I'm writing this a few days into the new year, and I'm already pensive. Here we are in 2001, and I'm afraid that people still aren't taking fitness seriously.
I began feeling this way on New Year's Day when the A&E network launched Shape Up Week, airing five fitness-related Biography episodes. Trouble is, A&E performed the biographical equivalent of forcing a square peg into a round hole, assembling five episodes that barely shared a fitness theme. Sure, Richard Simmons, love him or hate him, deserved a nod, but do you honestly know of anybody who got into fitness because of Marilu Henner? Raquel Welch? Angela Lansbury? (Yes, Angela Lansbury. Her biography closed out Shape Up Week.)
While I'm puzzled by A&E's choice of profiles, I'm downright aggravated by the newspaper articles that are coming across my desk. Realizing that January is the month when people often resolve to join a health club, newspapers are churning out "helpful" advice that, frankly, is churning my stomach.
Some of the advice is just naive. A few newspapers, for example, list the "hottest" fitness trends and suggest that their readers seek out clubs where these trends are prevalent. However, the trends that they frequently identify have been common in clubs for years. Take an article in the Alabama Mobile Register that sings the praises of a fitness center with heart rate monitors, claiming that most gyms don't provide these devices. Really? On what planet? Here on Earth - or at least in the United States - heart rate monitors are widely available in clubs.
Some of the advice is odd. An article in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Birmingham, N.Y.) warns readers to beware of clubs that push supplements - as if club personnel are just waiting to catch members off guard so they can shove protein bars into unsuspecting mouths. Is this really even an issue?
Naturally, reporters also warn consumers of our industry's "shady" business practices while cheerfully dishing out tips on how to get the lowest possible price on a club membership. An article in the Washington Post cautions of new clubs that take people's money without opening, yet recommends shopping for a "membership at the end of the month because most health-club consultants work on a quota system and are more likely to give you a better deal if they are shy of their month mark."
Isn't it just a tad hypocritical for reporters to portray health clubs as poorly run businesses when they insist on uncovering methods for deflating club memberships, which are already grossly underpriced? And when will reporters recognize that unethical sales practices are now rare in our industry?
The outdated opinions perpetuated by misinformed reporters only hurt health clubs. Consider this: When the New York Post recently published an article attacking Bally's sales practices, shares in the club company dropped - even though the Post's criticisms were unfair. A financial analyst quoted at cbs.marketwatch.com described the Post's reporting as "one-sided," adding that the Post's charges "predated both Bally's current management and customer practices."
Between A&E's Shape Up Week and these recent fitness articles, I've come to this conclusion: The mainstream media just doesn't understand the fitness industry. So let's make it our New Year's resolution to help them.
Contact your local newspaper and find out the name of the reporter who covers health and fitness. Call him and invite him to use you as a contact the next time he is writing a fitness-related article. Be nice. He may never call you, but if he does, you can at least try to educate him about relevant fitness issues. If enough club operators do this, maybe our industry will get some better coverage by 2002.