Why Entertainment Options Are Necessary at Your Gym

Today’s gym members are demanding sophisticated exercise entertainment, like cardio machine touchscreens, a library of TV shows, and on-demand classes.

The growing digital presence in health clubs raises questions both practical and philosophical.

Some fitness professionals would argue that it’s counterproductive. Shouldn’t members be concentrating on their exercise programs, and not be distracted by TV shows, music, or other entertainment?

The majority of members most likely would disagree. The feeling of being connected, they’d argue, helps them stick with their regimen and achieve their objectives, and enhances the overall experience.

Too little time and lack of motivation are two of the principal reasons that people don’t join, or remain members of, fitness facilities. And research has shown that when members enjoy their workouts and obtain results, their motivation and the club’s retention rate both rise.

So, if being connected with music, or the news, or Game of Thrones helps them to be successful and keeps them coming back—then why not?

The fact that no one is seriously suggesting that the industry back away from exertainment (that is, entertainment and exercise) offerings is because they successfully answer more questions than they raise.

Exercise and Entertainment Go Hand in Hand

Entertainment—a primary driver of engagement—has always been a factor in fitness. An interesting routine, a charismatic instructor, the use of music—all are designed to provide it.

But the systematic application of technology to achieve it may have begun with the introduction of cardio entertainment.

“The best-known system was Cardio Theater, which basically provided wireless audio boxes on equipment that members could plug their headphones into, which allowed them to select the TV channel they desired,” says Tony Garcia, the president and CEO of Mye Fitness Technologies.

Based in Valencia, CA, Mye Fitness Technologies is a leading provider of fitness entertainment and health tracking technologies.

“Entertainment—a primary driver of engagement—has always been a factor in fitness. An interesting routine, a charismatic instructor, the use of music—all are designed to provide it.”

The benefits that the development provided—both for clubs and clients—quickly became clear.

“Club operators realized immediate gains in member sales and retention when the first fitness entertainment systems were installed,” says Garcia.

Major equipment manufacturers—such as Life Fitness, Precor, and Technogym—were among the early innovators.

“In 1996, we introduced the first industry software that managed workouts, followed by the first built-in TVs in 2003, and the first connected equipment in 2007,” says Enrico Manaresi, the public relations manager for Technogym, headquartered in Cesena, Italy.

Today, virtually every cardio company has a serious menu of exertainment options.

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Once considered an intriguing new novelty, games, shows, streaming video, and internet access are now regarded as a critical part of the club experience. Members have concluded that they want to remain “connected” when they’re in the facility, and clearly indicated that any disruption in service will meet with resistance and have a negative impact on business.

“The behavioral data and evidence are clear,” says Christopher “Skip” Wilson, the brand experience and corporate marketing lead of the Experience Design Group at Precor, in Woodinville, WA. “Consumers now expect that the digital experience will travel with them from the moment they awake in the morning to when they fall asleep at night. ... A smart system that allows club members to maintain their digital engagement, with as little interruption as possible, creates a seamless experience for them.”

Entertainment Can Enhance Members’ Performance

It’s not surprising that exercise is often referred to as a workout. For many, it’s long been considered a taxing, but productive, task; a challenging, but constructive, chore. But exertainment changes all of that. It can be inviting, engaging, instructive, inspiring, motivating ... allowing members not only to stick with, but also to enjoy, their fitness regimen.

“When we were developing our Preva Video on Demand system, we designed it to increase engagement during a workout, thus increasing both attraction and member retention,” says Jeff Bartee, Precor’s director of emerging business and partnerships.

“Initially, exercise entertainment systems helped to minimize the monotony of doing cardio workouts,” says Garcia. “Now, members are connected to a wide variety of entertainment and social media options that provide a richer experience.”

“Consumers now expect that the digital experience will travel with them from the moment they awake in the morning to when they fall asleep at night.”

Christopher 'Skip' Wilson, Brand & Corporate Marketing Lead

Precor - Woodinville, WA

Anthony Radek, the category lead for consoles at Life Fitness, based in Rosemont, IL, notes that digital screens provide a world of opportunities to enhance fitness activities. “These include virtual courses that motivate through gamification, and streaming entertainment, such as Netflix or YouTube, for users who are looking to escape. ... And those looking to improve their performance can track their workouts via an Apple Watch or popular apps.”

In discussing exertainment, the word “motivation” comes up repeatedly.

“You can become immersed in a motivational class or course,” Radek says, “or check out TV shows or streaming apps. Watching entertaining content makes workouts more enjoyable and helps the time pass faster, leading members to adhere to their programs longer.

“Tapping into an immersive experience helps them attain new performance levels.”

Creating New Touchpoints Only Boosts Your Clubs Brand

A host of options to address a wealth of differing preferences is critical, but equally important is members’ ability to customize and stamp their own identity on their choices. Each user wants a tailored portfolio that’s based on their own histories, abilities, tastes, needs, and passions.

Exertainment is adept at catering to their desires, particularly in the case of cloud-based systems.

“Technogym’s Mywellness cloud platform allows any user to log in on any piece of equipment and access their personal profile, which features their email, social media, web bookmarks, favorite TV programs, Netflix account, etc.,” Manaresi says.

“Today, thanks to the platform, we’re able to offer users a completely personalized experience in terms of training, data, and entertainment.”

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Apps add yet another layer of connectivity to the member/club relationship. In recent years, countless facilities have created a branded app, providing users with a link to club goings-on, and allowing them to make class reservations, book personal training sessions, and engage with other members.

“Apps have become a key part of the club experience,” Radek says. “They allow the member to stay connected with the brand both in and out of the facility. That constant connection fosters loyalty to the brand and its services, which, in turn, boosts utilization and promotes retention.”

Entertainment systems also provide a rich opportunity for operators to market the club, its programs, and services; to introduce new equipment, classes, and personnel; and to announce special promotions and events. Notifications and reminders help clients remain true to their intentions.

“Watching entertaining content makes workouts more enjoyable and helps the time pass faster, leading members to adhere to their programs longer.”

Anthony Radek, Category Lead for Consoles

Life Fitness - Rosemont, IL

“Numerous studies have demonstrated that club apps speed up the adoption of a new small- group class or the engagement of a new trainer,” Bartee says. “They’re a wonderful communication channel.”

Many manufacturers provide a full suite of professional apps that club operators can utilize to advertise club activities both on mobile devices and on-machine screens.

“Because the screens are connected, operators can promote revenue-generating services within the club,” says Radek. “They also can be employed as an additional touchpoint with the brand by sending a personalized greeting or message to the member.”

Customer behaviors have changed significantly over the last decade, and it’s those behaviors that are the driving force behind many of the decisions being made by club operators today.

“If a more sophisticated entertainment system is what’s going to push someone to join your club, or to spend more time there, then thoughtful consideration should be given to investing in this area,” Radek says.

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