The elite female athlete market is a challenging but potentially lucrative market that club operators can tap into. It hasn’t always been that way, however. Not that long ago, few women imagined themselves being elite athletes. Even in cases where opportunities availed, women rarely pursued or even explored their athletic potentials as social norms, cultural stereotypes and family values worked against them pursuing athletic endeavors as part of their lives or as a lifestyle.

Although echoes of those days still linger, times have changed. Those changes present a challenging but rewarding opportunity for fitness clubs that can develop and promote encouraging and supportive but comprehensive goal-oriented and high-level athletic training programs for women.

Promoting a new elite training program to existing elite athletes is a tough sell, but it is a bit easier to convince up-and-coming athletes with elite potential to join. Here are a few pointers that will help move things in the right direction:

1. Make personal connections. Initially, feeling comfortable with the program is critical for women, so a personal connection goes a long way. If the prospective athletes are members at your club, approaching them there is easy. If they are not, attend events and visit places the athletes frequent. Express confidence in their potential and briefly outline what your program has to offer and what it can do for them if they join.

2. Host informational meetings. Promote the meetings through fliers, posters, e-mails and the like in-house and at events and places (local stores, etc.) the athletes frequent. These meetings will allow the athletes to meet the coaching staff and ask questions about the program and provide you with an opportunity to address their concerns.

3. Be clear about the program in promotional material. Promotional material, such as fliers, newsletters, posters, e-mails and websites, should clearly outline a comprehensive program package, including designated times or access to club spaces, coaching expertise, training program format, fitness club equipment (pool, indoor bikes, etc.) and classes (indoor cycling, Pilates, massage, etc.) tied into the program or available to the athletes. They should also outline any financial support and resource support the club is prepared to provide. Signaling a long-term commitment is key for such a program’s success.

4. Follow up. Follow up initial contacts with an e-mail, a phone call, a text or an invitation to drop by for a subsequent visit. It is critical to build on the initial personal connection. In the end, it is the relationship between the coaching staff and the athletes that makes the program.

Promoting an established program is a bit easier as it has a built-in promotional factor ready to exploit. If you have an established program, you must do the following:

1. Showcase your program. Do this through updates in e-mails, on in-house designated message boards, on posters and banners that feature the accomplishments of individual athletes or teams, in regular program-specific newsletters and timely write-ups submitted to the local news media.

2. Attend local events. At local and regional sports events, at local fairs and at malls or business events, set up a booth or a shade tent that doubles as a base for your elite team and as a promotional location for interested parties to visit. Women are sold more on the personal team aspects than by results and stats.

3. Organize your own promotional events. Organize special promotional events both in-house and at local stores. Having your elite team set up a tent at one of your local sponsor’s stores (bike, running, outdoors) or business (winery, chiropractor) helps promote your program and the supporting store. Coordinating the event with your club’s local ad campaign adds value to such promotion for all involved parties.

4. Promote team accomplishments. All your program’s promotional material should feature your program participants’ accomplishments and show training-related activities, such as training events, mini camps, trips and goal events. Paint a picture that shows a supportive training environment that provides the opportunity to learn and become a competent elite athlete.

5. Participate in local races. Your program participants should race in some local events to show the local “elite and upcoming elite” athletes first-hand the strength of your program’s athletes and what joining the program leads to. Doing so gets the word out that your program exists because you’d be surprised by how few people are probably aware of its existence.

6. Let team members mingle in the club. Elite female athletes wearing their team uniforms while mingling with club members during their training sessions is invaluable program exposure. Locker room chit-chat and local visibility are primary drivers of our program recruitment.

7. Volunteer your elite team members for smaller local events. Teaming with local race organizers or helping at high school or local sports club events are opportunities to connect with current or future elite athletes while giving back to the local community.

Preben Nielsen, the executive director of the Women’s Triathlon Club and a senior staffer at the Chico Sports Club, Chico, CA, has 30 years of experience in developing and managing sports-specific programs and clubs. The women’s triathlon program was the 2003 runner-up for the Nova7Awards. A dozen of the program’s elite girls were on Team USA for the 2009 Triathlon World Championships in Australia. Contact Nielsen at chicowtc@yahoo.com or www.womenstriclub.com.