With the SoulCycle and Equinox exercise chains under threat of boycotts — thanks to plans by billionaire Stephen Ross to host a Trump fundraiser in the Hamptons — a competitor is making a play for defecting members.
Gyms owned by Town Sports International, including New York Sports Clubs and other outlets on the East Coast, are letting anyone in for free from Friday through Sunday. Users who show proof of cancellation from Equinox or SoulCycle will have their initiation fees waived if they want to change memberships, said Patrick Walsh, Town Sports’ chief executive officer.
“We understand there are a lot of people in New York and Boston who are going to be canceling their gym memberships,” Walsh said. “We want to make sure they have a place to work out.”
SoulCycle and Equinox have sought to distance themselves from Ross, a real estate magnate and owner of Miami Dolphins, who is planning the fundraiser for President Donald Trump’s re-election bid. In statements posted on social media, the chains stressed that he’s just a “passive investor.”
The boycott campaign took on steam after Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills said on Twitter that the fundraiser was inconsistent with efforts to fight racial inequality.
Ross has defended his decision to hold the Trump event, saying he engages with political leaders out of “deep concern for creating jobs and growing our country’s economy.” But the pitfalls of mixing business and politics have grown in recent years, and consumers are quicker to punish companies that don’t align with their ideals.
Tim Mambort, a 34-year-old Equinox customer in New York, said this week that he was considering canceling his membership.
“This might be the last straw,” Mambort, a project manager at a public-relations firm, said as he was leaving an Equinox location in Manhattan.
Town Sports, which operates about 200 gyms across New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia, looks to capitalize on the unrest.
“When you cancel your membership, you’re going to get hit with a cancellation fee,” Walsh said. “So we wanted to make it easy and not have people get hit twice.”
Some customers say a business shouldn’t be punished for the politics of its owner.
“I don’t think one has much to do with the other,” said Spiro Ferris, an attorney and Equinox member in Manhattan. Canceling a membership is “going a little overboard,” the 69-year-old said.
But a chain like SoulCycle may be more vulnerable to being associated with Trump, said Stephen Tharrett, co-founder and principal of the consulting firm ClubIntel. That’s because many of the cycling studio’s clients are younger and women.
And it has plenty of competitors waiting to pounce. While Equinox dominates the high-end fitness market in New York, SoulCycle faces competition from a variety of boutique studios, he said.
“SoulCycle people have lots of options,” Tharrett said.