IRVING, TX — The master franchise agreement that Gold's Gym International announced last month was a long time in the making.

The agreement, signed with Al Ahli Holding Group, an organization based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), calls for 26 new Gold's Gyms to be built in four Arab Gulf countries — UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. The deal also provides an opportunity for Al Ahli to operate an additional 66 clubs spanning from South Africa to Morocco and from Cyprus to Jordan, covering a total of 13 countries.

Al Ahli could potentially become the largest Gold's Gym master franchisee in the world.

“I've been working with Al Ahli since March of last year,” Joel Tallman, senior vice president of franchising and global operations for Gold's Gym International, told Club Industry. “We spent a long time getting to know one another. We're very comfortable with this group. To sum it up, it's the biggest deal we've ever done at Gold's Gym.”

Terms of the deal were not announced.

Tallman adds that it was important for Al Ahli to bring a well-known American brand into the Arab region.

“In the UAE, outside of hotels — and most luxury hotels have a fitness component to them — there really wasn't that much competition,” Tallman says.

According to the agreement, Al Ahli has to have its first facility up and running within 24 months, Tallman says, but based on discussions, he thinks the group will have gyms operating before the end of the year.

Last year, Gold's, which has 176 clubs outside the United States, signed a 20-year contract extension with the master franchisee covering India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The Irving, TX-based company also signed a separate agreement last year to open 26 gyms in the Philippines.