Q&A: Adam Sedlack Warns About Prolonged Shutdowns in California
Although a large percentage of states in the U.S. have allowed for gyms to reopen indoor operations, at least in some capacity, states like California are still enforcing strict shutdowns.
Here, Adam Sedlack, the president of UFC GYM, shares his thoughts on what prolonged shutdowns in California could mean for the fitness industry in the state, the important role gyms play in the health of local communities, and more.
CS: What are your thoughts on the state of the fitness industry in California in regards to the continued shutdowns?
AS: I think I can speak for everyone in the fitness industry when I say we are committed to providing a safe and clean environment. Nobody wants to see people get sick or have additional complications driven by underlying conditions. The industry is also very aware of our ability to help most of the population by providing a proposition that helps your body and mind get through these uncharted waters. If you compare California to any other state or country, they have changed their plans so often and taken such a conservative approach that it’s hard to see how any indoor business — let alone a fitness club — can re-open with their current structure. I tend to believe California is weaving in a more political approach to the pandemic. There are ways to respect science, health and business. In my opinion, California is doing a poor job intersecting these fundamental points. California, which once was a leader in the health and wellness movement, is no longer that. This makes me both frustrated and sad, as I truly think we can help get people through a unique time in history.
CS: If prolonged shutdowns happen in California, what could be the consequences?
AS: If our current shutdown lasts upwards of one year, which it could, then I’d say between 30 to 50% of all fitness companies in California are in an at-risk category. California’s new health director, Dr. Erica Pan, appears as though she does not support gyms and potentially may be a person that will want to keep everything in our industry shut down. For the fitness companies that fall in the high-risk category of closure, their best chance of survival in California may be through the courts, as it is obvious we have a very difficult path with Dr. Pan’s perceived recommendations toward the industry — which in my opinion, could be baseless and unfounded.
A large part of the country and world has navigated this pandemic fairly well when it comes to gyms and overall fitness. California has an opportunity. Now that we have a mature pandemic there is scientific information that has allowed this industry to operate safely and improve one’s ability to stay healthy and maintain a strong immune system. I get very concerned about what will happen with heart disease, diabetes, obesity and mental health as it relates to the average citizen being in position to take preventative measures to stay healthy. When you combine this with the fact our economy and industry is in a place of uncertainty, there is a big cause for concern. I can only hope that our government will look at the science and health benefits of exercise and allow fitness facilities to provide that service.
On the economic side, many fitness organizations have done their best to hang on, but several are in jeopardy of filing Chapter 11, as we have seen with 24 Hour Fitness and Gold’s Gym. In most all leases there is force majeure language. This language does not typically cover a pandemic. UFC GYM’s — among others — argument is that a pandemic is not shutting our facilities down, it is the government. Since we are willing and able to operate safely and members are willing to use the facility, the disruption is 100% the failure of the government to act with rational, proper investigation and science-based decision making. Now we are seeing many unemployed, facilities in the industry shutting down, landlords put in a difficult position, and no outlet for a physical and mental reset. Gyms, studios and all associated team members and vendors are being treated unfairly and are essentially left without a voice. I fear great losses for many in our industry. I am thankful to be on steady ground with UFC GYM, but have empathy for those who may not have that same financial foundation.
CS: What role do you feel health clubs play in the wellness of communities? Should the reopening of gyms be prioritized?
AS: Let’s look at society today. There is a rise of overdoses, illnesses and a diminished mental state of people here in California. Hospitals are now reporting increased cases of suicide attempts and overdoses. Most media and our local government choose not to discuss this, which I find odd. Grocery stores, drug stores, medical institutions and compliant fitness centers should be on a priority list of businesses that are allowed to open, in my view. As I have said, we are part of the solution. Gyms improve mental health, and reduce obesity, hypertension and other types of depression and anxiety. In my opinion, fitness facilities have the obligation to drive wellness in the trade area in which they operate. Hospitalizations have been directly linked to the conditions I just spoke of. If a person contracts COVID-19 and they have an underlying condition, they are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times likelier to die. Yes, gyms play a big role in helping offset and prevent underlying conditions.
CS: Why do you think certain policymakers have pegged gyms as high-risk? How can gyms overcome misconceptions about the industry at large?
AS: I think it is largely perception based. The difference in our industry versus others is people are on the move while in the gym and we clean often and have since Day 1. Our customers are not sitting for hours like at a restaurant — they are moving just like at a grocery store or a pharmacy. Perhaps the governmental decision makers have never belonged to a gym. It feels as though policy decisions are being made in a bubble versus partnering with the industry around the facts. In California, our group of clubs had 760,000 workouts with very few reported cases of COVID, with no documented spread. However, policymakers don’t appear to be taking this fact into consideration. Unfortunately, that lack of balance to help businesses survive and get people back to their lives will cause many industries to suffer and one’s health to potentially get worse. Our industry will need help to get in front and better communicate with the policymakers in this state, as it seems the 43 that are open have been able to figure it out and many states are doing well. We were open for four weeks with no issues at all. I am not sure the key political decision makers looked at that data.
CS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the current state of the fitness industry in California?
AS: I would ask for a little trust. I do not know one fitness operator who is looking to cause COVID-19 infections in their facilities. When allowed to temporarily reopen in California in June and July, I believe most all operators took on that responsibility and showed proper performance and execution. If wearing a mask is 95% effective in controlling the spread of COVID and we are socially distancing our facilities with people who have a goal of health, how much risk is there? I would like the government to become consistent and trust the people who put them in office that gyms can be run safely. Give the everyday person a chance to improve their fitness and mental health. Just as the industry has respected the government’s choices, let’s have our government trust the industry. The fact is gyms are operating worldwide with very few COVID incidents. The proof is gyms are doing well. California is falling behind. I also wanted to thank my team and this industry for banning together during a time when we are being challenged the most. We provide a lot of good for a lot of people.