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Recap: Formation & Functions of State Alliances


On September 16, IHRSA, REX Roundtables and Club Solutions Magazine presented the 24th installment of a weekly virtual roundtable series aimed at helping clubs navigate through the COVID-19 crisis.

Panelists included Pam O’Donnell, the vice president of member experience and development of IHRSA; Maria Morton, the brand optimization manager of Club Automation | CSI Spectrum | TennisSource | Motionsoft; Edward Eickhoff, the COO of PFMG Development, LLC; Kevin McHugh, the COO of The Atlantic Club, Inc.; Jeffrey Perkins, the assistant vice president of government relations at IHRSA; Bill McBride, the co-founder, president and CEO of Active Wellness; and Blair McHaney, the CEO of MXM and owner of WORX health clubs. The discussion was led and moderated by Brent Darden, the interim president and CEO of IHRSA, and chair of REX Roundtables.

The following is a summary of top takeaways from the discussion, centered on the benefits of a state fitness alliance and how to successfully operate one:


  • State alliances can be very effective in engaging with policymakers and affecting what phases clubs are allowed to open in various states and regions.
  • After having multiple meetings cancelled or cut short with the New Jersey governor’s office, Kevin McHugh and other club owners in the state persevered and finally got an advocate at the state level to help organize meetings in which they could help shape the guidelines and timeline for reopening.
  • In Michigan, the governor was resistant to listening to the opinions of any health clubs. Edward Eickhoff partnered with others to create an alliance, in which they hired a lawyer, set up a dues structure, got members and were able to have productive conversations about lifting certain restrictions in the state.
  • Blair McHaney and his partners in his state’s fitness alliance moved quickly — they set up a 501(c)(6) and a board of directors with nine people. After months of advocacy, the state of Washington has adjusted its restrictions on when health clubs can open.
  • Being assertive can put your fitness alliance in a position to be respected and have a seat at the table.
  • Much of the problem is bureaucrats not understanding the positive impact of the fitness industry — to help reshape their views, clubs need to hold themselves to a higher standard in reopening procedures.
  • The fitness industry could benefit from having an overarching group — a singular voice — that is advocating on behalf of health clubs at a national level. This is similar to how YMCAs, for example, have their parent organization: the YMCA of the USA.
  • While lobbying may be effective in some states, it may be less so in other states.
  • Coordination is key — alliances and lobbyists need to be conveying the same message when advocating with policymakers.
  • A state fitness alliance can be critical to changing the narrative of health clubs as essential businesses.
  • It’s important to understand it’s a long process getting anything changed in policies at a state or national level. This is a new experience for the government too.
  • Set up the administrative side — organizing information or setting up meetings — in your alliance properly to help ensure it can outlast this pandemic.
  • Don’t worry about perfection when starting an alliance. Just get it started, lean on industry peers and make it work as you go.
  • The combined knowledge of the members of each state alliance will continue to benefit the industry and club members after the pandemic.
  • The time for being segmented has long passed — if COVID-19 did one good thing, it brought the industry together collectively.
  • IHRSA has created a resource, “How to Run a Fitness Alliance in Your State,” to help club operators run a current alliance or start a new one. The aim is to have helpful information all in one place for club operators to easily access. You can contact Pam at pod@ihrsa.org with any questions.
  • Tips for beginning and running a state fitness alliance:
    • Have a diverse board, with at least one person who keeps everything focused.
    • You need a funding source — at some point, it’ll cost money to run the alliance.
    • Lobbyists are helpful.
    • Use phone calls, emails and social media to get members for your alliance.
    • Be positively relentless — you’ll have to hear “no” nine times before you hear “yes” once from the government.
    • In conversations with policymakers, focus on how you can make positive changes in the community.
    • Time is of the essence — get your board together and your website up quickly, then work to grow the alliance and figure out how you’re going to monetize it.
    • Be inclusive — involve smaller clubs in your market from the beginning.
    • Be humble — every club is in this together and needs to work together.

To access the on-demand version of this webinar, click here.

To access the audio-only version of this webinar, click here.

UPCOMING: Don’t miss the 25th installment of our virtual roundtable series, “Successful Strategies for Shaping Your Future: Opportunities & Challenges in Corporate Fitness,” on Wednesday, September 23 at 2 p.m. EST. Limited seats are available. Click here to reserve your spot.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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