SoulCycle and Equinox knew they were going to have a big week—but not for the reasons that ended up landing their names in headlines.
On Wednesday, the boutique cycling studio famous for its pricey classes, mood lighting and over-motivational instructors, and luxury gym Equinox announced they’d be joining forces on an on-demand fitness streaming service. Similar to the Peloton concept, users can stream classes in the comfort of their home from SoulCycle, Equinox and Precision Run, and would come with the equipment the brands are known for—SoulCycle’s stationary bike and Equinox’s Woodway treadmill—with the addition of a screen.
It was an expected move as Peloton, which debuted in 2012, has grown in popularity within in the fitness world. According to purchase-analysis firm Second Measure, Peloton actually surpassed SoulCycle’s customer numbers by 4% in 2018.
All three of the brands behind the new service are owned by Related Companies, a New York-based real estate firm headed up by chairman and majority owner Stephen Ross. And it is that connection to Ross where things get complicated: Also on Wednesday, news surfaced that Ross would be hosting a campaign fundraiser in the Hamptons for President Donald Trump. A ticket to attend the fundraiser lunch started at $100,000 and went up to a whopping $250,000, which included an intimate roundtable talk with Trump.
The backlash to the news of Ross’s fundraiser was immediate, with loyal SoulCycle riders and Equinox members sharing tweets threatening to stop visiting their studios and cancel memberships. SoulCycle has locations across the country as well as studios in Toronto, Vancouver and London, but most of them are located in its home city of New York and Los Angeles—definitely not Trump country.
During Pride Month in 2018, SoulCycle ran a rainbow-themed ad campaign called “All Souls Welcome,” encouraging inclusion of LBTQ+ members. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has been hostile to the same community, banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. armed forces and expanding exclusions on religious grounds—which tend to hurt LGBTQ+ individuals—for health care providers and government contractors.
For their part, SoulCycle and Equinox put out (very similar) statements that the brands “in no way endorse the political fundraising event being held later this week.”
However, the statements didn’t do much to alleviate the anger being expressed on social media. Some even claimed the statements were misleading, with one user writing: “Your boss is NOT a passive investor. But nice spin. You deserve the boycott just for lying to us about his status.”
By the end of the day, it was SoulCycle and Equinox’s association with Ross, not their new innovation in at-home fitness streaming, that had people talking.