[24 November 2009]
David Campisi’s life is all about exercise and sports.
As president of Sports Authority, Campisi runs the largest sports goods retailer in the country. His wife, Beci Campisi, runs a garage gym based on the grueling fitness methodology of CrossFit which uses medicine balls, weights and nonstop exercise to mold “the quintessential athlete.”
But when he first heard of Nintendo’s part-game, part-exercise Wii Fit and Balance Board, he knew he had to get one. More importantly, he knew that he had to start selling it in his chain of stores, among the dumbbells, the rowing machines, the treadmills and the basketballs.
“When Nintendo first came out with Wii Fit I knew we could sell that product in our stores,” Campisi told Kotaku. “I paid some guy on eBay $180 for a Wii Fit because you couldn’t buy it in stores.”
That was in 2008. Last week, with the blessing of Nintendo, Campisi launched his campaign to sell Wii Fit and the Wii as exercise equipment in Sports Authority stores nationwide.
Sports Authority kicked off the movement to blend gaming and sports good with an event at its Torrance, Calif., store. Fitness guru Jillian Michaels was on hand to lead 100 people through exercise routines on balance board with the help of the Wii in what was believe to be the largest demonstration of Wii Fit in the world.
“Although individual retailers might do their own independent promotions from time to time, this is the first time Nintendo has officially partnered with a major sports retailer,” said Marc Franklin, Nintendo of America’s director of public relations. “Wii Fit has already sold more than 8 million units in the United States, making it one of the best-selling games of this generation, surpassing even some of the industry’s most well-known franchises. Our partnership with The Sports Authority expands on the exergaming trend of Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus. Now we’re reaching out to fitness fans in new ways, showing them that video games can be a part of their everyday fitness routines.”
Instead of just dropping Wii consoles and games into his stores, Campisi knew that he had to treat the game and its equipment the same as any other piece of exercise equipment.
So he had the stores set up special Wii Fit areas and train some of their employees to explain and demonstrate the gaming equipment.
“They typically train people on weights and treadmills and now they’re showing people how to use the Wii Fit,” he said.
Mike Gabriela, manager of the Sports Authority in Littleton, Colo., said news that the retailer would be carrying the video games was a “welcome surprise.”
The equipment for the Wii Experience landed in his store on a Friday and they had it up and running that Saturday morning.
Gabriela says they trained employees using a Nintendo-provided video and tried out Wii Fit themselves.
“It’s absolutely exercise,” he said. “You do a couple of those programs and it is very difficult.”
The customers who so far seem most intrigued by the console and its fitness games seem to be women who do Yoga and aerobics, he said.
“We sold our first (Wii) within 20 minutes of being open,” Gabriela said.
While Sports Authority and Campisi seem to be putting a lot of support behind the Wii Fit, it doesn’t mean that they believe it will replace more traditional forms of exercise.
“I don’t believe that,” Campisi said. “My wife would kill me if I believe that. I don’t think this is a shift away from traditional exercise, it’s just another way to get fit.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to get off their couch, but this is fun. Everyone is moving at 100 miles an hour, maybe this can get them to slow down.”
The Wii Fit and the Wii’s driving concept also seem to connect with Sports Authority on another level. Where Nintendo is using the Wii to expand its audience to more casual gamers, Sports Authority has long used backyard and youth sports to connect with children at a younger age.
The two coming together to expand each of its audiences seems like a good idea.
Nintendo’s Franklin wasn’t willing to yet say how important the Sports Authority deal would be in helping to expand Nintendo’s reach.
“That remains to be seen,” he said. “But we’re always looking for ways to get video games into the hands — or under the feet — of people who have never played them before. Nintendo has the most diverse group of fans of any video game company, and it’s important for us to reach out to where those fans are.
“We’re always looking to bring the world of video games to new audiences. I’m sure there are plenty of people who visit The Sports Authority who don’t have an interest in video games. Seeing Wii and Wii Fit Plus in the same context as some of their favorite fitness products will undoubtedly pique some people’s interest and make them consider video games in a whole new light.”
And for Sports Authority there’s also a very practical reason to get into the Wii Fit business. Not everyone has the room for the larger exercise equipment the retailer sells.
“There are lots of people who can’t afford a treadmill and we have stores in cities like New York where people can’t fit that equipment in their lofts and apartments,” Campisi said.
But it is still just one of many things the retailer carries, Campisi reminds.
“Fitness equipment and sports equipment is what we do,” he said. “In our fitness department we carry a lot of equipment. There are many, many ways to get fit and exercise, this is just one additional opportunity. And for sporting goods it’s a huge opportunity, it’s fun.”
Brian Crecente is managing editor of Kotaku.com, a video-game Web site owned by Gawker Media. Join in the discussion at kotaku.com/tag/well-played.