Fitness: Did you hear?…

CNN Effect on fitness retail? Brunswick: An American "Classic," Russell on acquisition hunt again? Brooks looking for pizzazz, Bally to Mexico, exercise walking leads activity pack -- again, retailer Decathlon expanding, Barron's story on Nautilus
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>> The CNN Effect strikes: Don't know what that is? Suppose it could also be called the Fox News Effect or the MSNBC Effect. It's where everybody is too glued to the tube to do anything, including shopping. According to one fitness retailer in the Northwest who chatted with SNEWS last week, business had still been pretty good -- until last week, then everything just dropped off to nothing. "It was fine until this week. I think everybody's stuck on the couch watching the war." Nevertheless, this retailer agreed it was too early to cast doubts over the spring and how it would fare for fitness.

>> Although without mention of Life Fitness, the April FSB (Fortune Small Business) magazine features "America's Classic Companies -- 10 you can learn from." Among the likes of UPS, Motorola and Heinz, up pops Brunswick, parent of Life. It's an interesting short tale of how the company founded in 1845 by John Brunswick owned and defined bowling and billiards, but how those two sports now only make up 12 percent of revenues (2002, $3.7 billion). www.fsb.com

>> Russell is rumored to be on the hunt for its fourth acquisition in nine months, looking to nab the non-golf assets of Spalding. It would be Russell's first venture outside of apparel. Its other acquisitions were Moving Comfort in August 2002, Jagged Edge in late December 2002, and Bike in January 2003. A Russell spokeswoman declined to comment on the rumor.

>> Most Americans don't know that simple changes in their lifestyles can help them prevent weight gain, according to a new national survey from the non-profit American Council for Fitness and Nutrition. Americans tend to overestimate what they need to do to lose weight, with women more likely to underestimate the power of cutting as little as 50 calories a day or doing a little extra exercise. Not only that, they think you have to do a lot of exercise for those 50 calories, with more than a third saying you'd have to walk for 30 minutes. And Americans also don't think they are as fat as they are: Almost half of Americans underestimate the percentage of adults who are classified as overweight. The survey polled 1,044 adult Americans. For more, go to www.acfn.org.

>> Brooks doesn't want to be an also-ran anymore -- a solid running shoe and apparel company but one without a lot of pizzazz and recognition. The company has hired the MWW Group (www.mww.com), one of the nation's top 20 public relations firms. MWW/Savitt will leverage its extensive public relations and brand-building experience to create greater consumer awareness and corporate visibility of Brooks Sports through targeted media outreach programs.

>> Bally Total Fitness (NYSE: BFT) announced the planned opening of the first Bally Total Fitness franchise in Mexico, located in the Monterrey area, in fall 2003. The company will launch additional facilities in Mexico City and other major cities in the future.

>> Publicly traded companies presenting at the Banc of America LLC annual 2003 Consumer Conference in New York April 1-3 were: Dick's Sporting Goods, Galyan's Trading Company and Gart Sports. For more information, www.bofasecurities.com

>> IHRSA, the non-profit association for health clubs, has added to its board of directors for terms beginning July 1 and running through 2007: John F. Brinson, president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Racquet & Fitness Centers; Michael Levy, president of Bally Total Fitness Canada; Ed McCall, general partner of Brentwood Associates, a private equity investment firm based in Los Angeles; and Debra Siena, regional vice president of Tennis Corp. of America (TCA).

>> Exercise walking still leads the pack of activities, according to recent 2002 participation reports by the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), placing it squarely in the No. 1 position for more than a decade. The data from a participation report that will be available later this month shows 82.2 million Americans walked for exercise, an increase of 5 percent. All surveyed fitness activities showed growth: Coming in fourth was exercising with equipment, up 14.4 percent to 50.2 million participants. The leader in percentage growth among fitness activities (and No. 3 overall in percent growth) is weightlifting, with an increase of 17.4 percent. Weightlifting attracted an all-time high of 28.1 million participants in 2002. Also showing a double-digit increase was aerobic exercising (10.4 percent) with 29 million participants. Running/jogging drew 24.7 million participants, a small increase of 0.9 percent. In 2002, 28.9 million people indicated they worked out at a club, a 9.2 percent increase over 2001. New to the survey this year was T'ai chi/yoga, which showed 7.1 million participants. More at www.nsga.org.

>> France-based full-line sporting goods chain Decathlon saw its sales increase in 2002 by 4.6 percent to Euro 2.8 billion (USD $ 2.99 billion). At the end of 2002, there were 319 Decathlon stores in 11 countries, with company plans to open another 22 this year, 15 of which will be outside of France. They will include one in Shanghai, the company said. It is the world's second largest chain, only filing in behind Foot Locker. Most of Decathlon's new stores last year were in Italy, with the United States having the second-highest number.

>> Americans are spending more on athletic footwear, according to a report by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). In 2002, spending was $15.693 billion -- up from $15.312 billion in 2001 (a 2.5 percent increase). This is the third straight year of sales growth for athletic footwear. Consumers purchased 428,623 million pairs of athletic footwear in 2002 -- up from 400,855 million in 2001 (a 6.9 percent increase). In 2002, the average price paid for a pair of athletic shoes was $36.61. However, the younger the consumer, the more they spent, with 13-17 year olds and the 18-24 year olds paying higher than average price points -- $47.73 and $50.74, respectively.

>> Barron's Online ran a story March 31 about The Nautilus Group called, "Gym Dandy: Thanks to a raft of new fitness products, Nautilus Group is all pumped up." According to author Christopher Williams (who spent a lot of time trying to "pump" information about the company out of others in the fitness industry last month), "Vancouver, Wash.-based, Nautilus could use a Bowflex or two to whip itself into shape. Slowing sales, a slump in earnings and concerns about management have turned the company's once-muscular stock into a 98-pound weakling. Nautilus's shares have plummeted 69 percent from their peak of 45.89 last May, and currently trade around 14.40. And skeptics still abound: Some nine million shares, or 30 percent of the company's 32.6 million shares outstanding, were sold short as of March 14 -- close to a three-year high. The short sellers think the company may be too dependent on Bowflex, and they are concerned about a looming patent expiration on the machine's rods." Unfortunately, only WSJ subscribers can read it, but if you are, click here.

>> Wacoal Sports Science Corp., makers of new CW-X Performance Conditioning Wear, has hired retail executive Karim Pine as its first promotions and marketing manager. Pine, 34, will help CW-X support key accounts and spearhead a series of grassroots and national sponsorships. Karim Pine is the former running/cycling buyer for Paragon Sports in New York and has spent a decade buying cycling, running and technical outerwear.

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