SoulCycle Spins Fitness Message at SXSW With Spotify Partnership

Fitness Brand Has Also Made Appearances at CES, Sundance

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The sounds of Canadian DJ Ryan Hemsworth caromed off the walls of an abandoned auto shop at South By Southwest as Pixie, a muscular woman covered in tattoos, shouted inspirational messages at the throng of people pedaling stationary bikes.

Pixie is an instructor for SoulCycle, the fitness company with a cult-like following in Los Angeles and New York. The company partnered with the music-streaming company Spotify for six classes at the music festival this week in Austin, Texas. Unlike typical SoulCycle classes, the events included live music and a dance class in the same room.

The focus on fitness marks an unusual twist at a music festival known for public bacchanals, late-night concerts and barbecue. In a sign of the times, big companies like Yahoo and NBCUniversal offered morning yoga and workout classes to build loyalty with the affluent and influential millennials who flocked to Austin this week.

For SoulCycle, SXSW was the largest pop-up in a tour of the year's biggest media conferences. Its fitness classes also showed up at Sundance Film Festival and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in a deal with Twitter.

"The more we can get people to try SoulCycle in a way they haven't before, it helps our brand," Gabby Cohen, a vice president of SoulCycle. "It's about getting people on the bike."

SoulCycle, which began as a single outlet in 2006, now operates 37 studios in the U.S. and will expand to as many as 55 or 60 this year, Ms. Cohen said. Majority-owned by New York-based Equinox, it attracts devotees who happily fork over $20 to $40 for a single class.

The popularity of studio-based classes such as SoulCycle's has pressured owners of larger gyms, which operate in bigger quarters and have higher costs.

SoulCycle shares a musical kinship with Spotify. Its instructors design playlists for classes, some devoted to a particular artist such as Beyonce or Missy Elliott. Spotify hosted a series of concerts at SXSW, and recruited artists like Gorgon City to perform during the classes.

"Workout is one of the biggest categories for Spotify," Becky Verhey, a marketing executive for the company.

NBCUniversal's $9.95-a-month online Radius aims to grab a share of the fitness-DVD business. It will provide instructors and sponsors with a national media platform.

"There is this amazing explosion of innovation happening in the fitness industry, both in terms of talent and boutique fitness brands -- your SoulCycles, your Flywheels," said Nick Lehman, president ofdigital for Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal. "These are all incredible brands and the instructors and talents are lifestyle gurus."

Radius's first big sponsor is Under Armour Inc., and Mr. Lehman strolled around Austin wearing Under Amour sneakers.

Like NBCUniversal, SoulCycle and Spotify brought clothing as well: T-shirts and tank tops that featured the logos of both companies. The shirts projected a cool that executives say can't be found in a typical hotel workout.

"Your hotel gym is kind of miserable. Who is psyched about that?" Ms. Cohen said.

-- Bloomberg News --

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