Issue No. 172: Rowing Wars

Illustration: Courtney Powell

As the fitness industry tries to find its footing, a few modalities and content formats, in particular, are gaining traction.

The Latest

Providing a full-body, game-based workout, connected rowing machine upstart Aviron raised $18.5M in new funding.

According to founder and CEO Andy Hoang, the company isn’t simply another connected equipment maker. Instead, Hoang said Aviron is a “gaming-first platform on a high-end hardware device.”

Aiming to end boring workouts, Aviron offers eight training options, including coach-led programs, multiplayer competition, and arcade-inspired games. Doubling down on entertainment, users can also stream Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu.

Scaling up, the company is touting strong year-over-year growth in 2021, with paid subscribers increasing 2700% as revenue rose 700%.

Rowing Wars

In the lead-up to Peloton’s 2019 public offering, competitors from SoulCycle and Flywheel to NordicTrack and Echelon ramped up their smartbike offering.

Then, as the Peloton of ‘X’ playbook took hold, every category, from strength training to boxing and Pilates, received a high-tech makeover.

Now, the old-school ergometer, or rower, has become a connected fitness battleground.

  • Hydrow. In 2020, sales jumped 500%. More recently, the company raised $55M in new funding. CEO Bruce Smith told Fitt Insider that Hydrow will go public “at the right time.”
  • Ergatta. Valued at $200M in a $30M funding round last year, CEO Tom Aulet told us sales of its game-based rower grew 4.5x YoY in 2021, with “tens of thousands” of subscribers.
  • CITYROW. With $12M in new funding, CEO Helaine Knapp said the company’s omnichannel concept saw at-home sales increase 375% last year while also selling 64 brick-and-mortar franchises.

Another omnichannel rowing contender, LIT Method is expanding its studio franchise and at-home sales after securing an investment from Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners. Elsewhere, Xponential Fitness-owned Row House grew to 90 locations and 300 licenses sold while also launching digital workout content.

Meanwhile, Peloton’s long-awaited entrance into rowing could come as soon as this spring. The forthcoming connected rower will feature a touchscreen tablet, magnetic resistance, and classes taught in-studio and on the water, according to FT.

Not to be overlooked, Concept2’s analog rower is widely considered to be the industry standard. Founded in 1976 by brothers Dick and Pete Dreissigacker, this bootstrapped, Vermont-based company is synonymous with indoor rowing.

Interestingly, as more companies packaged content and hardware into a subscription bundle, Concept2 has remained relatively unchanged. So much so, in fact, that when seeking more information on their business, we received a reply within minutes that simply said:

“Thanks for reaching out. Concept2 is a very private family-led company. We’re unable to share numbers.”

Zooming out, as competition intensifies, connected fitness brands have become more litigious. Entering the fray, Hydrow is suing iFIT over patents related to its NordicTrack rower.

Fitness x Gaming

Beyond the rise of rowing, the emphasis on game-based content promises to reshape the fitness landscape.

Exploring this topic in Issue No. 131, we wrote: “the future of fitness looks like a game.”

In addition to Aviron and Ergatta in the rowing space, the number of gaming-inspired options has continued to grow.

Signaling a shift, Peloton recently made its foray into gaming with the launch of Lanebreak.

Play on. To date, while the fitness industry focused on performance, aesthetics, and instructor-led classes, the vast majority of people opted out of exercise altogether. Now, the hope is that, by making fitness more fun, working out won’t hinge on willpower — we’ll actually want to break a sweat.

All-access. Appealing to newcomers is also proving valuable for rowing brands. According to a post-purchase survey from Hydrow, 98% of customers never owned a rower. Similarly, Ergatta’s Tom Aulet told us that the company counts many first-time rowers among its customer base, with one-third of members never rowing before purchasing their machine.

Punchline: More than fun and games, rowing provides a total-body workout, engaging 86% of the body’s muscles — compared with 44% for cycling. As consumers seek out more efficient forms of exercise, it’s no wonder why the rowing wars have taken center stage.

⚖️ Weight of the World

By 2025, half of all Americans will be considered obese. It’s a startling statistic that needs to be addressed now. Can digital health brands take the weight of the world on their shoulders?

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: Sarah Jones Simmer, CEO of Found, joined us to discuss its digital platform for personalized, long-term weight care.

We also cover: destigmatizing dieting and obesity, advancements in telehealth, and a holistic approach to modern weight loss.

Listen to today’s episode here.

🔄 Hard Reset

From record revenues to waning demand, connected fitness frontrunners are correcting course.

Need to know: Equipment maker iFIT Health & Fitness secured a $355M investment amid a company-wide restructuring, including layoffs and leadership shakeup.

Of note, iFIT’s valuation was trimmed to $3B in the new funding round, a 60% reduction from its previous $7B+ mark, per Bloomberg.

Behind the scenes. On the heels of job cuts made in December, iFIT announced a new round of layoffs last week.

The company declined our request for specifics on the number of people impacted. However, iFIT shared details on related developments:

  • Co-founder and chairman Scott Watterson is relinquishing the CEO role, handing the reins to newly appointed co-presidents Steve Barr (chief financial officer) and Mark Watterson (chief experience officer).
  • The company “amicably resolved” a $300M lawsuit with existing investor Pamplona Capital Management.

For context. Parent company of NordicTrack, ProForm, and Kayla Itsines-founded SWEAT, among other fitness brands, iFIT pulled the plug on a planned $650M IPO last year.

Since then, the company has reportedly burned capital as expenses rose and sales of its home fitness equipment declined.

On the bright side. With 7.3M subscribers across 120 countries, and revenue of more than $1.7B in fiscal 2021, the company said the restructuring will make it “stronger and leaner” going forward.

Zooming out: As we detailed in Issue No. 169, after two years of on-again, off-again gym closures and a workout-from-home boom, the fitness industry is recalibrating.

From Peloton and MIRROR to Beachbody and, now, iFIT, home fitness brands are battling reopening headwinds. While a gym resurgence and slowing sales are partly to blame, chasing growth at all costs is proving to be, well… quite costly.

As Peloton laid off 2,800 employees and enlisted a new CEO, founder John Foley said the company had been “undisciplined.” Similarly, iFIT said a “lack of focus” can result from high growth.

Now, both companies have their work cut out for them as they plot a new, more realistic path forward.

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🏓 On the Court

Life Time Fitness is all-in on pickleball. The health club operator said it’s committed to being “the largest indoor pickleball provider in North America.”

To date, Life Time offers pickleball at more than 120 of its locations and, over the next two years, will feature 400 dedicated courts nationwide.

​​Causing a racquet. A miniaturized tennis-like sport, pickleball caught on during the pandemic as everyone searched for outdoor exercise and social activities.

  • 4.8M Americans played pickleball in 2021, up from 3.46M in 2019.
  • Franklin Sports reported its pickleball equipment is its fastest-growing segment.
  • Last year, athleticwear maker Outdoor Voices partnered with Recess Pickleball to release gear targeted toward younger generations.

Playing it up. As the $1.1T market for recreational activities heats up, pickleball is poised to take off.

💪 In the Gym

Reporting Q4 and year-end earnings, Planet Fitness is on the upswing.

As of January, the HV/LP (high volume/low price) operator counted 15.6M members, topping pre-pandemic totals.

  • Q4 revenue grew 37.3% compared to Q4 2020, while same-store sales jumped 12.3%.
  • Total revenue from 2021 reached $587M, a 44.4% YoY increase.
  • It opened 132 new locations this year, making 2,254 total.

Between the lines: CEO Chris Rondeau said the fastest-growing demographic for new memberships has been teens. The gym chain’s $10/mo. plans are proving to be an affordable option for Gen Z fitness-seekers.

Looking ahead: Optimistic about the brick-and-mortar gym business, Rondeau added: “We believe there is long-term untapped opportunity for growth as the pandemic underscored the importance of overall fitness.

📰 News & Notes

  • CrossFit and Trifecta team up on meal delivery.
  • Strava activates 3D maps for paying subscribers.
  • Banana Republic launches high-end athletics line.
  • Fitt Jobs: see which health & fitness companies are hiring.
  • NOBULL inks apparel and footwear deal with the PGA Tour.
  • Kraft Heinz partners with NotCo to scale plant-based products.
  • Floyd Mayweather’s boutique boxing studio sells 200th franchise.

💰 Money Moves

  • iFit Health & Fitness, a health and fitness technology company, raised $355M in funding anchored by L Catterton.
  • Connected rowing startup Aviron secured $18.5M in a Series A round led by Stripes, with participation from Global Founders CapitalMark Mastrov, and others.
  • Telehealth company Ro acquired at-home sperm storage startup Dadi for $100M.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Future of Fertility Tech
  • The Healing Company, a portfolio company acquiring holistic consumer health brands, launched with $85M in funding.
  • Omada Health, a telehealth platform for chronic care, closed $192M in Series E funding, valuing the company north of $1B.
  • Youth sports and fitness startup Hiveclass secured $1.25M in a seed round led by Appia Ventures.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Kids Aren’t Alright
  • Gousto, a UK-based meal kit startup, raised $230M in a secondary placement led by SoftBank.
    More from Fitt Insider: What’s Next for Meal Kits?
  • Lab cultured seafood company Wildtype, added $100M in a Series B led by L Catterton, with participation from Leonardo DiCaprioBezos VenturesCargill, and more.
  • KnowFully Learning Group acquired American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA), a certification board for health and fitness professionals.
    More from Fitt Insider: Reimagining Fitness Certifications
  • Clean-label cultured foods brand Good Culture landed $64M in a Series C round led by Manna Tree, with participation from SEMCAP Food & Nutrition and actress Kristen Bell.
  • Rupa Health, a healthtech and diagnostics company focusing on root cause medicine, raised $20M in a Series A round led by Bessemer Ventures.
  • Employee mental well-being startup Paraclete secured $1.5M in a pre-seed round.
    More from Fitt Insider: Peak Burnout
  • Regeneratively farmed meat marketplace 99 Counties closed a $3.8M pre-seed round led by OMERS Ventures ahead of its September launch.
  • Fermented pineapple beverage maker De La Calle closed $7M in a funding round.
    More from Fitt Insider: Prebiotic Soda and More Functional Drinks
  • Better Dairy, a UK-based maker of animal-free cheeses, closed a $22M Series A round.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Downfall of Dairy
  • XRHealth, a company using AR and VR to bring healthcare to the metaverse, raised $10M in new funding.

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony and Joe Vennare, Ryan Deer, Melody Song, and Wesley Yen.

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