Fitness: Did you hear?…UK's Fitness First sells, plus Nautilus, Interbike, Everlast, Virgin Active, Tony the Tiger, Leisure Trends, Ab Force, and much more…

Fitness First snapped up by BC Partners for $1.5 billion, Everlast renews license with 'The Contender,' Tony the Tiger 'Gets in Step' with kids, ACE wins National Health Information Award, plus much more...
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For Sept. 20-Oct. 3

>> UNITED KINGDOM -- Europe's largest fitness club operator Fitness First was picked up by London's BC Partners for GBP 835 million (USD $1.5 billion). The purchase price reflects the chain's enterprise value and is more than double the GBP 404 million (USD $713 million) its parent Cinven Ltd. paid when it took the business private in June 2003. Cinven put Fitness First on the block in June and enlisted UBS Investment Bank to conduct the auction. At one point, an IPO was also considered. Blackstone Group LP, CVC Capital Partners Ltd., and a unit of Macquarie Bank Ltd. also reportedly made it through to the final round. Fitness First has 1.1 million members and 424 clubs in 15 countries. In 2003, it became one of the first listed health clubs in the United Kingdom to change hands when the sector began to feel the impact of a consumer slowdown. Since taking it private, Cinven restructured the business extensively, putting it on track to achieve GBP 95 million (USD $168 million) EBITDA in the year to October -- 85 percent higher than in the fiscal year ended October 2002, Cinven said. BC Partners said the company should generate sales of GBP 400 million (USD $706 million) this year. Deutsche Asset Management, which had refused to tender its 10.2 percent stake when Fitness First was taken private, contending that Cinven's offer was too low, confirmed that it will sell its shares to BC Partners. Reportedly, BC Partners and its advisers declined to comment on a newspaper report claiming the new owners plan to open 250 outlets, at the rate of about 50 clubs a year. But a BC spokesman said it intends to expand the chain internationally and extract more value from its existing outlets. BC Partners is raising debt from Mizuho Corporate Bank Ltd. David Giampaolo, CEO of Pi Capital and a GLP investor who originated and assisted in the transaction, will be an investor and also a non-executive director of Fitness First.

>> At the recent Interbike trade show, Nautilus launched its first-ever combined marketing program involving both fitness equipment and performance apparel at Interbike. It showcased not only its newly acquired Pearl Izumi brand to the specialty bike market, but also its latest home fitness equipment under the Schwinn Fitness, Bowflex, Trimline and Nautilus brands. Nautilus said it presently markets fitness equipment to 860 independent bicycle dealers, and apparel and footwear to 2,000 independent bicycle dealers. One dealer, Rich Mortl of Mortl's Sports Center in Michigan, said bike dealers like him are increasingly marketing fitness equipment in addition to cycling gear and apparel, and Nautilus is a major source for his fitness department. SNEWS® has reported on fitness equipment company's exhibiting at Interbike (see stories, Oct. 5, 2005, Fitness: Did You Hear?, and Oct. 9, 2003, "Fitness suppliers pick up the pace at Interbike show") and has seen an upswing in attendees even at the Health & Fitness Business show from combined bike and fitness stores.

>> Everlast Worldwide is continuing its merchandise, licensing and equity alliance and agreement with Contender Partners, formed by entertainment companies Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television, involving "The Contender," the boxing-based reality TV show. As part of the agreement, Everlast will be the series' exclusive supplier of boxing equipment, active wear, T-shirts and shoes. In addition, Everlast will once again utilize "The Contender" hangtag branding campaign for a line of Everlast sports apparel and shoes along with "The Contender" branded apparel, which may be sold through multiple sporting goods retailers and specialty retailers. "The Contender" will air on ESPN in April 2006

>> It's grrrrrr-eat!!!! Kellogg's Tony the Tiger helped launch the cereal maker's new Get in Step program with a walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame with kids from Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Kellogg said the program offers families a simple plan that can help improve their health, get them more active, and help them take control of their weight. Along the walk from Grauman's Chinese Theatre down Hollywood Boulevard along the Walk of Fame, Tony and the kids were joined by Toucan Sam, Snap! Crackle! Pop!, a Los Angeles fitness expert and the ceremonial "Mayor of Hollywood" Johnny Grant. Kellogg provided the walk's participants with pedometers so they could track their steps and Get in Step "Get Fit Kits" to get started on a new daily program. Kellogg's Get in Step is a 12-week plan that requires only two small adjustments to your daily routine: walking an extra 2,000 steps -- approximately one mile -- every day, and eating a bowl of cereal every day. To help families get started on the program, Kellogg created the Get in Step "Get Fit Kit," which includes a pedometer, a plan guide, nutrition and fitness tips and reward stickers. Kits can be ordered on the Get in Step website -- www.kelloggs.com/promotions/getinstep/kit.shtml.

>> UNITED KINGDOM -- U.K.'s The Times reported that Richard Branson is in talks to buy back the 55 percent stake in the Virgin Active health club chain sold by his Virgin Group to Bridgepoint, the private equity firm, three years ago. Branson has held informal discussions with Bridgepoint over the possibility of buying back the holding in a deal that could value Virgin Active at more than GBP 250 million (USD $441 million), including debt. Branson wants to step up the pace of expansion and believes that he is more likely to achieve that by retaking control, according to the article. He is believed to be targeting the Far East, including Japan, India and China. The Times also said there have been suggestions that Branson has been looking at spinning off the business in South Africa, which he entered five years ago when he paid almost GBP 30 million (USD $53 million) to buy the Health & Racquet Club chain from the liquidators of the ill-fated LeisureNet group. However, such a move has been ruled out for the time being, it added.

>> The U.S. Census Bureau's "Monthly Retail Trade Survey" reported preliminary sales in sporting goods stores of $2.74 billion for July, the most recent reporting month, up 4 percent from the $2.63 billion in July 2004. Despite the increase following on the heels of June's 5.6 percent increase, July growth was the slowest since March of this year. Year-to-date sales are $17.25 billion, up 6.4 percent from the same period last year.

>> The American Council on Exercise has been recognized as one of the nation's best consumer health information conduits and selected as a winner in the 12th annual National Health Information Awards. ACE received a Merit Award for Best Television Public Service Announcement for its "Active Kids" piece. Part of President Bush's Healthier U.S. Initiative, the PSA emphasized the need for parents to encourage their children to get active to live healthier, longer lives. The award was presented by the Health Information Resource Center, a national clearinghouse for consumer health information programs and materials, and winners selected by a panel of health information experts who judged entries based on content, format, success in reaching the targeted audience and overall quality. Four Square Integrated Media Solutions in San Diego, Calif., assisted ACE in the production and design of the PSA. To view the award winning PSA, click here.

>> New Balance has signed on to be the official footwear and apparel sponsor of the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women in Boston on Oct. 10. As a sponsor, it'll host an interactive tent on race-day, sell select footwear and apparel products on-site at the event and offer an exclusive gift-with-purchase program during the race number pick-up days at City Sports. New Balance will also outfit the Tufts HP 10K staff, have pre-race and race-day signage, and select award winners will receive New Balance products as prizes.  

>> The Leisure Trends Group reported in its most recent LeisureTrak report that participation in all types of fitness comprises 75 percent of the 2004 participationamong those 16 years or older who participate in sports, fitness and recreation activities. In 1997, only 62 percent of this group participated in fitness activities. The increase has been led by both outdoor and indoor fitness activities. Outdoor fitness activities have jumped from 44 percent to 55 percent among the participant base; indoor fitness activities, from 27 percent to 40 percent. Specifically, walking has risen to 32 percent of the 2004 participant base versus 23 percent in 1997; exercising, 19 percent versus 12 percent; bicycling, 12 percent versus 10 percent; jogging/running, 14 percent versus 9 percent; body building/weightlifting, 10 percent versus 7 percent; health/fitness club use, 9 percent versus 2 percent; and yoga, 3 percent versus less than 1 percent. Only aerobics and inline skating declined. In 2004, 55 percent of all Americans 16 years of age and older participated in some sport, fitness or recreational activity, a drop from the 62 percent who participated in 1997. However, the participation is well above its low point off 49 percent in 2000, Leisure Trends said. More information is available at www.leisuretrends.com.

>> IHRSA announced that the five keynote speakers for IHRSA25 have been confirmed.
They include: Jim Collins (Good To Great and Built To Last), Deepak Chopra (Ageless Body, Timeless Mind and The Complete Mind/Body Guide To Health), Ken Blanshard (Raving Fans), Steve Lundin (Fish!), and Steven Blair (The Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity).

>> The Federal Trade Commission decided unanimously to hold respondents Telebrands Corp., TV Savings and their principal Ajit Khubani liable for disseminating unsubstantiated and false advertising for the Ab Force, a belt-like device that uses electronic stimulation to cause involuntary contraction of the muscles of the abdominal wall. The respondents made more than $19 million from sales of the Ab Force, despite their admission that the product did not produce results. According to the FTC's opinion, "This is a case about firm abs and phony ads. It illustrates how false and unsubstantiated claims can be communicated indirectly but with utter clarity -- to the detriment of consumers and in violation of the laws this commission enforces." The commission ordered the respondents to cease and desist from making any of the false and unsubstantiated statements, bars them from making similar claims in promoting or marketing the Ab Force or any similar device in the future, and requires that any claims they do make for the Ab Force or any other related device be substantiated by competent and reliable evidence.

>> Are you a Geezer and a Jock? Whether you're 40 or 80-plus, GeezerJock magazine has got you covered. In its fall issue, GeezerJock, the first Masters sports and fitness magazine to cover competitive athletics for people 40-plus, will unveil the 30 finalists vying for the GeezerJock of the Year award, sponsored by Michelob Ultra. The award recognizes supreme achievement in Masters athletics -- organized athletics for men and women over 40 years of age in the United States and Canada. In addition to honoring the best overall Masters athlete, the GeezerJock of the Year award program will also recognize 10 age-group winners -- a male and female in each of five age categories: 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79 and 80-plus. Vote for the most deserving athletes at the GeezerJock website, www.geezerjock.com/, from Oct. 1-31. Voting is not limited to the 30 nominees -- write-in candidates are accepted. See? It's not too late to enter! Visitors can nominate themselves or someone they know. The winners will be announced in the December issue.

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