CMO of the Week: New York Sports Club's Kari Saitowitz

Presented by

Kari Saitowitz, chief marketing and creative officer of New York Sports Club, is celebrating the gym’s 50 year anniversary with a major rebrand.

Kari Saitowitz, chief marketing and creative officer of New York Sports Club, is celebrating the gym’s 50 year anniversary with a major rebrand.

New York Sports Club originally started as a Racquet Club in 1973. Today, the gym offers group classes, personal training services, recovery lounges and fitness performance labs. Over the years, the chain has acquired locations up and down the east coast under local names such as the Boston Sports Club in Boston.

Under her charge, Saitowitz is bringing all NYSC brands together under one name. She is also unifying online/social and introducing a new brand identity while also developing partnerships with brands and creating activations within the clubs that build upon the NYSC mission of changing lives through fitness.

“When I joined the company, New York Sports Club was made up of multiple brands – regional brands and brands that had been acquired over the years. The company was managing multiple social media channels, multiple websites and had different communications for all the markets,” explains Saitowitz. “We launched a NY Sports Club campaign with the new logo for New York Sports Club. It's basically an updated version of the old logo. But within the new logo, there's an Easter egg and a hidden M-Y inside of the N Y in New York Sports Club.” 

The new brand includes the new logo, a rollout of updated and redesigned gym spaces, special promotions including anniversary rates and a free week for new members, as well as access to Normatec Go boots through a partnership with Hyperice. The brand is targeting both die hard fitness enthusiasts as well as those into the social aspects of going to the gym.

“In general, there are two big personas that we find within our community,” says Saitowitz. “You have your active lifestyle performance customer coming into the gym with goals. They're very focused on what the product offerings are specifically, such as the types of strength equipment and programming. Then there's your social fitness user.” 

Saitowitz joined the company when her NYC-based fitness brand Fhitting Room was acquired by NYSC in October 2022. Prior to working for NYSC, she has also held senior marketing roles at brands including Pepsi and American Express. Brand Innovators caught up with Saitowitz from her office in New York to talk about the rebrand, customer experience and the mindset she learned working for Pepsi and American Express. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you talk about what the new brand identity looks like and what the purpose of the brand is today?

New York Sports Club came before the internet. It came before social media and before digital marketing. It made a lot of sense for a neighborhood gym to brand itself for each of the neighborhoods that it's located in. (i.e. Boston Sports Clubs, Washington Sports Clubs) and each of these have sports clubs with an “s” plural. It's very literal and really resonated. There is a lot of local pride and it doesn't need a lot of explanation. But in a world of digital marketing and economies of scale and needing to get messages out across many different media platforms, all of those different brands became really challenging to manage. Every time you're creating a piece of content for your social feeds, there were six social feeds instead of one. 

There was this notion that we really are stronger together coming out of the pandemic. For an industry in a business that had been through so much and a restructuring, it felt like a great time to bring all of the brands together under the banner, New York Sports Club. We also lost the “s” from the clubs, because we are one brand now and unite all of our regions together. There's no reason why somebody in New York who's a member wouldn't want to see a beautiful club in Boston. We all travel for work or for personal reasons and there's a lot of benefits of being one company and acting like one brand. 

Can you talk about how you're communicating this rebrand to both your members and then prospective consumers? 

It's definitely a phased approach. Digital moves a lot faster than physical, so we brought all of our social media channels together in January. That's when we announced to members internally through email campaigns and also within the clubs. We have a network of television, that's our own programming, so we spoke a lot about one brand Stronger Together. We changed all of our front desk signs with that same messaging trying to hit people from many different directions so that they obviously understand. 

We initiated the same member newsletter that goes out to all of our regions. We always feature at least one member or team member in the My Sports Clubs story. The idea is this brand is not really about any one geography. Every member has their own story and every team member has their own story. They'll talk about how the club or a class they have taken has changed their lives. We'll continue to do this going forward to start to really share and showcase each of these individual journeys because everybody uses fitness in different ways. For some people, it's just 30 minutes. For somebody else, it's physical fitness and achieving a personal best or training for something physical. For others, it's social, and they're meeting a friend for a class. 

Beyond digital, what other advertising are you doing?

So early in the year, we did out-of-home in many of our major markets, particularly around clubs that were recently completely updated. People have a certain perception of a club that's been there for many years. There was a lot of messaging, especially in January, calling out some of the new experiences such as recovery lounges or barbell clubs. We're looking at doing some additional out-of-home with programmatic marketing and CTV overlays. 

We are launching a new website before the end of the year, which will be a new footprint for us digitally. We've done some grass roots things.– sidewalks, stickers, some environmental messaging and marketing. Partnerships bring us into retail as well. For example, in Boston, we're doing an outdoor series with Under Armour. Their Boston store has a big digital wall inside their store promoting this outdoor series of classes, which has been very prominent co-branding. 

Can you talk about your own experience and how working at brands like American Express and Pepsi have helped prepare you for this role?

It's really just the mindset of what it means to market a brand. I think about marketing and branding as two different exercises. There's the brand and its physical manifestation –our logo and our colors. Working in places like American Express and Pepsi are great learning grounds for the mindset and consistency and all of the levers that touch a brand.

I've spent not just a lot of time on the physical manifestation of the brand, but also speaking with our club’s general managers, district managers – and all the people in the field. Every interaction with a potential member or a member, whether it's making eye contact, smiling, the word choices that you're using, or the cleanliness of the club, all are brand impressions. It doesn't matter if I had every billboard in every market, if somebody walks into a club and the message on that billboard doesn't match with the experience that they receive, it’s a fail. 

For Example, at Pepsi, I went on route rides with a Pepsi truck driver to understand the reality of setting up a marketing display that was created by somebody sitting at headquarters. What's the reality of setting it up in an actual supermarket environment? I also sat in call centers as part of my training at Pepsi where you could hear what the phone calls are about when people are dialing the 800 number on the back of a can of soda. It was all amazing groundwork in terms of 360 degree thinking and all of the different touch points and implications for the decisions we make. 

Can you talk about the customer experience and how the new feeling is in the gyms?

We have come in with a new commitment to our members' renewed values. Internally, we speak a lot about the customer experience and bringing transparency in all that we do with a friendly neighborhood voice and personalizing to the extent that a big box gym can. For example, we're constructing a gym in Washington, DC and instead of the window treatments, simply saying, “New York Sports Club is coming.,” the message instead was, ‘ “Hey, DC, born in New York, upgraded for you. Get ready to meet your new neighborhood gym.” 

Everything is designed to be friendly, welcoming, and light hearted. We really examined our spaces and converted all of the usable space that we have into services and products that the member is looking for. We are even trying to anticipate what they will be looking for. Almost half of our clubs have received at least some upgrades or refreshes in the past year. We've put new functional training turfs in all of the clubs. Functional training is a huge trend in general. People are using movements that they do in everyday life in their workouts. The functional training turfs give people that space for those movements such as lunging, squatting, pressing, and pushing. 

We've added heavy lifting capacity in many of our clubs. We have Barbell Clubs, in many of the gyms, so you have barbell platforms and racks for squatting, benches, and dead lifting platforms. There's a lot of gyms out there that don't have weights over 50 pounds but at New York Sports Club, heavy lifting is part of the core offering and it is a heavily used area every week. 

We've rolled out team training, which is a small group training program. Those classes are led by our certified personal trainers, but they have smaller class capacities than a group exercise class. We are introducing new class types and new formats from yoga to mat Pilates to body pump and Zumba. We've introduced recovery lounges in about 20% of the clubs. We have hydro massage lounge chairs with heated water circulating through them. You can find people recovering from their workouts or just coming in for the recovery alone.

Interested in our events?


Learn More


Miller High Life bows branded holiday tree

Read More

Pop-Tarts challenges fans to make predictions ahead of Pop-Tarts Bowl

Read More