Sports fans often marvel at the physical abilities and physiques of their favorite athletes. Media coverage of drafts and combines give fans data about an athlete's "measurables," and social media allows us more access to the athletes we idolize than ever before — even giving us a look at how they exercise when they're in the gym. Former NFL player James Harrison's Instagram account is a good example: videos of his workouts, even in retirement, generate hundreds of thousands of views.
The culture surrounding pro athletes, their bodies and their workout routines can motivate fitness-minded fans to train like a pro. It's a market some professional sports franchises are eager to tap.
Two NFL teams — the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys — have recently launched branded fitness centers, and another — the Chicago Bears — isn't far behind. Developed in partnership with 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, these clubs represent a unique offering in the fitness space, a blend of fandom and fitness.
"When this all started, the dream was to engage fans with our team," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Cowboys Fit.
49ers team president Al Guido appears to agree. "The key is, how do we reach fans across all demographics 365 days a year?" he asked in a video announcing 49ers Fit. "The Fit concept was core to what we want to do."
Each club features experiences and equipment that are commonly seen in commercial fitness centers — group fitness, cardio machines, free weights, even indoor sports turf. Both offer boutique-style classes with yoga, cycling, barre and HIIT on the menu, to name a few. But in addition to such standard health club offerings, members get the experience of feeling like a member of the team.
Building that connection begins with the facilities themselves. The gyms are heavily branded. Every dumbbell and piece of equipment in the space bears a team logo, and walls are adorned with larger-than-life graphics of current and former players, lending the gym-goers a sense of being inside an elite professional training facility.
"It'll give you a chance to be and feel like you're a bit closer to the 49ers than you've ever been before," Mastrov told the San Jose Mercury News. "You'll get to rub elbows a bit with the 49ers family." At Cowboys Fit, located at the team's world headquarters complex dubbed The Star in Frisco, members can even watch the team practice from a rooftop pool.
Being close to the brand, or even in close proximity to the players, is only part of the concept's appeal. The gyms also incorporate programs developed by real-world NFL strength and conditioning coaches. "We're working with Ray Wright, our strength and conditioning coach, to put programs in place so when you go to the gym, you can work out like a 49er," Guido said.
Training in an environment akin to a professional facility while using methods and programs similar to ones used by real-world athletes sounds like a dream come true for those into hardcore fitness. However, training like a pro means you'll need to recover like one, too — and these facilities provide.
"We've taken a little bit of traditional fitness and exercise protocols and then we've added in a lot of what the Niners have been doing, not just the training side but the recovery side," Mastrov told the Mercury News.
Cutting-edge recovery options are available to members at both 49ers Fit and Cowboys Fit. The options include equipment such as cryotherapy chambers and hydromassage tables, a significant step up from the standard foam rollers kicking around traditional gyms.
The football-themed gym concepts are starting small but could be poised to expand throughout their respective metro areas. A second Cowboys Fit location is reportedly planned for Plano, Texas, and the 49ers Fit concept could spread, as well. "Our goal is to build these all around the Bay area," Guido said. "We're going to start in San Jose, but we're looking for the next center where the next 49ers Fit concept is going to go."
This article originally appeared in the November | December 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Train Like a Pro: Branded facilities offer blend of fitness, fandom." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.