L.A. Fitness to honor most Bally memberships

Local club says lifetime membership to be honored through 2071

By: Chris Jackett | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 10, 2012

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — When L.A. Fitness acquired all of the Bally Total Fitness locations in Michigan Dec. 1, many Bally members were left wondering what would happen to their memberships.

Many wondered whether they would have to buy new ones or if L.A. Fitness would honor the Bally memberships. With so many membership variations from past specials, the questions piled up as the corporate office remained mute.

Seven messages from the Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle were left with the corporate office by both phone and email since Dec. 7, but have gone unreturned.

Deborah Reed, operations manager at the local Bally-turned-L.A. at 6420 Telegraph, at Maple, said Jan. 4 that different membership types have different situations, but L.A. Fitness will, for the most part, be honoring Bally memberships.

“It depends how the memberships are,” Reed said. “If their membership is paid in full, we honor it to some degree. (L.A. Fitness) didn’t really buy anyone’s contract, they bought their membership base. Come in and we can look at you specifically.”

Upon initial news of the change, several Bally members were concerned with the future of their lifetime memberships, which were usable at any Bally club nationwide — now just 100 clubs, all outside of Michigan. Many members purchased lifetime memberships when the Bloomfield Township facility was owned and operated as a Vic Tanny, before Bally purchased Tanny a decade ago.

“I purchased my membership from Bally years ago so I could use any Bally in the nation,” said Bloomfield Township resident Gregory Fuller, who joined Tanny as a lifetime member in 1980. “I retired a few years ago, so I pretty much only go to that facility. I haven’t received any correspondence from them about the changeover.”

Fuller said he originally joined Tanny in Philadelphia and worked out at a Southfield location when he moved to Michigan in 1989. When he began working out at the Telegraph and Maple location, he was required to pay an additional $200-$300 fee on top of his already-paid lifetime membership, and the club required members to wear navy blue clothing while working out until sometime in the early ‘90s, Fuller said.

“I paid a lifetime membership add-on to my lifetime membership,” Fuller said. “At that time, they considered themselves a notch above all the other Vic Tannys. In essence, when (L.A. Fitness) bought that facility from Bally, they bought my contract because I did pay additional to use that facility.”

West Bloomfield resident Fred Gazaley said he was the first lifetime member after being awarded one as a gift in the mid-1960s after he, as a personnel director at a local steel mill, helped Tanny coordinate and pioneer a group fitness membership program with local companies.

“It evolved into a group membership through other companies,” Gazaley said. “It’s unique in that it established a marketing tool for Vic Tanny.”

However, Gazaley said the membership change would not have affected him much if not honored because he only works out at the Bloomfield Township and Novi Bally locations on Jewish holidays, when the Jewish Community Center, which is two blocks from his house, is closed.

“The way the clubs are going nowadays, it goes day to day,” Gazaley said.

Reed laid some residents’ concerns to rest. She said the lifetime memberships will be honored through 2071, which should be the equivalent to the remaining lifetime for any current cardholders of such a membership. L.A. Fitness does not offer a lifetime membership of its own.

“There are a lot of lifetime members who still pay dues,” Reed said. “Lifetime basically attributes to the lifetime of the company. It’s not your lifetime. I understand they paid a lot of money back in the day, but that’s a risk you take.”

Although existing memberships and fees will be honored, complimentary passes will not be.

“If they don’t have dues, it’s kind of hard to run a business,” Reed said.

Fuller said he was required to sign an agreement with L.A. Fitness that terminated all relationships with Bally in order for the membership transition to go smoothly. However, his membership with L.A. Fitness excludes all “signature” clubs, which only applies to the Royal Oak location locally.

“I’m not happy about that exclusion as it relegates me to a lower status membership than I previously had,” Fuller said via email.

After six weeks under the new company name, Reed said there are still plenty of internal changes expected in coming months.

“The first few weeks were a little bumpy,” Reed said, noting the signage should be changed by end of first quarter, in March. “There’s so many things we still need to work on. We’re still working on getting our computers up and running. Within six months, it should look like a whole new club. They’re not changing everything.”

The company recently sent out a blanket promotional flier to residents of cities where L.A. Fitness is located advertising a $29.99 per month membership with a $99 initiation fee.

Other club locations include Novi, Southfield, Troy, Royal Oak, Warren, Livonia, Waterford, Sterling Heights, St. Clair Shores, Redford, Plymouth, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Allen Park. The Bally locations in Troy and Warren were scheduled to close due to their close proximity to existing L.A. Fitness locations.

For more information on memberships, the clubs or the brand transition, call (248) 855-2300 for the Telegraph and Maple location or visit www.lafitness.com.