Crossfitters Worried That Private Equity Deal Will Destroy Their Precious Crossfit

Super-intense, super-popular fitness fad/ cult/ greatest-thing-ever Crossfit has more than a few injuries and internet jokes: an existential threat that, many Crossfit leaders and gym owners fear, could destroy the happy nationwide fitness utopia they've created.

Crossfit was founded in the 1990s and completely owned by husband-and-wife team Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai Glassman. Over the past decade and a half, Crossfit has grown steadily: first came Glassman's own gym, then a website, then, over the years, the opening of well over 1,000 4,000 (and growing) Crossfit "affiliate" gyms, which pay Crossfit for the right to the name. There's also a partnership with Reebok and the Crossfit Games competition, which is now televised on ESPN. It's a nice business.

Now, though, the Glassmans are getting a divorce. Greg Glassman is staying on in his role as head of Crossfit. But Lauren has decided to sell her half of the company to a private equity firm called Anthos Capital, for $20 million. This has caused—to state it conservatively—absolute fucking apoplexy and panic among Crossfit leadership and many of its affiliate owners.

The posts in this message board thread about the possible sale are fairly representative. Anthos is seen as a profit-hungry interloper, a bunch of outsiders set on exploiting the passion and personal relationships of Crossfit in order to peddle products to Crossfitters and soak the affiliate owners for all they're worth. Crossfit staff member Russell Greene warns:

Anthos doesn't care about professional trainers improving people's lives; they see CrossFit affiliates as a mechanism to sell more supplements and equipment... If Anthos gains control of CrossFit, then the CrossFit affiliate system will cease to exist as we know it. Affiliates will no longer pay a minimal licensing fee and manage their own CrossFit gyms as they see fit. Instead, they will report to a domineering bureaucracy that seeks to extract maximal profit from them while micro-managing every significant facet of their business. CrossFit facilities will be run like your neighborhood McDonald's or Gold's Gym.

Glassman himself writes that the Anthos offer is an "existential threat" that is "entirely destructive of our culture," and vows "None of it is for sale - at any price."

Not quite true. Paul Farr, managing partner at Anthos, tells Gawker that they already have an agreement with Lauren to purchase her half of Crossfit, subject to court approval. This would make Anthos equal partners with their avowed enemy, Crossfit CEO Greg Glassman. Sounds wacky!

"Anthos SOP is to allow manangement to continue to run the company and that is what we are planning to do with CrossFit. We are not operators and don't take operating roles," says Farr. He also says that Anthos has no intention of making affiliates sell certain supplement products, or of forcing rapid expansion of the Crossfit brand: "Will we discuss ideas which we believe will help grow and improve the business and benefit the affiliates? Sure. But Greg will continue as CEO."

In a letter to affiliates, Anthos partner Bryan Kelly explicitly says "We have absolutely no desire to change the affiliate model by turning them into Globo gyms." Judging by the continued wails of outrage from affiliates on the Crossfit forums—and talk of suing them, making a counteroffer, or even a mass exodus of affiliates away from the new, co-owned Crossfit—Anthos' assurances are not enough. And we can't really blame them. Sure, Crossfit people can be insane paranoiacs; but underestimating the lengths that P.E. firm will go to to reap its profits is never very wise.

For now, the sale of half of Crossfit to Anthos Capital appears to be in the court's hands. Then it will be up to alllll you Crossfitters out there to decide whether this unintended sellout has destroyed the mystique. Don't worry too much either way. You can always do squats without paying Crossfit for it, anyhow.

Photo via CrossFit Fever/flickr.