Around this time last year, the CrossFit world was in disarray. CrossFit Inc. had just announced a number of seismic changes: regionals were gone, country champions from around the world would be crowned and the company said it was trying to take the emphasis off the CrossFit Games, and onto promoting health and wellness around the world.
Zoom ahead one year and the moves seem to have paid off for the branded fitness regime. The new qualifying structure for the games handed out golden tickets to amateur CrossFit stars from across the planet, turning them into local celebrities and pumping their ‘boxes’, as CrossFit gyms are known, with added clout and marketing power.
A savvy, deft business move, yes, but one that appears to be rooted in a good cause, promoting healthy living in places where exercise and nutrition are still new and foreign to many locals. You can’t fault a company for worrying about its revenue streams and bottom lines, but when you tout things like sustainability and personal betterment, you better back it up – which they did.
The games didn’t suffer either. CrossFit went open source and offered live feeds for commentary, and then ran its own as well. Forgoing traditional media is a flat-out ballsy move after getting in bed with ESPN and CBS when it comes to broadcasting.
CrossFit will probably keep its viewership numbers close to its chest, which is a smart move à la Netflix, because as soon as you give the media statistics to chew on, any fluctuations are trotted out every quarter for excruciating analysis.
The oddest move when it comes to CrossFit seems to be the shuttering of its two biggest social media handles: Facebook and Instagram. It dumped the sites in May, calling Mark Zuckerberg and company “utopian socialists”.
The move undoubtedly hurt CrossFit’s social media reach as they are now relying on sites like Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn to pick up the slack. While it seemed like a knee-jerk reaction, the move was obviously rooted in the company’s ethics and core values, because well, they probably gave up a bunch of cash in doing so.
There’s no denying Facebook and Instagram are bread and butter sites for multiple CrossFit stars like Mat Fraser (1.8 million followers on Instagram alone), but Zuckerberg’s sites have taken serious PR hits over the past few months and now look more like villains than innocuous companies out simply to help people share their stories with the world.
If this is the worst thing to happen to CrossFit in 2019, the company came through its bottleneck relatively unscathed. It doesn’t hurt that both Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey defended their titles, while the legendary Rich Froning picked up gold with his Mayhem Freedom team. Big names winning draws attention to any sport looking to increase its exposure.
So, where does CrossFit go from here? You might want to look backwards before getting out the crystal ball. Google Trends also tells an interesting story about the sport when you look at it long term.
Searches for the term “CrossFit” appear to have hit a high watermark in 2013 and has been slowly, but steadily, dropping ever since.
This could mean two very different things: one, the sport is settling back into its foundation base of fans, followers and practitioners after an initial rush of attention. Or two, people are moving onto other fitness regimes, or, innocuously, just searching less for CrossFit because they already know about it.
A bellwether, maybe, but probably not. CrossFit began as a start-up some two decades ago in a garage (sound familiar?) and has endured the wrath of mainstream media and those who label the sport dangerous, injury inducing, and for fitness fanatics who pound protein bars and talk endlessly about their WODs (workouts of the day).
But boxes have created strongholds in communities from Seattle and London to Pakistan and Hong Kong, run by locals who pay CrossFit a branding fee and seem more than capable of keeping up with leasing fees for large spaces.
Having visited a number of these gyms and attending a few CrossFit events, these people are lifers when it comes to the sport and will keep CrossFit rooted in communities around the world for years to come.
CrossFit may never break through to the mainstream sporting world, but maybe this is a good thing. It has found a niche right below the surface, its athletes are famous but still approachable, and its followers have found a new church of fitness as the world undergoes what feels like a massive, collective lifestyle switch to a more sustainable mindset when it comes to the body, mind and environment.
This year, the sport orchestrated a pivotal 180 and came out intact. Branding adjustments and structural realignments can be the death kneel for many companies, even ones with established market holds.
CrossFit may not be climbing to the top of the hearts and minds of fitness fanatics, but it sure as heck doesn’t appear to be losing any footing on the mountain it has spent years traversing.