IHRSA 2000: The Eyes Have It

In addition to building muscles and strengthening hearts, health clubs may one day be in the business of collecting eyeballs.

Fortunately, that's not as gruesome as it sounds. Eyeballs is a buzzword used to describe views of a Web site; the more eyeballs a site gets, the more successful it is as an advertising source.

At IHRSA 2000, eyeballs was a term heard often at booths, conferences and cocktail parties. Partnerships between equipment manufacturers, dot-com companies, entertainment suppliers and/or club chains demonstrated that health club members-who typically occupy an affluent demographic-possess valuable eyeballs. The result was new offerings designed to gather members' attention-and, in some cases, data.

Yes, there was enough on the show floor to satisfy traditionalists. Cybex, Life Fitness and Ground Zero all exhibited equipment that could very well represent the next evolution of strength training. And new bikes from Star Trac, Q Sports and StairMaster (which had the support of Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France) proved that the group cycling phenomenon is still white-hot. Still, the fact that more than a dozen dot-com companies took up booth space indicated change was in the air. And attendees only had to visit entertainment exhibitors to confirm that our industry was witnessing a revolution, with Internet-enabled technologies at the forefront.

The mood was set early when, on the first day of the show, Netpulse, Life Fitness and Bally Total Fitness held a press conference to announce strategic partnerships. Both Life Fitness and Bally have made equity investments in Netpulse. In addition, the exercise equipment at Bally's fitness centers will be equipped with Netpulse Internet systems. Bally's Web site, www.ballyfitness.com, will receive direct links on the systems, and both Bally and Netpulse will work together to coordinate online advertising promotions and product sampling targeted toward Bally's 4 million members. Again, this exemplifies the industry's interest in getting eyeballs.

The news didn't end there for Netpulse. The company teamed up with Broadcast-Vision (a supplier of wireless entertainment systems) and ClubCom (a provider of music video entertainment and e-commerce capabilities) to deliver Internet, audio, video, programming and revenue options-free for qualified clubs that can deliver the right number of eyeballs.

Meanwhile, FitLinxx, a supplier of interactive fitness systems, announced a partnership with Netpulse that allows members to track Netpulse workouts as part of their personal FitLinxx exercise programs. FitLinxx also launched a program at the show that creates customized Web sites for fitness facilities, a move that earned FitLinxx the title of "Official Web Provider" from IHRSA.

In a nearby booth, E-Zone, a provider of a robust digital entertainment system, was making some virtual waves of its own. It partnered with CardioTheater to enhance its entertainment offerings and with GetFit.com to help users track their workout data. E-Zone also teamed up with manufacturers such as StairMaster and Precor to create one-on-one exercise programs that members can access while using the appropriate cardio equipment. For example, if a member is using the new StairMaster exercise bike equipped with an E-Zone unit, he can select a training video featuring Greg LeMond.

Like Netpulse, E-Zone gives its systems away to qualified clubs. The payback comes from, as you may have already guessed, eyeballs. To use E-Zone, members supply information about themselves, and when they log on to the system, they watch two minutes of demographically assigned advertising. That's how E-Zone expects to earn the lion's share of its revenue. Clubs can also earn some money through the Club TV feature, a customized channel that can include local advertising.

The trade show floor wasn't the only area buzzing with talk of the Internet and eyeballs. During IHRSA's invitation-only global summit meeting, industry leaders discussed the effect technology will have on our industry. One speaker, 24 Hour Fitness's Mark Mastrov, predicted that club memberships would one day be free-because clubs would make money by putting eyeballs in front of entertainment systems that feature advertising. Since Mastrov leads the world's largest club chain, it's impossible to dismiss his vision of the future easily.


On the Show Floor

Need more proof that the Internet made a major impact at IHRSA 2000? Consider some of the other announcements that broke during the show:

* Under a new agreement, Compaq iPAQ Internet devices and Compaq Armada M700 notebook PCs will be preloaded with the FitnessAge software assessment program and Internet access. Ready-to-use Internet connectivity will be provided to fitness professionals by Fitness-Age's ISP partners. Additionally, Compaq's hardware and software applications will be tightly integrated into FitnessAge's suite of devices, including its assessment stations, e-commerce kiosks and laptop products.

* CheckFree announced that the CheckFree E-Bill is now available. This gives club members the option of receiving an electronic bill via the Internet each month, which they can then pay with a point and click of a mouse. With E-Bill, the member sees an actual monthly statement on the computer screen and can review it. The member can decide what bank account to use and can schedule the payment.

* The Cybex Institute, the company's training and education facility, will provide fitness content to FitCare.com. The institute will also offer an advanced personal training certification program online on a platform created by FitCare.com.