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State Fitness Alliance: Together We Stand

state fitness alliance

Scott Gillespie, the owner and president of Saco Sport & Fitness, shares the benefits of forming a state fitness alliance and keys to success.

Since 2020, 18 fitness alliances have popped up across the U.S. Their goals? To give the fitness industry a larger voice at the local and state level, and ultimately increase awareness of the industry’s importance among federal officials.

Scott Gillespie, the owner and president of Saco Sport & Fitness in Saco, Maine, recognized the need for a state fitness alliance when his gym was shut down in the early weeks of the pandemic. Soon afterwards he formed the Maine Fitness Coalition, hired a lobbyist and went to work getting gyms reopened in his state.

In this Q&A, Gillespie, in his own words, discusses the main benefits of forming a state fitness alliance, keys to success and more.

What are the benefits to forming a state fitness alliance?

A single club owner has a very weak voice when dealing with state policymakers and legislators. A group of clubs representing the entire industry in a state carries much more weight. In Maine we were “indefinitely closed” and many individual club owners reached out to the state to no avail. When we formed the 40-club Maine Fitness Coalition and hired a lobbyist, we were open in two weeks.

There is power in numbers. Our industry serves 25% of a given population in a year. That’s a lot of voters. In most states we employ tens of thousands of employees and pay millions of dollars in payroll taxes. To motivate a legislator or policymaker to act on your behalf, the more voters and dollars you represent, the more powerful your voice. Clubs can also leverage the power of our members’ voices to lobby on our industry’s behalf.

If a gym doesn’t have one in their state, what are the steps to get started?

Get on the phone, call all the club owners you can find, and invite them to join a state alliance of health club owners to lobby on the industry’s behalf.

What are keys or strategies to having a successful state fitness alliance?

  • A clear agenda of what the alliance is working to achieve.
  • A clear understanding of the financial structure.
  • Sub committees or individuals willing to do the work.

What is the importance of hiring a lobbyist, and how do you go about doing so?

Each alliance is different. In some cases, they are necessary to navigate the very complex world of political moving pieces and people. And in some states, because of their members’ connections or awareness of the state’s political structure and players, they don’t need a lobbyist. The key is being able to get to the right people with the right message. We found our lobbyist invaluable, and would not have been successful without them.

What have been the biggest learning lessons for you in the formation of your state fitness alliance?

  • Most club owners want to help and speak up, they just don’t know how.
  • Each state is different, and it’s imperative to know the political priorities, powers and processes in that state. If you don’t have someone in your alliance who is intimately familiar with these, you must hire a lobbyist to fill that hole.
  • IHRSA is an incredible resource for state alliances.
  • You don’t necessarily need a legal structure with by-laws and a bank account. In Maine for example, we were an informal group with a name, and as the founder I acted as chair. 

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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