Will the CrossFit Games Actually Help Your Gym?


Andrew (00:01):

The CrossFit Games. Do they help your gym grow? Chris Cooper answers that question on this episode of Two-Brain Radio.

Chris (00:07):

Hey everybody, Chris Cooper here, and I love the CrossFit Games. I love watching it. I competed in my first CrossFit competition in 2009, it was called the CrossFit Ontario championship or something like that in Moss Park armory in Toronto. I remember the organizers got in trouble for using the CrossFit brand incorrectly. And then I remember after that there were sectionals and then Regionals, and back then you could walk onto the floor at sectionals and compete. And I did that in 2010. And then, you know, we had the Regionals and then we had the Games and then we had the online qualifiers and all that cool stuff. And the original adopters, the evangelists for the brand who got on board over a decade ago, like me, we watched the rise of the Games, the expansion, the branding, then the contraction. And now the Games are back again.

Chris (00:59):

And CrossFit home office said at a town hall last week that the primary marketing that they plan to do for affiliates is to hype the Games season. So today I want to talk about will the Games actually help your gym or not? This is the question that long time affiliates have been trying to answer for at least a decade. So I’m gonna break the Games season down into the Open and then sectionals, Regionals, qualifiers, whatever they’re called. And then finally the Games. I’m gonna talk about who benefits at each stage. Is it home office? Is it us, the affiliates? Is it our coaches? Is it our clients? And I’m gonna talk about, in some cases, ways that you can leverage CrossFit’s only marketing plan for your affiliate to get some more clients in the door if you want them. So first let’s start with the Open.

Chris (01:50):

Now the Open is like the church picnic. It’s for people who are already in the tribe. It makes home office some money for sure. And it might help retention if you’re using the intramural Open plan, but it usually won’t get you new clients. In source data from gyms, the number of clients who come in and say, I wanna go to the Games, sign me up for the Open, is less than one per gym worldwide. When you think about it, this is actually obvious, right? It’s just like how the Olympics doesn’t produce sprinters. Sprinters love watching the Olympics. And we all love watching sprinting, but you don’t see the, the common 25 year old Googling, how do I start a sprinting program during the commercial? Right? You don’t see the average 30 year old who’s looking to lose weight, Googling, start figure skating lessons during the winter Olympics.

Chris (02:44):

And you don’t even see 18 year olds trying to figure out how to become a ski jumper after watching these dudes and these women launch themselves into the air in their crazy tights, right? The Olympics do not produce new clients for these sports new practitioners, just like the Games does not really produce new practitioners who are looking for like a great workout. Okay? That’s what the data says. The other question that I have for you is in some cases, and we’re talking like less than one client per gym spread across the world, do you really want the person who’s coming in and saying, I just watched the CrossFit Games for the first time. I wanna go there next year. If you’ve been a long time affiliate like me, you might not want that client. Now, if you are a new affiliate, you’re very excited about the Games that might be your dream client.

Chris (03:37):

And if that’s the case, I’m gonna talk about that later in the show. Now, is the Open great for your staff? Most people say that it burns the staff out. Is it great for your gym? It’s good for retention for sure. If you’re following the intramural Open plan. But I remember way too many years where by the end of the Open, I was completely burned out. My staff was exhausted and I had maybe made some money for CrossFit HQ back then, but I hadn’t made any more. And I loved the PRs. I loved the energy and the excitement, but after five or six weeks, man, I was done. Let’s move on to Regionals. The regional events are awesome because they’re run by somebody else, right? It’s like the primary reason most people go out for dinner is not because they’re a bad cook. It’s because they don’t wanna prep, cook, serve and clean up afterward.

Chris (04:27):

So the beautiful part about Regionals, even though it makes home office money and not you, is that it might get you fired up for your job. It creates an opportunity for you to hang out with other people in the cult, which is always great. It creates an energetic mass of people who are fired up about fitness. And that’s awesome. Many of these passionate people will go on to coach others who don’t care about the Games at all. The Games are exciting and it’s great to be among people like us. And this is why we do summit and high level quarterly meetups like we did in Dallas last week, because you need to be with your tribe. Regionals are amazing for that. You don’t have to go to Madison, Wisconsin. If you don’t have to, you can go to someplace exotic. You can go to someplace nearby.

Chris (05:09):

You can watch the competition. You can just kind of be among the others, the rest of us. And that’s, what’s great about it. So the value of Regionals to you, aside from the spectator experience is really it can fire your coaches up to deliver the real mission, which is to change lives through health and fitness, not to produce more Games athletes. So one of the biggest benefits of Regionals is that you can take your coaches to them. And if you need to get your coaches inspired, fired up. This is one of the cheapest ways that you can do that. You can book a flight, you can book a couple of hotel stays. You can go to Regionals for maybe two or three days. You can take your coaches out for drinks. You can let them be among the others that will reinvigorate their passion and their sense for CrossFit.

Chris (05:54):

And if you can do that for the Games, even better, I have never had a bad experience going to the CrossFit Games. And two years ago, I took my entire staff down to Madison or a bunch of the coaches anyway, maybe some of the part-timers didn’t make it. I put them up in hotels. They watched the events and they were so excited that when they got back, that excitement showed and it overflowed in their classes and our clients got really excited and they showed up and the enthusiasm actually did trickle down into getting clients results, right? So coach energy, improved client adherence, client adherence, improved client results. And that’s basically how that works. So the cool thing about taking your staff to Regionals or the Games is that you can measurably affect client outcomes. Will that trickle down into creating more value for your business?

Chris (06:46):

Probably not, except it will help get your staff fired up and love their jobs more. Okay. Now let’s talk about the Games itself and its effect on you, your business, your staff, your clients. I just mentioned that taking your staff to the Games is a great way to improve staff retention and energy, but it doesn’t help your clients. And so here’s the thing. Preparing for competition does not actually get your clients closer to their goals. It makes them better at the method, just like taking a higher level yoga course makes them better at doing yoga, but doesn’t necessarily improve their health and fitness. If you look at data that talks about all cause mortality, right? Premature death, going from sedentary, sitting completely still 23 hours a day to basic fitness walking around the block one once a day, that reduces all cause mortality risk by 50%, right?

Chris (07:43):

Just walking around the block, going from basic fitness that walking around the block to a regular routine, three workouts a week, whether it’s Peloton speed walking or whatever, that will drop all cause mortality by another few percentage points maybe another 10%. But going from very fit, four hard workouts a week to elite, competing at fitness does not change all cause mortality at all, but it actually increases injury risk dramatically, both chronically, overuse injuries and acutely, you fall off the rings and tear your shoulder up right. Now. It might keep your clients excited and engaged in doing stuff they’d normally be scared to do, but that’s more a factor of competition itself than competing in the Open or Regionals or the CrossFit Games. In the beginning, like 2010, the only CrossFit events were CrossFit events, but now there are so many, we can’t count them all.

Chris (08:42):

And so while competition might actually help your clients once in a while, it won’t be the thing that saves them. Reaching elite levels of fitness will not increase their lifespan. It will not increase their health span. The risks for most people outweigh the rewards. So encouraging every client to compete is not going to help every client. Having the ability to compete might encourage about 10% of your clients to stick around. But you know, again, your model might not want you to really cater to competitive clients right. Now for most of us, that’s true, but there is a model of gym that will benefit directly from the Games. And this is the very tiny 1% exception. These are the gyms who are successful because they sell coaching to CrossFit athletes, or they use the success of their athletes to sell coaching to people who want to be elite.

Chris (09:41):

So maybe you’re specializing in like high ranking Games athletes, and you are coaching them one on one or doing training camps. And you’re charging more for that. And that is supplying your gym with cashflow. But most gyms actually screw up. What they do is the opposite. They, they say the better the athlete, the less they pay and the less coaching they receive. So the great athletes get their gym membership subsidized by trading for coaching time, or maybe the gym just lets the athlete follow random programming in the corner, right? The people who need that most help from coaching are actually getting the least because they’re elite. The other option. The other model for making money from being elite and competing at the Games is to sell competitive programming or remote coaching to those who are not in your gym. You get put on a stage, you’re on camera.

Chris (10:35):

You get a little bit of renown from that. And so that makes it a lot easier to sell remote coaching on the internet, right? You’re internet famous. Therefore you can sell an internet program. And this actually does subsidize a lot of gyms who wouldn’t be successful on their own. So gyms who are competitive in the CrossFit realm without selling remote coaching or elite level programming would not make enough money to survive because winning the Games does not mean that you’re winning at business. And that’s really, really important. It’s a message that CrossFit home office often confuses, right? They put people on camera because they’ve won the Games. And now they’re a business expert. It’s really important to know the difference, right? And this of course, doesn’t stop the owner of these gyms from giving business advice to people who need to be successful without selling Games programming and t-shirts and stuff.

Chris (11:27):

But that’s another story. The big lesson here that Greg Glassman learned about the Games is that it’s not the competition itself that matters. It’s the media around the competition that really makes a difference. The outcome isn’t as important as getting the word CrossFit into local shoe stores, you know, thanks Reebok and on television. Thanks ESPN. While it’s debatable whether that trickled down into new clients, it definitely helped CrossFit reach a broader audience than the Games site currently does. And so while the spectacle is interesting to people who are already in the church and it can increase the energy and passion of those who are all already CrossFit evangelists, it will probably not turn a stranger to the brand or somebody who’s turned off the brand or somebody who’s just mildly aware of CrossFit into a passionate CrossFitter. It will probably not inspire them to start without the media surrounding the event itself, right?

Chris (12:33):

It’s not how fast you can do the thrusters that counts, it’s who sees the thrusters happening that will actually affect affiliates. Now, this is where the focus needs to be is back on media. And that means telling stories between events. It means sharing the back stories of the athletes. It means talking about how everybody in every CrossFit gym in the world is doing these thrusters and these pull-ups. And that’s what’s making them fitter and healthier and happier, not climbing the mountain. You know, Greg Glassman’s best line about the Games and competition ever was that we can all be mountain climbers, even though we’re watching these people summit, the Games is great for inspiration for people who are already into CrossFit, just like the world series is great for people who are already playing baseball and the Olympics are great for people who are already doing those sports.

Chris (13:30):

It’s a source of inspiration. It does not necessarily translate into you more clients in your gym. So you can answer for yourself, you know, is this good? Is it bad? Is it sufficient to help affiliates grow? I’m gonna give you three strategies right now that will help if you want to use the Games in the CrossFit competitive season to help grow your gym. So first in the Open, you can use the CrossFit Open as a framework for an intramural Open. The intramural Open was published on the CrossFit Games site this year, originally misattributed, but the intramural Open actually came from my high school where intramurals were just like a fact of life. And I copied that model, which they’ve been using since 1972 to build the first intramural Open at Catalyst the first year, the Open came out and it caught fire. People used it.

Chris (14:20):

They started doing events and hyping up Friday night lights or whatever they wanted to call it, dividing people into teams and awarding points for participation spirit instead of the leaderboard, because for most people, the leaderboard doesn’t matter. So it’s very simple. Every year before the Open starts, we publish something called an intramural Open guide. It’s step by step. You follow that. You lay that over the intramural Open and you make sure that this competition that gets you excited actually helps grow your gym too. The second strategy is the qualifiers or Regionals. And the best thing that you can do here is use these events to fire up yourself and your staff to rekindle the passion that you have for high level or elite fitness. Now not every client in your gym has to want to be elite, but if you surround yourself by people who are extremely passionate, you know, the top echelon, the high priests of CrossFit that will reinvigorate you and give you energy for the next three to six months.

Chris (15:21):

So as far as Regionals go, I don’t think it’s important that your clients get excited about it, but they’re a great opportunity for you and your staff to go visit and kind of rekindle that passion a little bit. It’s also a nice holiday. And of course, somebody else does the work. When it comes to the Games, I think your biggest opportunity at the Games is to find networking opportunities. So look for other gym owners that, you know, have been successful and arrange to meet up with them, go and visit the vendors and talk about their business, find vendors who will definitely help your business. That’s not necessarily everybody in the affiliate partner network, but that’s another podcast. Ask each vendor, what is the ROI on this thing that you’re selling me? You know, use the events to get fired up. But more than that, it’s a great opportunity for you.

Chris (16:12):

To connect with other affiliate owners to go have brunch with them. We host a brunch every year at the Games, to meet up with them, like let’s get four or five of us together to go up into the affiliate area, to ask hard questions, to meet possible partners, to meet possible vendors and connect. So the biggest opportunity, the biggest way that the Games can help your affiliation is by being the place where people connect. It’s that nexus. It’s not really what’s happening in the events themselves, although that’s great for your energy. It’s not whether the events are going to drive more traffic into your gym. It’s the opportunity to connect. And that is often underrated. Especially after the last couple years. We all need to sit down with other box owners, say, what are you doing? What has worked for you? And give them back something in return. So the way that you make the Games season help your affiliate is first, the intramural Open. Second it’s staff retention and energy at the regional events and third it’s connection to other box owners to other partners, and to other providers at the Games. Hope that helps.

Andrew (17:18):

For more from Coop, be sure to subscribe to Two-Brain Radio. Now here’s Chris with the final message.

Chris (17:24):

Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio. If you aren’t in the Gym Owners United group on Facebook, this is my personal invitation to join. It’s the only public Facebook group that I participate in. And I’m there all the time with tips, tactics, and free resources. I’d love to network with you and help you grow your business. Join Gym Owners United on Facebook.


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