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Political Fundraiser Finds Fitness Brands in Tough Spot

Jason Scott

These days it seems like no aspect of life can evade politics, and the fitness world is not immune.

When news broke Wednesday that Stephen Ross — the founder and chair of Related Companies, which owns the popular fitness brands Equinox and SoulCycle — had plans to host a fundraiser supporting the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump, people took note. What followed was a social media maelstrom which prompted both fitness brands to respond by distancing themselves from the political views of one of their most prominent investors.

The Washington Post first reported the event, which is scheduled to take place Friday at Ross’ Southampton, N.Y., home. Tickets are selling for as much as $250,000, which will get donors lunch, a photo and a private roundtable with Trump himself.

When people made the connection between Ross and the fitness brands, celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen, Sophia Bush and Billy Eichner took to Twitter to announce that they were canceling their memberships.

Ross, who also owns the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, also faced criticism from wide receiver Kenny Stills

“I always have been an active participant in the democratic process. While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about,” Ross said in a statement released amid the outcry.

“I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions. I started my business with nothing and a reason for my engagement with our leaders is my deep concern for creating jobs and growing our country’s economy.

“I have always been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges.”

That wasn’t enough for critics, however, and as hashtags such as #BoycottEquinox began to trend, the fitness companies issued responses distancing themselves from Ross and the event.

Whether the fundraiser impacts Equinox and SoulCycle remains to be seen — but the PR lesson remains.

“The public/private, individual/business distinctions are no more,” Jeremy Robinson-Leon, president of corporate communications firm Group Gordon told USA Today. “Alignment of values between consumer and company matters more than ever. And when those values diverge, the result is a breach of trust in which consumers rightfully take action. Repairing relationships with customers who feel betrayed is a steep climb.”

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