NFL Teams Hit The Gym To Engage Fans

    • The NFL's 49ers, Bears, Browns and Cowboys are partnering with 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov to open team-themed fitness centers.
    • The new 49ers Fit allows members to study film of how he trained for the NFL season, says three-time Super Bowl champion Roger Craig.

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As NFL teams look to maximize their non-football related revenue while also engaging fans away from games, they’re looking to a place where more Americans are showing up each year – the gym.

In the last few years, the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, and Dallas Cowboys have all teamed with 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov to open team-branded gyms. 

“If you think about NFL revenue streams, we have our broadcast, we have our ticket sales, we have our partnership revenue. Those are the tried and true revenue sources that all sports teams have focused on during the past 20 or 30 years,” said Moon Javaid, the 49ers vice president of strategy and analytics. “But what happens when you maximize all of those, so you are Top 3 in every category across the board? Do you spend all of your efforts trying to squeeze out another million? Or do you focus outside of the traditional revenue area to see if the brand extends past that?”

That’s why the 49ers started thinking about team-branded gyms and physical therapy centers as early as the 2014 opening of Levi’s Stadium. Realizing there was only so much revenue the club could squeeze out of the $1.3 billion stadium, club executives began debating ways to leverage the 49ers brand beyond the football field.

But the team agreed that any new venture had to make sense – both for the team and for consumers. That pushed them towards fitness, which is inherently tied to football, according to Javaid.

“If I opened a 49ers pencil company, you’d look at me sideways and say, ‘That doesn’t make any sense. Why would you open a pencil company?'” he noted. “Now I could sit here and give you some crazy reason why it makes business sense – but it doesn’t. But if we stick to health and wellness, strength and conditioning, athletic training and personal training, then there’s an association with our brand there.”

In November 2018, the 49ers opened its first 49ers Fit in San Jose, a 36,000-square-foot facility.

It has all the services of your typical fitness center, but it also allows members to train with the same state-of-the-art equipment as the real San Francisco 49ers. There are also 49ers-specific finishes as well – they can study film of former 49ers Pro Bowl running back Roger Craig performing the arduous hill training later made famous by teammate Jerry Rice. There’s also a  floor-to-ceiling painting of Dwight Clark making “The Catch” that launched the 49ers Super Bowl dynasty in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The concept is ‘Train Like a Pro,'” said Craig, who now serves as an ambassador for the team and called the facility the gym equivalent of a sports fantasy camp. “When you go inside this facility, you know this is how professional football players train.”

Within 49ers Fit, the team also partnered with WellStrong to open their third team-branded Rehab and Performance Physical Therapy Center. Over the next 5-10 years, the 49ers hope to open three to five team-branded gyms – and five to ten physical therapy centers. 

As with the first 49ers Fit, the goal will be to place the smaller physical therapy units within the larger fitness centers. That way, customers get a two-for-one. 

“Now that we’ve got the businesses, we also want them to speak to each other, complement each other and work together,” said Javaid. “Gyms and physical therapy centers? There are natural synergies between the two.”

Monthly membership fees for the NFL-branded gyms range in price from $49 to $99 for individuals to $124 for families. However, that does come with some of the latest in fitness training and recovery.

For example, there are team-branded branded free weights, personal training, saunas, steam rooms, and kids’ rooms for parents. The facilities also have recovery lounges offering the same cryotherapy machines, hydromassage and NormaTec compression devices used to repair banged-up pro football players. There’s field turf dressed up to look like the real thing at field level to let members run their own 40-yard dash.

NFL teams declined to comment on the specifics of their alliance with Mastrov. But they’re generally 50-50 joint ventures, said sources.

Bears Fit in Vernon Hills, Illinois, only four miles away from team headquarters is a 45,000-square-foot facility designed to embody the look and feel of the club’s Halas Hall, complete with authentic player lockers, tackling sleds, game-worn jerseys and equipment, and a 50-year old weight scale featured in the movie “Brian’s Song.”

Membership has been “exploding,” said Bears Fit General Manager Mike Ponce. Sign-ups for group fitness classes are up 45%. Bears Fit also boasts an on-site retail outlet, the team’s’ only pro shop outside of Soldier Field. 

“That’s the cherry on top of the cake,” said Ponce.

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The more enthusiastic gym members are, the more money they’ll spend on ancillary services such as personal training, rehab, and recovery. Based on the reception he saw from members at 49ers Fit, Craig predicts all 32 NFL clubs will eventually partner with his friend Mastrov to push their own team-branded gyms. 

“He took 24 Hour Fitness to a global level – so you know he can do it with the NFL. And the kids would love it,” said Craig.

Mastrov’s company, M6 Football, declined to comment on expansion plans.

However, as NFL teams find success with branded gyms, it raises the question if this approach could be applied to other teams and properties across the sports industry.

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The UFC, for example, already has over 150 branded gyms worldwide and hundreds more in development. When they first launched in 2009, the branded MMA gyms were the UFC’s first line extension.

“At this time, we’re holding off on discussing any future partnerships or gym openings as we’re focused on building our Browns, Bears, Cowboys, and 49ers communities,” said M6 spokesman Brian Calegari via email.