As Urban Sports Club secures 8-digit funding and plans to take over Europe, the time is finally ripe when people start to realize the failed promise behind the platform. It took some time to try it out, to see how it works, and to feel its negative effects outweighing the self-proclaimed positive ones.

While the investors, “monitoring [the wellness market] closely for many months”, are claiming that Urban Sports Club is offering people what they supposedly want: flexibility & willingness to experience and discover, we, the wellness service providers, studios, and gyms, who have made this platform possible in the first place, are there to pay the price. In the end of the article, we will look at how the final consumer is disadvantaged as well.

When you’re a partner

According to Urban Sports Club, your benefits as a partner are: 

Let’s go over each one in detail.

1. Extra Revenue:

I have yet to meet a partner who told me that their partnership with Urban Sports Club has brought in extra income. In reality, what is happening is exactly the opposite. I constantly speak to studio owners who tell me there are loosing their revenues, struggling to pay their monthly bills, and freelance service providers are not able to keep the “visiting” Urban Sports Club members nor convert them.

According to the platform, “Urban Sports Club generates more visits and thus more revenue. Every visit is paid. Our members purchase equipment, supplies or extra services from you at the venue.”

Urban Sports Club is a membership service that allows its members to visit local gyms, studios, and freelance service providers a certain number of times.  Here’re the packages:

“*Memberships can be used in all cities. There are different visit limitations for each membership. At partner venues, you can check-in either daily, 4x or 8x per calendar month. Multiple check-ins per day at one venue are not allowed. You can find all the details on the partner profiles in the above map view.” -> is inscribed in the hard to see fine print underneath the graphic.

Let’s go for the 59€ M Membership that usually allows you to visit one given studio/gym 4x or 8x times a month, with no “multiple check-ins per day at one venue allowed”.

That means, Mister X goes to Studio Y 4x or 8x a month using the M Membership. Does that sound at all as “Urban Sports Club generates more visits and thus more revenue.”?

What is sounds like is that once Mister X reaches his limit at the studio Y, he is going to switch to studio Z, and do so infinitely until the end of the month, to start a new cycle all over again.

Why would a person paying for a membership at Urban Sports Club ever want to join a local gym or studio as their own member? An average person thinks this way: “I’ve already paid for my fitness needs this month” and has no motivation to visit any given studio or freelance practitioner on top of the Urban Sports Club membership. There is absolutely no reason for them to do so except for two elements that are considered the “social glue” – a personal relationship with a trainer and a sense of belonging to a community. Does the Urban Sports Club membership model encourage a development of a relationship over time with a trainer or other members of the club? Obviously not!

Let’s move to the “Every visit is paid” part. Urban Sports Club members on an average pay 20-60% (depending on the contract and the partner) less than the price of a drop-in class. Urban Sports Club members are not encouraged to become members to a specific studio or gym as we have established above, and thus do not transform into paid customers over time.

The claim “Our members purchase equipment, supplies or extra services from you at the venue.” is yet to be proved by asking the studios and gyms directly, but from what is out there – it seems that Urban Sports Club members are not exactly your “add on services” subscribers, because:

  • they do not have to and not allowed to commit to any one studio and therefore do not need to have certain equipment or supplies. If they don’t have something, most likely they will not buy it – they will just go somewhere else where they can make use of the equipment or supplies free of charge
  • on top of it, the original Urban Sports Club users (the kind of folks that look for the cheapest solution) and the culture that the platform promotes (move on to the next choice if you encounter a set-back) are simply not the clientele and the circumstances for “upgrades”
  • Meanwhile the “good customers”, aka studio’s/gyms own members see that everyone seems to be using Urban Sports Club these days and are righteously asking themselves a question: why should I pay more for being in this studio if the other people next to me pay less or even half the price?

So what happens is that it is not the studios and gyms who get “new customers”, but Urban Sports Club that gets new members. From the studio and gyms that are their “partners”.

2. More Awareness and 3. Free Marketing:

“Through our marketing and sales efforts you will be known to our members, media and corporates!” Runs the promise on the official web page.

Does awareness of the amount and the specifics of different partners involved on the platform and the sales efforts on the part of Urban Sports Club to acquire new members translate automatically into sales for the partners themselves? Of course not!

Here’s a question to ask: does Urban Sports Club care for the well-being of the individual partners (or even customers) or does it care to acquire as many possible partners to be able to use them as a bait to acquire new members (new customers)? According to its business model, the answer is obvious. Urban Sports Clubs cares for itself, not for you!

Urban Sports Club is a platform that thrives on offering diversity, flexibility, and discovery (going back to the intro), which means: the more options are offered, the higher the selling point to acquire customers who are the members, not the partners.

So, it was never the case that Urban Sports Club cared for the positive effects of the promotion on the financial lives of their partners and it is definitely not the case now with the amount of partners Urban Sports Club has managed to lure up-to-date. The studios and gyms are slowly beginning to realize the dirty trick played on them and have developed a love-hate relationship with the platform, discussing among themselves how they can back away from the contract with the devil and boycott it altogether. 

“We spread the word about your offer – and help you reach new target groups.”

This claim is not a full story. Every partner on the platform is thrown the same promise and yet in the end, all of the partners are competing head-to-head with one another, loosing their members in the process to the membership option of the platform itself! 

On top of that, the partners have to deal with upset service providers who are not happy about small wages (due to higher rents the studios need to pay and lower income from Urban Sports Club members they receive, loosing their own members to the platform), bad working conditions (over-crowded classes or dealing with specific Urban Sports Club member expectations), and loss of integrity and values (lowering the standards of practice, ethics, and authentic brand positioning).

4. Regular and Transparent Payments:

“All visits by our members are paid monthly. The compensation is bound to the offered services of our partners.”

How transparent are the payments to the studios, gyms, and freelancers exactly? Are they listed on the platform? Are they a “public domain”? Each contract offered is negotiated individually and as a business (backed up by 8 figures to remind you), Urban Sports Club’s sole interest is to maximise its profits, not the profits of its partners. Also, with the power given to the platform by all the partners themselves collectively, Urban Sports Club’s negotiating power in the case of any individual partner has risen disproportionately.

Just to give you an impression of how that works without putting anyone else in the spotlight, let me share with you the conditions of what I was offered as a possible partnership via the Berlin Yoga Conference:

As an Urban Sports Club “partner”, I was to provide them with a small booth at the event with free tickets to all of their team members who were to be involved (estimated value of €2355: €595 for the stand plus 4 x 3-Day Passes at €440 each), in exchange for our smaller events, called the Pop Ups (Ticket value of €69) to be advertised on their platform (primarily via their Newsletter with a discount to the tickets for their members) and an Urban Sports Club L Membership for me as the founder. And you know what, I never regretted for a moment not taking that deal!

When you’re the consumer/member

The big investors supporting Urban Sports Club seem to be quite savvy when it comes to looking into the hearts of individuals who seek out fitness and yoga services these days. According to their wisdom, flexibility & willingness to experience and discover is the primary driving force behind the popularity of a platform such as Urban Sports Club. But is it really?

Speaking to the people and just using common sense, what brought the first users of the platform initially is simply a more affordable deal: the platform started out by appealing to the kind of customer who either because of their financial situation or a personal belief, was more looking for a kind of “groupon” experience for fitness/yoga solutions. That was in the beginning.

What happened in the process is that as Urban Sports Club spread itself across a variety of partners (service-providers) and cities (aided by the venture capital investments), many of the customers and members at local studios and gyms “smartened” up and switched to a cheaper option, aka Urban Sports Club, out of a sense of “why should I pay more if the person next to me pays less” and “I guess I could discover some other studios in the process”.

For sure, there are many consumers out there who have benefited from the cheaper option and the ability to “discover” other offers in order to supposedly find the one that is the most fitting, but in the process, here’s what the consumers have been loosing as a result:

1. A loss of an opportunity to make true progress health-wise (spiritually, in case of yoga) and in their lives

If the consumer really wants to grow in their skill, understanding, and successful integration of a health routine into their lives, what they need is not is the cheapest option, diversity, and the thrill of new discovery, on the contrary – they need to stick to one thing over time before they are ready to move on to the next level. Have you heard about the 10,ooo hours rule? Or, ask any psychologist, coach, fitness trainer or yoga teacher and they will confirm this: a disciplined routine with a trusted guide over time is the necessary condition for goal setting and reaching, personal growth, mental balance, healthy living and overall self/life-satisfaction.

2. A loss of being able to connect to others and forming meaningful relationships

When the consumer constantly hops between studios and activities, not only do they fail to build meaningful relationships with their trainers and others in the class, but they actually condition their mind to go into the default mentality of “you’re replaceable” mode. Without allocating emotional value and committing to others, the consumer runs the danger of taking this attitude into their lives outside of their gyms: into their jobs, relationships, partnerships, because behavioural patterns are not easily separated into different categories: here I’m a Urban Sports Club member, and there I’m a committed partner and an engaged citizen. Behaviour patterns in one area of life seep into other areas of life because of the mental shift that they produce on the overall personal outlook and change of values.

3. A loss of inner clarity and being overwhelmed with choice

Studies after studies have shown that when the consumers are faced with too much choice they either freeze (feel overwhelmed and confused, not being able to decide for their benefit), flee (do not purchase), or fight (become suspicious and angry with the choice providers). When you’re over-exposed to something, proportionally to the amount of information provided, you loose your own sense of what it is that you really think, need, or believe in, which can translate into losing your sense of inner guidance and personal agency (being able to act on what is right and needs to be done).

Conclusion?

From my personality type I’m not a hater: I’m simply an individual who observes what it happening in and around me, contemplates and reflects on it, and mirrors it back to the world for feedback from the community. Because things have to change. This is not sustainable. I chose a different future for myself, my family, my friends and colleagues, my customers, my business partners, the local and international yoga/wellness communities, and the global society at large.

As it is now, I feel that Urban Sports Club is not working out for us: as studio/gym or freelance partners, as consumers, and as citizens. And I’m not alone!

I say enough with this kind of abuse and fake promises of a better world. I just want to be able to do what I love, qualified and am good at, offering a great service to my community that heals them, empowers them, and teaches them the meaning of a healthy, happy, and fulfilling existence. I want to be respected and appreciated, to live and retire without fears for my kid’s future or my old age, be fairly paid for my work and be able to recuperate the investments of time and money that I continuously put into my self-studies, never-ending learning, and research. The way things are right now in the industry because of companies like Urban Sports Club, I’m disadvantaged at doing this on all fronts. And many other people see it the same way. So let us unite and brainstorm what we can do, because together we’re stronger and nobody else will look out for us. We need to support each other now more than ever!

Editing note:

I have removed the word “parasite” from the article for the following reason: it turns out in Germany it is not a mere biological term referring to “an organism that lives in or on an organism of another species (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense”, but a term used to talk about Jews during the nazi times. Being married to an Israeli and having no nationalistic tendencies, I would like to make it clear that I was not aware of this connection and would like to apologize in advance if it has offended anyone or made painful memories come to the surface.

Another note:

After publishing this article, a few individuals commented on the associated posts claiming that their overall personal experiences with Urban Sports Club as partners have been positive. They are really outnumbered, and I do not have a direct contact to these people, I do not know the overall circumstances behind their business and personal lives, but I do not doubt the validity of their claims. Yet, I also do not know if their success is the result of being on the platform or coming from other personal circumstances such as their networks, skills in business, marketing, and community building, or alternatively, from other factors such as having an established community standing/brand, geographical position or bigger studio space that can hold more people, having in-studio shopping facilities that benefit from one-time visitors, perhaps having more engaged, popular and better paid trainers, as well as a myriad of other possible hidden variables. Finally, just because some people seem to benefit form something over the short-run, doesn’t mean that the situation is beneficial for everyone else, and in the long-run.