ken Lepitre, general manager of the Philadelphia Sports Club at Highpoint in Chalfont, Pa., people who come in for tours of his club see television sets in the cardio room and say, "Wow! That's really cool!"

As far as Lepitre is concerned, entertainment can make a sale. "It works," he notes, adding, "the important thing today is to be entertained. We're hooked. It's everywhere [else in our lives]. I would never dream of having a cardio room without it again."

Many club operators agree. Today, it's common for clubs to install televisions, Web browsers and other entertainment systems. Unfortunately, it's not common for clubs to promote these products. If your marketing program is downplaying your entertainment system, you may well be missing out on a whole population of prospective members who are thinking of joining a club, but may be fearful of the "gym" environment.

"If you have a good entertainment system in your club, you should use it in your marketing campaign," says Casey Conrad, a 16-year veteran of the health club industry and president of Communication Consultants, a consulting firm in East Providence, R.I.

Entertainment Value
Conrad recommends that you use your entertainment system as a "unique selling proposition." To evaluate your system's marketing potential, ask yourself the following questions. What does this system mean to you, and what does it mean to the potential member? Once you've identified the system's value to you, take a look at what your members do with it. Check your member surveys and feedback on your system. Then, tie the benefits of your system and its member usage together and you can sell your system to current and future members.

Conrad also advises that you take this into consideration when doing your marketing: Research shows that the disassociation with workout boredom provided by entertainment systems leads to longer workout time and better results for participants. Conrad encourages her clients to discuss this openly and bluntly with their customers, showing them the potential for long-term results.

Conrad also emphasizes that you give a set of headphones to prospects during a tour and put them on the piece of equipment in your cardio room. Show them how to use the equipment and its entertainment system. Allow the customer to experience the entertainment system and see others doing the same.

Convinced now that you should update your marketing with mentions of your entertainment system? Great! What do you say? Point out that your club has televisions, sound systems, equipment for surfing the Internet? Give the names of the entertainment products-Broadcast-Vision, Cardio Theater, E-Zone, Net-pulse, etc.? That's not enough, according to Conrad.

Selling the System
Most people who haven't driven by a club in the past five years, let alone toured one as a potential member, probably have no idea what these product names mean. They probably don't even understand why it's important the club has an entertainment system. This means you have to sell it to them. But where do you get the budget for this? Ask your entertainment system's sales rep. Most of your major companies can provide you with promotional packages from free literature and banners to T-shirts, baseball caps, headphones and club passes. Some may even offer to co-op your advertising campaigns by helping you pay the media bill. Just ask.

Once the promotion starts working, curious prospects will want to see the equipment for themselves. If you're a typical club, you'll show them your cardio area, the home of most entertainment systems. With today's technology, however, you don't have to put every system near a treadmill, bike or elliptical machine. Some clubs are finding that they can tap their captive audiences in any room.

Dutch Melzer of Ladue Fitness Center in Ladue and Maryland Heights, Mo., says his clubs have 11 televisions. Seven of these are with cardio units, but four others are scattered throughout the club-near free weights and circuit training equipment. His club uses these units as tools to attract members toward equipment.

Evidently, it works. Melzer says that four treadmills with entertainment system access are now down for servicing. As a result, members are signing up for other cardio machines with television access; unfortunately, the waiting lists for these machines are already long. "People are going crazy," Meltzer notes, adding that these units are "extremely important to people." He points out that entertainment systems are a critical part of the club's member retention.

Melzer's clubs advertise their entertainment system with the use of signage throughout the club. He says the club has a complete wall dedicated to the system's benefits to members' fitness regimens.

Outside Advertising
In-house promos aren't the only way you can get people in front of your entertainment systems. Garvey Sten-ersen, general manager of the Fitness Zone in Bel Air, Md., reports "excellent results from ads" that her club has placed in newspapers, telephone directories, billboards and magazines noting its entertainment system. She says her ads have attracted potential customers who call wanting to come in for a tour to see the system in operation.

An entertainment system may impress members or prospects at first glance, but if it doesn't actually entertain them, it won't do much good. If you're using a sound system, for example, you'll want to make sure the music you play appeals to your member demographics. You can check radio ratings to see which stations and music are most popular with certain groups of people. You can also look at music charts to see what musicians are top sellers, and survey your members to see what music they like.

Some systems take the pressure off clubs by allowing members to entertain themselves. With equipment that allows people to surf the Internet, for example, members have the freedom to choose sites that appeal to them. And TV systems are available that give users the option to select their own stations.

This isn't the case with all TV systems. If you're using freestanding televisions, you'll want to tune them all to different stations, giving viewers variety. To make sure you are giving people the best options, check current TV ratings to determine the most popular shows. Your entertainment system's sales rep may be able to provide that information.

Picking the right TV shows may be more important than it sounds. The United States Satellite Broadcasting (USSB) Telescoop Survey of November 1995 found that more than a quarter (26 percent) of people watch television every night during dinner, and 19 percent say they could not survive without television. According to a 1999 report released by Nielsen Media Research of its 1998 statistics, the average U.S. adult views about 29 hours of television per week, averaging more than four hours per day (see sidebar, Viewing Habits). Where are your club's members between these hours? What are you providing for them as a disassociation tool while they are working out?

Planning your program strategy around your entertainment system can be a great member-retention tool and an even better marketing campaign. For example, would you tune your televisions to daily soap operas while the World Series is being played? Probably not. So put on the World Series and, a few weeks before the games begin, promote the "World Series Workout," encouraging people to use your equipment while watching baseball.

Although the World Series comes once a year, you can apply this basic programming idea to any sort of television show. What programs can you operate during prime-time viewing hours? Survey members to find out their favorite shows, then tailor appropriate workouts. How about the "Who Wants to Be in Better Shape?" workout, a program where people watch the wildly successful Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? while using cardio equipment?

As these programs gain success, send out a press release to the media noting how television shows are enhancing exercise at your club. Before long, people will associate their favorite TV lineups with working out at your club.

The Internet Option
Television represents only one of the entertainment options available to clubs. Today's members can also take advantage of Internet access while working out. Good thing: USA Today reported that a January 1999 study of 5,000 Nielsen families found TV use was 19 percent lower from 4:30 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in homes with Internet access, compared to homes without Internet use. The report also noted that from 8 to 11 p.m., TV usage was 6 percent lower.

This indicates that the Internet has gained some ground on television. And it's crucial to keep abreast of what members and potential customers find entertaining so you can plan for the future. For the present, you must take a proactive approach to entertaining your members-and putting together a successful marketing campaign that stresses your entertainment system. Here are some ideas to help you plan your marketing strategy:

* When you give prospects a tour, get them to use your system and talk about it with them

* Include your entertainment system as part of your in-house promotions

* Ask your entertainment system's sales rep for targeted demographics for hourly, daily and weekly listening/viewing habits, and tailor your program schedules accordingly

* Interject entertainment queries as part of your membership surveys; again when you know what members like, you can program accordingly

* Use your entertainment system's rep-supplied promotional packages for in-house member promotions (such as bonus equipment time), and for staff-incentive programs (such as a free T-shirt, etc., for selling the system on a promotional tour)

* Advertise your entertainment system in your external marketing efforts; use detailed information to describe what system you have, how it works and why it helps members with their workouts

* Plan ahead on your upgrading of your entertainment system; carefully research listening and viewing trends as well as your member surveys

When you find the entertainment venue that fits your club's needs, use it effectively and wisely. Always keep up to date with what new trends are available in entertainment. Keep your current members in mind, but don't forget new prospects. Experts agree that when you use entertainment as a marketing tool, you'll find a successful tool to keep your club growing.


Viewing Habits

A report from Nielsen Media Research-tracking time spent in front of the tube from November '97 to November '98-revealed that men and women, young and old, all enjoy a steady, weekly diet of sitcoms, soaps and sports. So if you're under the impression that your members and prospects have no interest in watching television, you may find these figures surprising:

* Female teens, 12-17, watched 19 hours, 40 minutes per week.

* Women, 18-24, watched 22 hours, 11 minutes per week.

* Women, 25-54, watched 30 hours, 35 minutes per week.

* Women, 55 and older, watched 42 hours per week.

* Male teens, 12-17, watched 20 hours, 16 minutes per week.

* Men, 18-24, watched 19 hours, 29 minutes per week.

* Men, 25-54, watched 27 hours, 53 minutes per week.

* Men, 55 and older, watched 36 hours, 47 minutes per week

Think about it: The average American spends the equivalent of an entire day in front of a television every week. Most clubs would be satisfied if members spent an hour a day exercising. By letting people know that they can watch television while they work out in your club, you may be able to convince them to get out of their houses for several hours a week and into your facility.