LONG BEACH, CA -- There’s no doubt that when California State University Long Beach (CSULB) opened its $70 million recreation center last August, it was a good thing for the university and its current and future student population.
In addition to the obvious health and fitness opportunities the 126,500-square-foot complex offers, research at several universities shows that students who get involved in on-campus activities, such as working out in the rec center, are more likely to return the next year.
But the facility’s opening wasn’t good news for everyone. In December, the Frog’s Fitness club that has been on the CSULB campus for 15 years announced that it would close its doors for good at the end of the month. Kari Bedgood, a spokesperson for Frog’s parent company, Club One, San Francisco, says the club had about 2,500 members before the student rec center opened, and about 700 to 800 of those members were students. The club’s membership levels started to drop immediately after the rec center’s opening, Bedgood says, and Frog’s could no longer extend the service levels its customers deserved and expected under the circumstances.
Despite that, the company is not placing the onus for Frog’s closing entirely on the new rec center.
“There were a number of factors that contributed to the closure of our club,” Bedgood says. “It’s difficult to say if things could have been done differently.”
The closure of Frog’s is a disappointment to many in the community who will now have to find a new place to work out. Unlike some other university rec centers today, CSULB’s new facility does not offer memberships to the general public. In an attempt to assuage any inconvenience when the club closed, Club One approached the university about extending privileges to its current members, but as of press time, a deal still seemed unlikely to Bedgood.
“Because the rec center was built and operates on student funding, a massive vote would be necessary to allow Frog’s members into the rec center,” she says. “Therefore, it does not look probable for our members getting access.”
However, there is some good news for the seniors and disabled club members who chose Frog’s for its specialized wellness center and physical therapy program—the club and the university have found a way to continue to offer these services. According to Bedgood, Frog’s Beach Wellness Center and Golden Aging program will remain in its current space until June. After that, CSULB’s College of Health and Human Services will take over the program and run it elsewhere on campus.
Frog’s isn’t the only for-profit to find it could not retain its members after a new university rec center opened its doors. Leading Edge, a fitness center in Amherst, MA, hung on for one year after the new recreation center at the nearby University of Massachusetts opened, but it finally closed its doors last October for financial reasons. Last June, Amherst Athletic Club, also in Amherst, MA, closed after 28 years. Its owner, Larry Kelley, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, MA, that both the low-price Planet Fitness club in the area and the university rec center were factors in his decision to close the club.
“I knew we’d be in trouble if the recreation center opened,” Kelley said. “You can’t compete with free.”
It’s difficult to blame the students for moving their memberships. Use of the spacious, state-of-the-art facility is paid for through the university’s mandatory student union fee. And you can’t find fault with a university for building a facility its students wanted and voted to pay for through a fee increase.
However, some for-profit club owners say that university rec centers present unfair competition, especially when the school opens memberships to the community.
“The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) believes universities should restrict usage of their fitness facilities to their students, faculty and employees,” says Meredith Poppler, IHRSA’s vice president of industry growth. “Any use of such facilities by the general public should be subject to the appropriate federal and state taxes.”
In at least one recent case, club owners decided to speak up.
Last spring, Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA), Nacogdoches, TX, elected to raise its monthly membership fees from $30 to $55 for alumni after hearing complaints from local for-profit club owners who said their business was being unfairly undercut by the university.
“The director of campus recreation at the time met with the vice president of university affairs and others, including some from the local [for-profit] club, to discuss the issue,” says Ken Morton, who took over as SFA’s director of campus recreation last fall. “After careful consideration, research and discussion, they made the decision to change the membership fee.”
The compromise wasn’t popular with all of those affected, explains Morton. He says that although some alumni members understood why the change was made, others were not happy with the decision and chose not to renew at the higher rate.
Although losing members is something every fitness facility—whether private or university-affiliated—wants to avoid, Morton says the university acted in the best interests of the community at large.