CrossFit … and Reebok? Really? Devotees of the no-frills fitness movement already had raised eyebrows when the name of the 1980s fashion throwback was emblazoned throughout the CrossFit Games last summer as the title sponsor of the annual "Fittest on Earth" event.
Now, CrossFit gyms brandishing the Reebok name are sprouting up everywhere, and the Massachusetts-based subsidiary of Adidas is launching new lines of CrossFit-branded shoes and apparel. Currently available only online, the new fitness wear will be in retail outlets — including military exchanges — in the coming months.
"It's a good marriage," says Chris Froio, Reebok's vice president in charge of fitness and training, who described the initial courtship with CrossFit as a love affair that started with a few employees about two years ago and then blossomed throughout the company.
"We love CrossFit so much we've entered into a 10-year partnership with them to try and bring fitness to people around the world," Froio says.
Reebok opened a 20,000-square-foot CrossFit gym earlier this year at its corporate headquarters just outside of Boston that's open to the public. The company also opened another CrossFit "box," as CrossFitters affectionately dub their gyms, at its United Kingdom offices.
Meanwhile, Reebok has lent its name to more than 50 existing CrossFit affiliates. "And we're getting dozens of calls every day for more," he says.
Froio — who says he's lost 29 pounds since starting CrossFit 17 months ago and is "in as good a shape now at 41 as I was at 20 playing football in college" — says Reebok hopes to spread the CrossFit gospel to people who may have steered clear because of its rough-around-the-edges reputation.
"We've got a really good pulse, with the help of CrossFit HQ, on the types of boxes we want to set up for the average person who may be intimidated or scared by CrossFit," Froio says. "If you go into one of these, you'll get a great experience and won't be fearful."
Does that mean Reebok-branded boxes are offering a softer, gentler side of CrossFit? "No," says Froio flatly. "The [Workout of the Day] is the same."
Not all CrossFit followers are happy with the relationship. CrossFit gym owners have been worried fancy Reebok gyms would crush them; Froio insists that aside from the two boxes on company property, Reebok is partnering only with existing affiliates.
But is CrossFit abandoning its back-to-basics ethic for a big-money sponsorship?
CrossFit founder Greg Glassman has tried to distance his organization from its sponsors in the past, saying he's happy to take their money but doesn't endorse any products. Writing in the CrossFit Journal about a supplement company that ponied up $150,000 in prize money for the CrossFit Games, he said, "They gave me money, and I put their banner up."
"I've seen and heard Greg say those things," Froio says. "I've had many conversations with him ... on the topic, but he endorses the relationship, obviously, and both he and his team endorse the products we've made because they're involved."
CrossFit officials did not respond to calls and emails for comment, but in a video recently posted on the CrossFit website, Director of Training Dave Castro defended the group's relationship with Reebok after its prominent placement in what are now called the "Reebok CrossFit Games."
"It's not uncommon in many sports to have their championship or their season tagged with a title sponsor," Castro said. "They listen to us, and we listen to their suggestions."