SGMA Fitness Fly IN becomes Fitness Fly OUT to lobby Congress

The Fly In for Fitness, a government advocacy and education event for the fitness industry put on last year by the SGMA, will for 2006 become what the association is calling a Fly OUT for Fitness. Instead of asking manufacturing and retail leaders to come to Washington, D.C., for an event at which attendees learn about Congressional bills important to their business and then lobby respective congress members in groups, the SGMA will organize smaller advocacy events in key states around the country to be held at member companies.
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The Fly In for Fitness, a government advocacy and education event for the fitness industry put on last year by the SGMA, will for 2006 become what the association is calling a Fly OUT for Fitness.

Instead of asking manufacturing and retail leaders to come to Washington, D.C., for an event at which attendees learn about Congressional bills important to their business and then lobby respective congress members in groups, the SGMA will organize smaller advocacy events in key states around the country to be held at member companies.

"We felt we could get a bigger bang for our buck hosting members of Congress in their home states at our members' fitness company facilities," said Bill Sells, SGMA director of government relations. "It brings it home more."

The lobbying event held in September 2005 was the first of its kind just for the fitness retail industry rather than combining needs and interests of sporting goods and health clubs with fitness retail.

Another factor in the decision was the election year, said Sells, since most of the Congress is gone much of the time campaigning except for a couple of days mid-week which are crammed with business. Coming to D.C. to lobby could have been fruitless since meeting with representatives and senators there would likely have been unsuccessful, especially during the hectic pre-election September time.

In keeping with playing the cards for generating the most bang, events held during the campaign season – targets will be August and October – could also prod legislators to attend since media attention could also be had.

"We felt it was a good way to give members public recognition and to give our campaigning representatives and senators a platform," Sells explained, "and if it helps them politically, it can help them view the SGMA and its members in a positive light."

Some key states the SGMA may target – because of important campaigns or legislators or because member companies are there – could include Colorado, Missouri, New York, Washington, Wisconsin and Utah. California will have an opportunity for Fly Out lobbying meetings at the SGMA's new Sports and Technology Convergence event in October in Southern California.

Hosting companies will have the chance to lobby for several bills important to the industry as well as a chance to talk to legislators about the company and give tours as wells host the regional media.

Fly OUT to Get PEPed, WHIPed and PHIT

Although the theme at the Fly Out in general will be the fat and unfit state of the country and how the industry can help, two specific issues planned for discussion with legislators include:

  1. PEP (Physical Education Program or the Carol M. White Physical Education Program) – This program provides grants to schools, community centers and other youth organizations to purchase fitness equipment and train instructors for innovative P.E. programs. A proposal has been introduced that could decrease funding to this program.
  2. WHIP (Workplace Health Improvement Program Act) – This bill would make employer contributions to an employee's health club membership tax-exempt.

A third issue that is new is the so-called PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) which was introduced recently by Congressman Jerry Weller, R-IL. This program would provide financial rebates or incentives to the public simply for participating in sports, exercise and fitness activities that contribute to physical fitness and better health. As Sells said, just last August it was "a glitter in my eye."

Much like a Health Savings Account (HAS), PHIT would change current federal tax law to allow for the use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to exercise, organized sports, and other physical activities. Americans could invest up to $1,000 annually to pay for these activities by placing money in existing pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA), or make medical reimbursement arrangements. With the definition of what is exercise up for grabs, SGMA is working with the American College of Sports Medicine and other experts to provide definitions. For example, any expense covered would have to be directly related to something that creates a cardiovascular benefit, for example, skis might be allowed while the hotel at a posh resort wouldn't and an elliptical could be included but the fancy apparel and TV would not.

"For example, you don't need the Kobe jersey to go out and play basketball," he said. "We are trying to develop stronger definitions."

The hurdle is the cost since the government loses taxes on the money, Sells said; however the benefit to the industry and the public is huge since it could lower corporate healthcare costs and help convince the public to pick up some desired gear.

"This effort is bigger than the SGMA," he said. "It's not just about us and our members selling their equipment."

For more details on PHIT, click here or email Sells at bsells@sgma.com. To read a September 2006 SNEWS® story about the inaugural Fly In for Fitness, click here.

SNEWS® View: As we said last year, we are glad there was a fitness-specific event to help the industry stand stronger together and were pleased with the results and attendance of the first Fly In. In the case of a Fly Out, we hope hosting companies can make sure events at their offices are not simply company-centric but can also provide industry-wide benefit. We also hope – although perhaps this is too much to ask for -- there is some way an event at Company A's offices could also in include directors from Company B or Company C that also are in the area. Power is in the numbers.

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