Justin LoFranco: The Mind Behind Morning Chalk Up (Podcast)

Justin LoFranco is the founder and CEO of Morning Chalk Up, a daily newsletter and media company dedicated to all things CrossFit. He joins the BarBend Podcast to talk about his roots on Capitol Hill and schisms within the CrossFit community. He also shares reactions from his friends and family when he decided to leave behind a promising career in politics to focus on such a niche sport. 

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao talks to Justin LoFranco about:

  • What is a “niche” media company? (2:50)
  • Getting inspiration for Morning Chalk Up from work on Capitol Hill (4:00)
  • When Justin realized he was done with politics (6:20)
  • Lessons from politics in DC to running a curated content company (10:43)
  • Business obstacles that Morning Chalk Up (and others!) face, and how that relates to imposter syndrome (14:30)
  • How Justin originally found CrossFit and started the workouts in a House of Representatives gym (17:00)
  • Finding community in CrossFit (19:40)
  • The fittest people on Capitol Hill? (22:10)
  • “CrossFitters are super vocal” (24:40)
  • Schisms within the CrossFit community (27:30)
  • Attrition for CrossFit boxes coming out of COVID-19 (30:20)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Some of my other friends who are more business-savvy, they were like “Hey man, this is kind of a wild bet. You got to believe it if you’re going to go into it,” especially if you’re going to go into to win. CrossFit at the time had dominated the media marketplace. They were basically like in the ESPN Lite for the industry. You’re going up against a made hand, basically.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

 Today I’m talking to Justin LoFranco, founder and CEO of the Morning Chalk Up. After years in Washington, DC, working on Capitol Hill, Justin decided to start a newsletter focused around the CrossFit community.

 

While many called him crazy for leaving a promising career in Washington, Justin dug in. Four years later, the Morning Chalk Up is a multi-faceted media company that provides some of the most extensive coverage of CrossFit competitions, community happenings, and more.

 

Justin and I discuss how media has evolved for niche sports like CrossFit, along with mistakes we’ve both made in our respective media careers. We also talk about the importance of community to fitness, along with some fun items, like the fittest members of Congress, and the vocal nature of CrossFit super fans.

 

Also, I want to take a second to say, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast, in your app of choice.

 

I’d also recommend subscribing to the BarBend Newsletter, to stay up-to-date on all things strength. Just go to barbend.com/barbend-newsletter, to start becoming the smartest person in your gym today. Now let’s get to it.

 

Justin LoFranco, thanks so much for joining us today. I have to ask because this is something…recording remotely is what we’ve been doing for the podcast for the last few weeks. Where am I reaching you these days?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

In my second story of my condo in Anaheim, California, across the street from Disneyland.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Across the street from Disneyland, so I’m assuming that there’s a little less foot traffic in front of your condo than normal.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Yes. The strollers in the parking lot have been reduced to a zero.

When it’s normally flooded with individuals staying in Airbnbs in my condo complex, waiting to get that 8:00 AM opening bell, and [laughs] taking the kids there. I live basically, in an area where there’s a lot of resort traffic. Typically, a lot of families going over to the park.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s great context for where we are right now but I want to take it back about, I’ll call it roughly four years and I want to talk a little bit about the Morning Chalk Up which you founded and continue to run these days. Give us a little insight to the origin story of the Morning Chalk Up.

 

It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart because I’m the founder of a niche media company as well, you’re the founder of a niche media company. We can talk…

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

A nicher media company. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Niche within the niche, that’s the term I’m hearing a lot these days. What’s the niche within the niche?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

That’s right. Four years ago, at the end of February was our four-year anniversary. I started it…

David TaoDavid Tao

Congratulations, by the way. That’s worth marking.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

Thank you. We’re almost to the fifth year. Most small businesses in America fail before they reach their fifth year so we’re in that pivotal, a key number five, to hopefully make it to next February. I think all things going like they will eventually get to that big five-year, half-decade mark.

 

I kicked it off 48 hours after the 2016 CrossFit Open Workout One was announced. I had the idea brewing in my head for a long time. I came from the world of politics and in Washington DC there’s newsletters that kick off your morning and it condenses all the things that are happening in the political bloodstream.

 

It condenses down to a quick read, 5 to 10 minutes sort of thing. There’s a couple of different ones that were invoked back then, about a decade ago when I first joined the workforce in Capitol Hill.

 

That was serving inspiration for this and I just kind of thought, “Look, there’s nothing like that in CrossFit. You can follow certain athletes on Instagram or social channels. You can follow CrossFit Games and their media. You can follow some other blogs and folks like yourself and get a full picture of basically what’s happening.”

 

Nothing’s really right there in your inbox and hitting you every morning that CrossFit’s only talking about what CrossFit is doing and then this athlete’s talking about what this athlete’s doing and this event’s talking about what this event is doing. I want to put them together into one product, and give people an understanding of complete lay of the land of what’s going on in this industry and in this community. I kicked it off and slowly grew it.

 

Like I mentioned, it came from government politics so I liquidated my government pension which was very, very, very small. [laughs] Moved in with my parents back in California, in Southern California. I was 20 years old at the time, and managed to put together enough interest in it to just keep it going and kept on humming at it, eventually grew into where we are today, which is still very much a startup.

 

Hopefully, a little bit more adult now. We’re [indecipherable 05:41] pretty good.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, I have to ask. That’s an interesting origin story. Liquidating your government pension to start a CrossFit-focused daily newsletter. I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but I’m biased because I’m in this space, right? I had a lot of people say I was crazy. Did anyone look at you and just go, “Justin, what the heck are you doing, man?”

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 I didn’t really tell anybody for that reason. I told the people I wasn’t going to get back into politics. I was working on the governor. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. I was working on his presidential campaign doing digital for his presidential election.

 

After the election ended, I did some soul searching overseas, went to Europe for a couple of months, came back and I said, “I’m done with politics. I want to go do some other things. I like digital and I like this digital communication medium, but I want to try something else.” I’m passionate about CrossFit. I sat around and thought about it for a little while.

 

I had already made the decision to move home, so life was in a state of flux. A lot of changes were happening. I got out of that world of politics. I was thinking, my Dad was definitely like, “I don’t really see how you’re going to make money off of this.” He’s not exactly wrong at this stage of the game. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It’s a legitimate question.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 It’s not only a legitimate question, it’s like, “We’re not getting rich over here. Don’t go into publishing if you’re thinking you want to bank money that every time you have a website that reaches a million viewers, you’re like, ‘Oh you’re definitely rolling it in.'”

 

He’s not exactly wrong. We have put it on a pathway where it is revenue positive. So you’re like, “OK. That’s not bad.”

 

Certainly, he didn’t think we’d ever get to a 100K. [laughs] Me neither at the beginning. Some of my other friends who were more business-savvy were like, “Hey man, this is kind of a wild bet. You got to believe it if you’re going to go into it,” especially if you’re going to go into to win. CrossFit at the time had dominated the media marketplace. They were basically like an ESPN Lite for the industry. You’re like, “You’re going up against a made hand,” basically.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re going up against…It’s like if ESPN was also the governing body for all of those sports. It’s like the ESPN, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL all rolled into one.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

Yes. I was like, “You know what? That’s true, but I’m going to offer something that they don’t do and they may never do.”

 

I went deep into just newsletter-only content. That’s all we were for a really, really long time. Then, eventually, we got a website. We didn’t even have a website for the first 18 months, we were a newsletter. That wasn’t that long ago.

 

When you think about, we’ve only just been in business for four years, just over four years. When the first 18 months was…that was only two-and-a-half years ago.

 

A lot has changed in that environment. We focused really heavily on being a newsletter. There was one thing we could be good at. We were just going to do that one thing. That focus was what allowed us to grow eventually into being better at other things.

 

We didn’t even focus on original reporting yet. Original reporting was the ability to figure out what mattered most, which athletes to track, which ones to follow. Which competitions matter, which ones don’t. Matter, when I say that, matter, maybe in the sports of CrossFit context.

 

The difference will be like, OK, Big East competition. West Coast, The West Coast Throwdown or OC Throwdown, back in the day. I butcher the name but…

 

It’s like looking at those ones go. Some of the athletes that are competing at this one Brent Fikowski over in the West Coast, competing the OC Throwdown in its early days. We’re like, “That is somebody we’re paying attention to.” Looking for that, and putting that into a product. Then people read them. OK, I get. This is what we should be paying attention to.

 

These are other brands that are making moves in the space or hiring or launching a new product and stuff, so keeps you really well-connected to all those things.

 

We focused extremely hard on just that. That was the only thing we wanted to do. We were going to do it extremely well. We were going to do it better than anybody else, even if nobody else was doing it. To the point where that was what we were known for. That’s what still what we’re known for.

 

Once that changed, once the environment opened up and CrossFit began to reduce its media presence and coverage and pivot, we were in a position to say, “You know what? We want to go all in. We want to become more multimedia and start really investing everything that we can into this space.”

 

That transition seemingly happened…not even a couple years ago. It was…what was it? September of 2019?

David TaoDavid Tao

We’re still figuring out that transition in many ways.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Yeah. We came into another transition season. Look at this season, right? This is another one.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What are some other lessons besides the idea of a curated morning newsletter that you took from Capitol Hill and immediately started applying in building the Morning Chalk Up?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

On Capitol Hill in Congress, you’re working with some of the smartest people on the planet. These are type A, first of that class kind of…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Also, some of the dumbest sometimes.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

Sometimes, yes. Some of the dumbest, [laughs] some of the most vain individuals who are there to make a name for themselves. The staffers that work there are top-notch. They’re individuals with expertise and their knowledge is vast, and their work ethic is extremely hard.

 

I learned that work ethic, I learned how to distill information when you’re thrown a lot. We’re constantly inundated with facts, research, reports, news, etc., 24/7. You have to be able to distill that down into a product and be able to make an argument on it. Be able to get something out, based off all that. Do it really, really fast, with extremely tight deadlines and a lot of pressure and a lot of stress.

 

Publishing six days a week, a newsletter, is a similar type of process where we’re getting 25-30 emails a day with tons of story content ideas, and people telling us this and that. You have to distill that down into a product every day that makes sense to people. It makes sense for a lot of different audiences.

 

Whether you’re an everyday CrossFitter, going into your gym, you’re an elite athlete, or in the elite athlete community, you’re a coach of a gym or an owner, or you work in the industry, or you’re another media individual. We got to give something for everybody on a regular basis.

 

The lesson from Capitol Hill was how to take so much information and make sense out of all of it, process that quickly and do it every single day without fail. Another one, honestly, it’s learning how to interact with really important people.

 

I remember first time I was walking through Capitol building, Speaker of the House walks by and you’re like, “That’s a pretty important person. That person stood in line for the presidency.” You’re like, “OK, that’s the most powerful person in this building right now.”

 

That’s an intimidating thing or to be able to go up to that person and have a real conversation, or an intellectual conversation, or sit across from them, because you’re the expert in this area.

 

Eventually, I got to the point where I was having those conversations with elected officials and was able to give them honest advice, or be able to take a situation and say, “Look, Congressman or speaker, governor or whoever it is, I really don’t think that’s the right call here. I think that’s going to play poorly in this landscape and that we need to come up with a better solution here. This is what I think.”

 

The ability to do that or to be able to sit there with confidence and be able to articulate something, that is a skill that will translate to any environment that you ever do. If you want to be successful, no matter what it is, doesn’t matter. The industry’s always going to have powerful people.

 

You can either be a yes person who’s going to sit there and say, “You’re right, Governor. That is absolutely what you should do. Just go ahead and do that even though I think it’s a terrible idea.” Or you’re somebody who knows how to think for themselves and be able to defend an idea and present it, even if you know you’re going to be in opposition of somebody who’s extremely powerful.

 

We’re always going to be around powerful people. Doesn’t matter where we go.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’ve built your own fast-paced environment. You’ve taken a lot of those lessons from Capitol Hill to grow a media company even if it’s a niche within a niche as we joked about…

 

earlier on the recording. Had there been moments over the last four years and you can turn around ask me the same question. I’ll say, “Of course.” Have there been moments over the last four years? If so, what are they? When you just thought, hey, maybe I made the wrong decision here.

 

This is this is tougher than I thought it would be. I knew it was going to be tough. You’re a smart guy, Justin, you knew it was going to be challenging.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Have there been moments where you thought, “This is even more challenging than I could have anticipated”?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

Yeah. [laughs] It happens like once a month, I think. Usually not too much more frequently than that. Sometimes it’s about once a month or I’m just like, honestly, I’ve impostor syndrome a little bit. Where I’m like, “I’m not the right guy for this job. I need help or I need…”

 

“I’m a 33-year-old CEO of this Brag tag newsletter that’s trying to hopefully get paid someday. What the heck am I doing kind of thing?” Not knowing which direction to go sometimes and looking at that and saying, “Wow, there’s a lot of eyeballs here,” but it’s not translating your revenue.

 

You’re like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to make it. I don’t know where to go from here and how did all those other leaders who’re seemingly translating that effort into success? Both monetarily success but also industry-wide success like, ‘What am I missing?'”

 

The self-doubt that you go through and stuff. It’s tough. There’s a lot of times where I’m just like, “Wrong call, wrong call, wrong call.” Maybe that one was OK. Jeez Louise, what is it? What’s the right answer? I run through that all the time.

 

It’s something that I think any young startup owner founder has a big struggle with, is not knowing what decision to make and when, and having a little bit of self-doubt. That happens all the time to be honest.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, first off, I’m just going to take some of those sound bites. If I ever get asked the same questions, I’m just going to repeat verbatim word-for-word what you just said and call it my own.

 

No, I’m kidding. That’s a big no-no in our in our industry. I have to come up with my own words, but that certainly resonates with me. I understand the feeling of impostor syndrome. I think a lot of our listeners, regardless of the industry, are probably familiar with that feeling.

 

One thing I know, that doesn’t give you a lot of doubt personally, because we’ve chatted about this before is your passion for the CrossFit community. It’s not just the athletes at the top elite levels, it’s the community, it’s the people you’re trying to improve their lives through fitness. What attracted you initially to the CrossFit community?

 

What keeps you so engaged on a personal level, not necessarily business level, with that community today?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 I was first introduced to CrossFit when I was in college. I was at Biola University here in Los Angeles. Buddy of mine, he lived next door to me and some baseball player and found this thing called CrossFit. This was in 2006. We did a couple workouts together and it just didn’t stick for me.

 

I did move to Washington, DC, later, once I graduated a couple years later, and I saw him posting photos at sectionals.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

A boy, sectionals. That takes me way back.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Way, way back. Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I’ve said that the past few weeks and someone said, “Do you mean Sanctionals?” I said, “No, I do not. I mean sectionals.”

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

[laughs] There is a group of peers that…We’ve entered in the next generation of individuals who doesn’t know CrossFit before a certain point. There’s a CrossFit before the Open. There’s a CrossFit before Regionals and then there’s a CrossFit before Sanctionals and that was Regionals.

 

Now we’re getting way back, the sectionals he was competing at. I saw these photos on, dude, that is cool man. I’m like, I should get into that stuff. I started doing it in the gym in the House of Representatives, and then I liked it, I enjoyed it, but I was unfamiliar with the community aspect.

 

I’m still just a solo rider. I was just like 9 or 10, sometime late 9 or early 10. Once I did step into a community, I was like, “Holy crap. This is wild and I love it.” Fire-breather, totally to the max back then. I was like, “Can’t do no less a thousand reps today” mentality and just loved it. It spoke to my competitive nature, loving to push myself, and being flat on my back.

 

I was one of those early…I’m a type-A…shocker that I like to push it hard and feel that result. I saw those results, and I loved it. There were two big things that I found that I really, really loved. One was family. A lot of people have spoken about this not only to us or we’ve seen these stories pop up on Instagram and other people sharing it.

 

Family was this new concept because on Capitol Hill everything is transactional. Even your friends are transactional. You’re like, “This person works for so and so office, and you know, yeah, I’ve got some inroads here. This person works for the White House.” You’re like, “OK. You know I’ve got connections all over the city.”

 

You’re at Happy Hour with them. Your friends are transactional. Your roommates might even be transactional. You like the people, but you also recognize that there’s some mutual benefit in you all knowing each other.

 

CrossFit wasn’t like that. It was also something that was outside of this sphere of politics for me. I didn’t know anybody that didn’t work in politics. That’s literally the only people I knew were Democrats and Republicans. That was it.

 

That was how we were defined as. What your role is, it was in the party. You’re a press secretary. You’re a legislative aide, etc. I met teachers, first responders, and workers across industries. Very few people that were there worked on Capitol Hill or worked in politics even in general.

 

It was this cool thing where I was making friends outside. I’m like, “These are people I never would have met and they are way outside of my sphere of influence. They’re also way outside of my typical demographic.”

 

I was 24 years old when I walked into the gym. Some of these people were over 30, some people over 50. I was like, “These are cool people and we’d hang out, we’d get brunch, sometimes get drinks together, and we developed family,” and that was really cool.

 

The second thing that really drew me to the community was its strength and beauty concept. That’s something that we as a publication have tried to consciously nurture is a strength and beauty concept. There was this time when people were now recognizing that strong is beautiful, and that what the body can do is somewhat more important than the aesthetics behind it.

 

This conversation was really invoke and I was like, “That’s meaningful,” because we’re changing the way that the next generation is going to view physical details about themselves. That’s a really important thing. I was like, “The fact that you can see all these women here going, you know what? I’m not interested in looking like that, I want to be able to do that.”

 

I was like, “That’s a powerful message.” I think that was really awesome. It’s continuing to play out all across the globe, as we see that happening more and more. That was right when that was happening. Becoming to be a really popular conversation, that’s another thing that drew me to the community.

 

It’s something we want to champion. I took that the passion that I had for those messages and said, “More family, more messages like this for our young guys and girls that are growing up, and the ones who maybe are even struggling with body image issues themselves. I want to make those things more known and more acceptable in this community.”

 

Those are two things that from day one, I’ve just loved about CrossFit.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I have to ask, because I should have asked this earlier and it seems like a non-sequitur. Fittest person on Capitol Hill that you remember?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

[laughs] OK. There were only two CrossFitters that I know of on Capitol Hill when I crossfitted, me and a guy named Brad Nelly. Brad was before me to the gym, and he was fitter than I was. He was a big guy. He was 6′ 3”. He could lift a ton of weight. It wasn’t exactly me, but when he stopped, [laughs] then I guess technically in the open, I probably got the crown.

 

There was a couple Members of Congress that dabbled in it, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan eventually became speaker. Kevin McCarthy was my boss. He was the Majority Whip. Became Majority and he’s currently the leader of the Republican Party in the House.

 

Now, we have a CrossFitter. Who is it? It’s Dan Blumfield or something.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I’m sure we could look it up. Maybe I could put it in the show notes.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Technically, it became me because I was the only CrossFitter doing the Open who actually worked in Congress.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That’s probably no longer the case.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

No, no. Definitely no longer the case.

David TaoDavid Tao

bet there’s been much more widespread adoption.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

I can guarantee you that from my Open score. You wouldn’t have to do much to beat me and take that cake. There are a lot of fitter people that I was at District CrossFit — that was my home gym, District CrossFit. None of them worked on Capitol Hill, so I think I had the title for about 17 hours.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Although there are a lot of Type A personalities on Capitol Hill, and as CrossFit has become more popular, it’s like a ripple effect through those groups.

Justin, bringing it back to the community aspect of CrossFit, when you decided to go all in on the Morning Chalk Up and build your professional life around something that was already a part and important in your personal life, what additional things have surprised you about the CrossFit community since you founded the Morning Chalk Up and since this became the focal point of your career?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Wow, things that have surprised me?

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It could be for the good or it could be for the not so good.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

laughs] I’m trying to think of how to phrase this. CrossFitters are super vocal. It wasn’t that I was surprised about it. CrossFitters still like to talk about CrossFit. We know this very well. Our families and friends have reminded us of this fact for many years that we like to talk about it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

How do you know someone does CrossFit? You’ll know. They’ll tell you.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

They’ll tell you. Exactly right. They are a lot more vocal than I had originally thought. Vocal in both a good and a bad way. It’s becoming more common now, that people are really coming out and sharing their opinions. In the last 18 months, we’ve seen a lot of opinions. Opinions are very good, but they are very strong.

 

The CrossFitters, I don’t think are any less passionate about things they’re passionate about. That did surprise me. The community itself, by and large, is a very gracious and very understanding community.

 

On the Internet, it’s gotten a little wild. We’re seeing that happening more and more. Maybe it’s a trend a little bit. It’s not necessarily indicative of what we’re going through right now. It was happening long before coronavirus and people were pent up in their homes with little else to do, and frustrated.

 

I’m seeing that a lot more. There are very vocal comments and things like that. There’s a little bit of nastiness that’s going on. I was a little bit more surprised about it. A little bit more finger pointing than I expected. That was a surprise.

 

One thing that was a surprise also was just how supportive the community is. I think it’s a surprise because of where I came from. Anybody who’s been in the community for a long time knows that, knows that’s what CrossFit is known for.

 

Generosity, really generous people who take care of each other and treat each other like family, the whole family.

 

I was surprised to the extent of it because I came from a very cynical place, which is politics. [laughs] The most cynical and vile and vitriol environment on the planet. The deeper I’ve gotten into the community, the deeper I’ve realized just how committed individuals are to the success of others. That was a very positive surprise.

 

I keep getting reminded of it constantly. Like right now. You’re seeing it, right? You’re seeing all of these people stepping up to try and help others. To little or no benefit of their own. They’re doing it out of their own pocketbooks, and they’re trying really hard to make sure that there’s a gym to come back to. That big-heartedness is uncommon. It’s uncommon anywhere in the world today.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I wanted to dig just a level deeper when you talk about the vocal element of the CrossFit community and how that’s not always a positive. It’s a positive sometimes.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

It sure is positive.

David TaoDavid Tao

There are a lot of good things about it. Where are some of the schisms that you see within the community, from your perspective?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

Coronavirus right now is definitely a large divide. The individual gym owners’ response to whether they can or cannot open, their desire to do that and their method of doing that. That scenario we’re seeing that unfold in real time where individuals are like…they’re at each other’s throats a little bit.

 

It’s not terrible, but we do see a lot of comments, we do see people just being the broad spectrum of things, and that’s not special to this community. It’s everywhere. That’s a conversation that’s happening on a global scale across every industry.

 

People are frustrated, they’re closed. We are seeing that that is a large schism where individuals are on one side or the other side. They’re all business owner. Technically they run their own company to the way they want to so they obviously have an opinion and a right to have that opinion.

 

There’s a pretty deep divide there. Nutrition is a pretty deep divide. That’s another one where we notice it’s like people would…I put that like God and politics, and nutrition.

 

That’s like religion, politics and nutrition and CrossFit. Those are like sacrosanct. If you want to get into a debate, talk about probably, I would say do nutrition over politics, and you’ll probably get a more start, a bigger divide and response.

 

Nutrition is super personal to individuals, just like politics and religion are, and it’s like sacrosanct. [laughs] That’s a deeply-held belief. That’s big divide in the community where individuals are one camp, another camp or another camp and we noticed a lot of comments that go down that route.

David TaoDavid Tao

Those are pretty interesting. I agree I haven’t seen a slice of those. I would agree with both of those and I like that you put play such an emphasis on nutrition, because it is something that people hold near and dear, and no matter how much you understand that, there will come times when it surprises you.

 

It will surprise you how much debate even the most innocent observation or a piece of content around nutrition can ignite. I certainly am glad you bring that up.

 

One thing I want to shift focus on a little bit and ask you about, you mentioned the struggle that a lot of gym owners, a lot of CrossFit affiliate owners are going through right now as independent business owners regarding gym closures and things like that.

 

Most of the CrossFit gyms in the United States, the vast majority, and that there is some great stats on the Morning Chalk Up about this. The vast majority of CrossFit boxes in the United States are still closed as of this recording or have been closed for some period of time due to COVID-19.

 

What percentage attrition rate do you think we’re going to see over the next year for CrossFit boxes that don’t make it?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

Armand had asked me this question early on when we first started reporting statistics. Back then, the closure was 70 percent I think in the United States. Now it’s up to 96 percent. It’s about 96 percent still. I know that the gyms are starting to reopen.

 

It’s probably about that as of the recording of this. I had estimated somewhere in the vicinity of like 5 to 10 percent probably don’t make it back. That’s 600 gyms. [laughs] I don’t think it’s going to be that 10 percent would be 600 gyms.

 

Cut that in half, so 300 to 350. I wouldn’t be surprised if five percent of the gyms don’t make it back. Right now we’re tracking I think 47 gyms and they’re permanently close since we began tracking in April 13. That’s as of Monday today.

 

They’re not all in United States. Honestly, we wrote a piece today about California’s future income. California 771 affiliates, it’s 11.1 percent of the United States. When you when you think about that, California’s governor suggested months, not weeks away from opening gyms, which are in stage three of California’s reopening plan.

 

Obviously that’s subject to change and the environment is very fluid. When you look at that, and you go, “OK, so gyms have been closed basically for 45 days.” That’s about 45 days is when the stay-at-home order was issued. 45 days ago today was when the stay-at-home order was issued and gyms began to close as well as other non-essential businesses.

 

You look at that, you’re like, “OK well, if it’s months, not weeks, and so another 45 days will be three months.” That’s three whole months that individuals have been paying for their memberships without receiving the primary service for which they’re paying.

 

You look at that economically and you’re like, “OK, how much longer can gyms hold on?” That’s three months. It’s an entire fiscal quarter. That’s 771 gyms there. That’s your 10 percent.

 

I’m not saying all gyms in California close but I’m saying look…if they don’t start reopening, and if they’re forced to be closed and have doors closed for two, three months, that’s a long time.

 

That’s a long time to come back from. We know that they’re not sitting on a pile of cash to pay rent with. There are a lot of rent forbearance programs that are out there. There’s rent…but not forgiveness. There’s a difference. Forbearance is not forgiveness. Just because they don’t have to pay it this month, doesn’t mean they don’t ever have to pay it.

 

We’re tracking all kinds of different stories. There’s obviously a lot going on with that. There’s a lot of gyms that are in this Limbo-phase, where they need to sign a new lease or their lease is coming up, and they don’t know what to do or which decision to make and why would you put in a five-year contract to sign your business up.

 

You don’t know what’s going to be around and you can’t even operate even if you move to a new place. There’s some gyms coming to us telling us, “Yeah, that’s where we are right now, we don’t know if we’re going to be around. We still technically have an affiliate because we paid for the rest of the year but we don’t have a location.”

 

I think that you’re not going to see these closure statistics getting reported today, I think that it’s going to be a delayed effect. That number I think is going to rise, but it’s probably going to be a little while before that happens. You’re going to see ones that are slowly starting to trickle out.

 

Certainly, I hope that’s not the case. A lot of people have stepped up, CrossFit, UIM other businesses and companies donating profits to try and make sure that people keep their memberships and stick around.

 

I think you’re going to see more attrition when it comes in the next two months, than you necessarily were going to see in the first 45 days of closures, because people are still holding out hope and they’re trying to explore all options before they close the doors.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Justin LoFranco, I appreciate you sharing your insight into politics, the CrossFit community, and maybe guessing is all we can do at this point, some of the long term impacts that COVID-19 is going to have on the community. Where’s the best place for people to follow you and the work you’re doing at the Morning Chalk Up?

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

Morningchalkup.com, We’ve got a daily newsletter comes out Monday through Saturday. We deliver right to your inbox, about a five, seven-minute read. That’s the best place to reach us. We also have an Instagram account and Facebook too.

 

If you want a chat, you follow me, @chalkupjlo, that’s my Instagram. Don’t post a lot. Usually we’re focusing on the bigger picture at the Morning Chalk Up stuff, but you can always reach out to me. [email protected] too, that’s my email. You can you can fire me a message and let me know how awesome we are or ways we can improve too.

 

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Just be vocal…

 

…something.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

 Yeah, just be vocal. I answer all my emails, so I’ll get to it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Justin, thanks so much for your time today, I appreciate it.

Justin LoFrancoJustin LoFranco

 

Thank you very much too. Best of luck out there.

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