Anne B. McDonnell
Entertainment systems that fitness centers now feature range from one overhead TV to a full set of TVs with individual controllers for sound and channel, customized overhead music systems, individual screens on cardio machines, interactive cardio machines with games and races, and customized rooms for group fitness (especially cycling) that feature their own TV and sound systems.
The system that you offer to your members should make sense for your market and your type of facility. What do other fitness centers in your area offer? What are your members asking for? What does your membership fee structure justify? These questions, plus the following tips from other facility owners and managers, can help you decide what you offer.
Entertainment optionsThe main options fitness centers have for entertaining members are music, television and individual viewing screens on cardio equipment. Some fitness centers also offer "exertainment" equipment, such as Dance Dance Revolution platforms or cardio machines that offer games and "rides" through 3D courses.
What many fitness center operators have found, however, is that sophisticated systems aren't necessary to stay competitive. Says Nick Kentrolis, president of The Crest Fitness in Wilmington and Hampstead, N.C., "I have not upgraded [my TV or sound system] because I ... notice that most people listen to their iPods when doing cardio, anyway."
Even with many members plugged into their own entertainment, it is still necessary to offer something to members to keep them occupied while working out.
Music. The most basic option fitness centers have for music is playing the radio. The only equipment cost associated with this is the purchase price for the tuner and speakers, and the installation of the system. The downsides to radio are commercials, bad reception and less variety of music styles (if your facility keeps it on one station). Satellite radio costs more for the system and for monthly fees, but there are fewer or no commercials, and the options for music styles are almost limitless.
Bob Seymour, owner of Health Trends in Ada, Ohio, says that his facility plays FM radio for its members, and that finding the right channel can be a challenge. "Many members try to get us to change the channel to something else. ... [However,] some stations play music that is offensive to many of our other members, so we keep it on a middle-of-the-road station that's not too loud. ... Lately, many of our members are wearing iPods, anyway," he says.
It is possible to try to meet the needs of members by changing the type of music played throughout the day. Says Wayne Scheiman, personal training director at Sports Fitness and Fun in Florida, N.Y., "The music we currently offer varies depending on the time of day and the demographics of the members at that time (older adults, college students, etc.)."
Another music option is to buy a personalized music system. These charge a set-up fee and monthly fees for use and upgrades. The upside is that there are no commercials, and facilities can often add their own commercials for in-house promotions, or for local businesses as a profit center. In addition, with some systems, different types of music can be played in different areas of the facility. For instance, rock music in the weight area, and easy listening in the locker rooms.
These systems also take care of music licensing, since playing music in a commercial setting requires licensing rights for copyrighted music. The licensing fees go to the record label and/or artist. If you don't use a licensed system, there may be fines associated with simply playing your own CDs or music over the sound system.
Television. The vast majority of fitness centers have television sets in their cardio area. About two to five channels play on the varies sets, and exercisers hear audio through a receiver that is attached to the machine which controls channel and volume, or through a radio headset that is set to a certain radio "station" for each channel. Kentrolis says that his system, which includes overhead TVs with 900mhz digital entertainment, costs approximately $4,000, including the TVs.
Having a bank of television sets that broadcast a handful of channels is definitely an advantage over having just one or two sets. Members can then choose what they want to watch, and there aren't any arguments over channels, since you can set one TV to sports, one to news, one to the daytime soaps, etc. Says Seymour, who has one overhead television set in his facility, "With only one TV, someone chooses what to watch, and everyone else has to go along with it. Unfortunately, the control freaks usually win out. ... I would love to have a row of several TVs ... that would offer many choices, ... but, for a small club, we could never justify the expense." However, even television systems that offer a variety of channels have their problems. Says Suzette Jones, CEO of Evolution Health & Fitness in Sarasota, Fla., "Our cardio TV system is always having problems: sound not working, closed caption not working, etc. The best thing we did was to purchase the extended warranty on all the TVs. One was totally replaced, and others were fixed at no charge."
Individual cardio screens. Individual viewing screens on cardio equipment is a must-have for high-end fitness centers, and an option that many fitness facilities are now offering. This type of cardio machine can also feature a function that allows exercisers to plug in their iPods so they can view their playlists or view video content from their player on the cardio screen.
This equipment is more expensive than cardio machines without the bells and whistles, but it allows users to customize their workout experience with their own music, television, movies and workout programs (that can be downloaded onto their iPods).
These individual screens also have their technical challenges. Scheiman says that the biggest challenge for his facility is with self-powered cardio equipment. "We have no source nearby [to power individual cardio screens], and it would be cost prohibitive to add those at this time." And, just because you have TVs or individual screens doesn't mean you automatically have access to television. Says Scheiman, "We currently run a distributed system using a satellite feed, as we are unable to get the local cable company to run a feed to us."
Other options. In addition to music and TV, some fitness centers offer other types of entertainment for members. Amy and Jason Rask, owners of Lake View Fitness Club in Lake View, Ala., offer a Playstation 2 with an EyeToy attached. This allows members to play a fitness game called Kinetic. "The addition of the Playstation and EyeToy was appealing to members and personal training clients who were looking for something a little different to integrate into their fitness regimens," they say.
Evolution Health & Fitness offers a 60-inch television screen for the group cycling area. "This TV is also used for 'virtual training,' where users can cycle through Napa, the desert, etc., on their own time frame," says Jones.
Pedal Indoor Cycling Studio in Minneapolis, Minn., features television screens that are "synced with an Apple computer, which allows our music system to be a motivating visual and audio experience in one," says Owner Maryjo Hackett. In addition, exercisers can participate in a series of virtual rides from DVDs that display roads from the Oregon coast, Napa Valley and St. Croix. "We're also thinking of adding classic movie night with closed captions, which members can ride along with music," Hackett says.
How Entertainment Helps BusinessMusic, television and other entertainment options all help to distract and motivate members while they are working out. But, in the end, would an expensive system actually benefit your business? Scheiman says that it does, but only because these things are now the norm in the industry. "The system itself keeps our members entertained, but offers no advantages over other facilities in the area, because it is expected now and is the norm," he says.
Jones agrees that entertainment options are necessary for business: "If we did not have the cardio TVs, members would complain. It's expected in today's market." Evolution's speciality offerings especially benefit business. "The little extras, such as our virtual instruction TV for group cycling, are truly appreciated by members. The little things help us stand out from our competition," Jones says.
Hackett from Pedal Indoor Cycling Studio also says that specialized entertainment systems help to set fitness centers apart. The specialized group cycling system at her studio "turned out to be well-worth-it to our business," she says. "Since we are a small studio competing with large ... facilities, ... we knew a state-of-the-art and unique system would set us apart. ... [W]e have retained customers who want a more personal and different experience," Hackett says.
What is best for your facility?Almost every type of fitness center should offer some sort of entertainment to their members. What you choose depends on your budget, your members and how you think the system can improve your bottom line. Will an elaborate system benefit your membership sales or retention numbers? Are your members satisfied with a few TVs and a good overhead sound system? When determining what to offer, know the pros and cons of each type of system, and find out what your members want. The goal isn't to have the biggest and the best, but to offer members the tools they need to succeed in their fitness goals.
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