One Trump fundraiser was all it took to slash SoulCycle’s attendance

Last month, cancel culture came for SoulCycle.

The stationary bike exercise company’s liberal user base was outraged at news that one of SoulCycle’s major investors was hosting a reelection fundraiser for President Trump, whose misogynistic, racist and anti-gay policies and rhetoric seem to contradict SoulCycle’s purported socially conscious values. Devotees (including high-profile ones like Chrissy Teigen, Billy Eichner, and our own Kara Swisher) pledged to boycott SoulCycle and its parent company Equinox. Anecdotal evidence (including a trending hashtag on Twitter) suggested that SoulCycle customers — most of whom are located in large coastal cities — were staying away en masse.

One month later, we have data that shows the hullabaloo was more than just Twitter chatter.

In the weeks following the August 7 news about the fundraiser, boycott calls appear to have worked, according to new data from Earnest Research, a company that analyzed publicly available website data. During the week that ended on Sunday, August 11, which includes dates both before and after the news, SoulCycle attendance declined about 1 percent compared with the same week a year earlier. That’s been followed with consistent declines of 6 percent to 7.5 percent in subsequent weeks. The data only includes SoulCycle locations across the US that were open last year, in order to be able to make the comparison.

Additional data, which Earnest blogged about last month, shows an even larger decline from earlier in August 2019, though it says some of that is related to seasonal attendance trends.

Looking at the first quarter of 2019, attendance had been up about 1 percent compared to Q1 2018, according to Earnest.

SoulCycle declined to comment on the data or how the boycott has affected its sales. It has tried to distance itself from investor Stephen Ross’s Trump fundraiser, posting on its Instagram that “SoulCycle in no way endorses the political fundraising event being held later this week.” The company also said Ross was a “passive investor” who isn’t involved in SoulCycle management. The billionaire real estate developer owns a private investment firm that invests in a number of progressive-seeming brands like SoulCycle and Equinox. For this story we looked only at SoulCycle.

SoulCyclers pay per class or can buy multiple class passes, and are required to sign up online or through an app beforehand. Earnest says their online method has visibility into nearly all US attendance.

“We think we’re getting near-perfect clarity into the attendance of each individual class,” Earnest’s lead data scientist Ried Niziak told Recode.

Generally, boycotts aren’t that effective, but as the Washington Post pointed out, lifestyle brands like SoulCycle, which are built on marketing their values, are more susceptible to such actions.

But a political flap isn’t the only thing affecting SoulCycle’s business.

SoulCycle, which has halted plans to go public, faces intense competition from the soon-to-be-public Peloton, a business that focuses on selling bikes as well as streaming class subscriptions so customers can work out at home. Peloton is part of a new spate of companies that produce at-home exercise and streaming media machines that psychologists believe could be more successful at keeping users working out than regular gym memberships.

Recode reported in 2018 that Peloton, founded six years after SoulCycle, had pulled ahead as far as customers. Flywheel, another in-studio bike competitor, is closing a quarter of its locations as it struggles to compete with in-home companies like Peloton.

In an attempt to keep up, SoulCycle announced an at-home version of its classes last month — the same day the news of Ross’s Trump fundraiser broke. (The service won’t actually launch until this fall, so it shouldn’t have caused the decline in studio attendance.)

Peloton, which is expected to be valued at more than $8 billion, said in its public offering filings that the number of people with subscriptions more than doubled since last year and that their workouts per month have increased.

Peloton’s IPO could be an easier ride thanks to the boycott of its competition.