One Year Later: Eric Roza as CrossFit CEO

August 8, 2021 by
Photo Credit: CrossFit LLC
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The close of the CrossFit Games not only brought an end to a very long season in our sport, but also closed out the first full calendar year under the new tenure of CrossFit owner and CEO, Eric Roza.

Remind me: Eric Roza finalized agreement negotiations with CrossFit on July 24, 2020 but took full ownership of the company on August 7, 2020. Since then, Roza has had a hefty “to-do list” to redirect the sport and help grow CrossFit on a global scale.

In his first quarterly town hall with the CrossFit community at large, Roza revealed CrossFit’s new mission statement, “to be the world’s leading platform for health, happiness and performance.” Below we break down his specific goals and what’s been accomplished in the past 12 months.

Affiliate Community Goals

“Affiliates First” concept through CrossFit Affiliate Program (CAP):

  • CAP provides “daily programming, class planning, and coaching development tools” distributed through written materials, graphics, and videos. It exploded in the first 24 hours after the launch with 1790 affiliates signing up. At the most recent CrossFit Town Hall on July 23, Roza announced that number has grown to 3,000 affiliates across 95 countries. The introduction of CAP supports Roza’s “tools over rules” motto and helps provide business support to affiliates.
  • Another goal under Roza’s “affiliates first” mantra was to find more ways for coaches to earn a living. That’s a priority Roza has yet to follow-up on after announcing it at his first quarterly town hall last August of 2020. While the CAP was created to help coaches and gyms thrive, it doesn’t necessarily help coaches make more money, at least not yet. 
  • CrossFit helped create the Community Gyms Coalition, a group representing more than 40,000 gyms and fitness studios across the United States, to lobby for the passage of legislation aimed at providing aid to businesses in the health and fitness industry affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s worth noting that under the previous leadership regime, CrossFit was mostly unwilling to collaborate with other community gym brands and their parent companies. By joining the Community Gyms Coalition, Roza looks to reverse course and build alliances throughout the industry as a way to help affiliate owners in the United States and around the world.

Sport-Specific Goals

Increase Open registration to 500,000 for 2021:

  • While the final count was just over half that at 263,529, it’s difficult to be too critical about this given the circumstances. Many parts of the world (primarily overseas) were still facing strict COVID-19 regulations and mandates. They did however surpass 2020 Open’s registration with just 239,106 participants — a positive note that they’re at least heading in the right direction.
  • Speaking of heading in the right direction, CrossFit has already announced next year’s Open to kick-off on February, 24, 2020. This gives CrossFit nearly seven months to use their marketing efforts to get as close to that 500,000 participants going into this next season.
  • 2018 at a glance: The 2018 Open was the peak in terms of participation across the board where 429,157 athletes registered and logged a score in the Open that year. It’s a sharp contrast to the 239,106 registered athletes for the 2020 Open which represents a 44.3% decrease in a 20-month span.

New Games, New Divisions for CrossFit Season:

  • In a year’s time, Roza got through not one, but two CrossFit Games, and both look wildly different given the location, format, and of course, the ongoing pandemic. At the close of the 2020 Games that was held at the Ranch in Aromas, CA due to COVID-19, there was a quick turnaround to the 2021 season.
  • The Open was moved back to February (eventually pushed to March to give gyms more time to prepare) and a new format would follow with Quarterfinals, Semifinals, a Last Chance Qualifier and the Games.
  • In an effort to increase inclusivity, adaptive divisions and a foundations division were added to the CrossFit Open, and the adaptive division’s made an inaugural appearance at the CrossFit Games.

New Title Sponsor and Partnership with WIT Fitness:

  • CrossFit brought on a new title sponsor at the CrossFit Games, NOBULL and created a multi-year e-commerce and retail deal, finalizing a partnership with WIT Fitness. Both moves are a way Roza is trying to look at the big picture and the future of the sport on a larger scale.

Expand the Age Groups at the Games and Introduce Adaptive Divisions:

  • Having the age group and adaptive divisions front load the first half of the CrossFit Games, was arguably the best decision to get spectators in the stands cheering on the athletes. In the past, their fan base was low as many spectators chose to watch individual events over age group events. This year, age group and adaptive divisions competed Tuesday through Thursday with only one day overlapping the individual division. However, for those spectating from home and on the live-stream, there were certain age group events that were not broadcasted at all, even though no other events were going on — something CrossFit can improve on in the future.
  • As for the adaptive divisions, this year it was broken up by upper extremity, lower extremity, and neuromuscular. A positive step in the right direction for inclusivity in the first year, but still plenty of room to grow. The CrossFit Open had a total of 16 adaptive divisions, something the Games can consider when looking to expand divisions moving forward.

Bringing the CrossFit Games Back to TV Through CBS Sports:

  • The return of the Games being broadcasted on CBS and CBS Sports Network for the second year shows increased efforts and illustrates the value being placed on the Games. On Sunday, there was a two hour live show on CBS to crown the Fittest on Earth, and an hour long show on CBS Sports Network during individual competition days. After several years of a downward trend and lack of emphasis on the Games under CrossFit’s previous CEO, the Roza era looks promising for the growth of the sport.

Create “COVID-Proof” Games:

  • While Kari Pearce, Bethany Shadburne, and Dan Bailey were unable to compete after testing positive for COVID-19 before the first event, looking at the big picture, CrossFit was in fact able to hold a relatively “COVID-Proof” Games. Athletes who were vaccinated did not need to undergo COVID testing but those who were not vaccinated were tested for the virus upon arrival. Teammate of Pearce and Shadburne, Danille Brandon, also underwent strict testing procedures as she was in close proximity with both athletes sharing accommodations with them. Being that the venue held thousands of spectators and it didn’t turn into a “super-spreader,” we’d say it was nearly “COVID-proof.”

Developing CrossFit Home Office

DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion):

  • Trish Gerlitz, a former colleague of Roza at Datalogix who has served as the Head of Human Resources for the city of Boulder, Colorado, has been hired as the head of culture and inclusion at CrossFit LLC and will report directly to Roza.
  • DEI Council includes ten members within the broader CrossFit community.
  • Roza also publicized a new email address where anyone can provide feedback and contact the company regarding issues of D.E.I. Anyone interested can email [email protected]
  • The CrossFit Foundation is also starting a new program, via a 7 million dollar endowment from Roza and other investors, to focus specifically on public health with an emphasis on underserved communities.

Rebuilding Trust Through Outreach:

  • CrossFit LLC sent out more than 10,000 emails and had 2,500 phone conversations with affiliates they hadn’t heard from in a while or affiliates who hadn’t renewed membership. From outreach alone, more than 1,000 gyms whose affiliates lapsed, had rejoined.

Expand the Professionalization of the Company:

  • Since taking over CrossFit, Roza has added several employees with the kind of resumes rarely seen inside CrossFit corporate.
  • Jason Dunlop hired as the new President: Dunlop spent five years at NIKE, with stints at Starbucks and Canada Goose afterwards. At NIKE, Dunlop was responsible for Nike’s Direct-To-Consumer (D2C) business across 41 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), directing store growth and digital expansion.
  • Gary Gaines hired as the new General Manager of International: Roza introduced Gary Gaines early in the discussion as a 13-year CrossFitter and the former COO of SoulCycle, who helped them create their COVID strategy. Gaines discussed the work he’s doing with the country managers in an effort to help define their roles within the organization and as conduits between CrossFit and affiliate owners around the globe.
  • Considerable work will also be done overseas as Roza — who has dual citizenship in France as well — stated his belief that eventually 80-90% of affiliates will be outside of the United States and the companies international efforts need to be expanded.
  • Andrew Weinstein hired as the global head of communications and public policy, previously worked as press aide to Speaker Newt Gingrich, spokesperson for AOL and head of communications for LivingSocial.

The big picture: Has the first 365 days under Roza’s reign been a success? While it’s difficult to quantify whether someone was successful or not with so many ambitious goals and a massive workload ahead, we’re finally seeing true progress being made across various spaces within CrossFit. For the first time since 2018 we have increased participation in the sport and with new hires, new visions, new ideas and a new season format, it’s not expected to get everything right on the first try, however, much has been done to get us closer to the ultimate goal.

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