What Does it Take to Run a Successful CrossFit Affiliate in Australia?
On November 4th 2022, CrossFit Adelaide celebrated its 14th birthday. Ben Norman, the owner of CrossFit Adelaide – which is located in the southern portion of the island country – spoke about what it’s like to run a successful affiliate Down Under in Australia.
“If you can pay the bills while making a positive difference, then that’s cool,” reflects Norman.
Norman believes that being a first generation affiliate has been instrumental to the longevity of CrossFit Adelaide.
He explains: “First generation affiliates had to build CrossFit. They weren’t buying a brand at the time. I’m used to being an advocate for CrossFit. I’m from the era where you create the value.”
Embracing the Affiliate Model is the Key to Success
Embracing the affiliate model has been key to Norman’s success. Each affiliate is an independently run gym, with its own members and its own community. It’s not a franchise.
- “Affiliate owners must invest themselves into their gym,” says Norman.
You must be authentic in order to build your community. This philosophy has paid off for Norman and CrossFit Adelaide, as they have retained original members, 14 years on.
YouTube Videos, Outdoor Group Fitness and a Warehouse Gym
Norman’s first exposure to CrossFit was watching the old CrossFit videos, such as Nasty Girls on YouTube. “I saw that and I was hooked. I could see that it [CrossFit] works,” says Norman.
Seeing someone doing multiple things; moving from the rower, to burpees then lifting weights blew Ben’s mind.
At the time there were only a handful of CrossFit affiliates in Australia, and none in South Australia. Norman attended the second ever Australian CrossFit Level 1 in 2008, which was run by Greg Glassman at CrossFit FX in Sydney. After this, Norman decided to open an affiliate and CrossFit Adelaide was born.
CrossFit Adelaide started training in the Adelaide city parklands three days a week. Norman made parallettes and boxes, and the programming had a gymnastics focus.
- “We used the soccer goals for pull ups,” remembers Norman. On Saturday mornings CrossFit Adelaide trained indoors at a Kung Fu gym. These indoor sessions included barbell training with cast iron plates, because the only bumper plates available at that time were calibrated olympic lifting plates.
As winter drew nearer and memberships grew, Norman arranged for weekday indoor classes at the Kung Fu gym. “When a class filled up, we added another class” explained Norman. Once memberships reached between 30-50, Norman took the plunge and leased a warehouse in the inner western suburbs of Adelaide; which remains the home of CrossFit Adelaide today.
“As a small gym we have done quite well with the competition side of things,” Norman shares modestly, when asked about his success as a performance coach.
The facts speak for themselves:
- Individual CrossFit Games competitor: 2011.
- 2 x CrossFit Games gold medalist 40-44 division: 2013, 2014.
- Regionals athletes: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.
- Torian Pro 5th place teen 14-15 division: 2022
Not all achievements are about the elite.
- “How we rolled through COVID was a massive win,” Norman reflects.
With a nationwide shut-down of gyms throughout 2020, this led to the closure of many Australian gyms. Norman and Stephanie Ortiz, his wife and fellow coach, saw COVID as an opportunity, and lent into their strength as a community hub.
- “We retained 90-95% of members [during this time],” recalls Norman.
What’s Unique About Running an Affiliate in Australia?
“South Australia is an island on an island,” Norman explains. “When I started [CrossFit] there was no one else on the island.” Whilst South Australia now hosts 20 affiliates, it still only makes up 4 percent of the total number of Australian affiliates.
This isolation makes it challenging to connect with interstate and global affiliates, but it has enabled a close connection between the local South Australian affiliates.
- “I know all the other guys in South Australia” says Norman.
After a successful inaugural South Australian affiliate meet-up in May this year, which was also attended by CrossFit’s Oceania Manager Ed Morrison, Norman is optimistic about the growth of the CrossFit community in South Australia. Norman believes that more local competitions would help develop the CrossFit community in South Australia.
- “It’s hard for us to duck over to a competition in Queensland,” says Norman. “Our South Australian competition scene has been up and down,” but Norman and the other South Australian affiliate owners are eager to rectify this.
Oceania CrossFit Affiliate Summit
Norman and a few other South Australian affiliate owners will be heading over to the Down Under Championship for the Oceania CrossFit Affiliate Summit on November 17, 2022. This will be a chance for Australian and New Zealand affiliates to share their unique challenges. Norman believes that “local beats global” when asked about support from CrossFit HQ.
“It’s hard to feel connected to the US-issues,” says Norman, who’s preference is face-to-face meet-ups at local events with local affiliates more than a global roundtable over Zoom. Norman did state, “I would be more likely to go to a big old global gathering once a year like the event in Whistler,” which is in reference to the 2019 10 Year Affiliate Summit.
Norman’s Top 3 Tips for New Affiliate Owners:
- Invest in your members. “Put yourself into your gym. Don’t be a copycat, make it your gym.”
- Do CrossFit properly. “Lift heavy, do high skill gymnastics, do the occasional met-con, happy days.”
- “Start in a space that you can afford and outgrow it. It’s better to be overflowing in a small space, than swimming in a giant space.”
“After 14 years we pretty much have a good squad of masters lined up. Next year’s Open will be one of the most interesting we’ve had in quite a few years,” says Norman.