Though new billionaire Scott Watterson’s iFIT started selling home fitness equipment 33 years before John Foley’s Peloton, it got quickly eclipsed—but now the OG home exercise brand is launching an all-fronts battle to regain lost ground that spans the mountains to the courtroom.
On the morning of March 22, 2021, a team of three fitness trainers backed by a 39-person film crew began a sunrise trek from the base camp of Mt. Everest to Kala Patthar, an 18,300-foot peak with an expansive view of the summit of the tallest mountain on Earth. As the guides hiked uphill, their trek was live-streamed to more than one million iFIT subscribers around the world, all working out on touchscreen-fitted NordicTrack and ProForm treadmills, bikes and ellipticals—with the machines automatically adjusting to the mountain’s escalating incline at every step. That trek was a preview of a new 18-part series of virtual workouts filmed in Nepal, part of a growing library of interactive workouts shot on the ground in locations ranging from Maui and the Grand Canyon to Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Swiss Alps.
“I was on Everest while it was being filmed live, but I couldn’t do the whole workout,” says Scott Watterson, iFIT’s 66-year-old cofounder and CEO, in a late March Zoom call from his wood-paneled office in Logan, Utah. He adds with a chuckle: “My family suggests I need to spend a little more time in the weight room.”
When the pandemic shuttered gyms across the country last year, millions of Americans turned to exercise bikes, treadmills and online workouts at home—and the biggest winner of that shift was Peloton, which posted its first net profit in its history in 2020. But Peloton’s three million subscribers aren’t the only ones breaking a sweat over the nine-year-old startup: Watterson has been racing to catch up since Peloton launched its first bike in 2014. He’s been in the fitness game since 1977, when he and his college buddy Gary Stevenson started what later became iFIT, the maker of NordicTrack and ProForm exercise machines, when they were students at Utah State. When Peloton founder John Foley was still a teenager in the late 1980s, iFIT was pioneering home fitness with treadmills hooked up to VHS players that automatically adjusted the incline to match the workout on the tape.
Once the largest maker of fitness equipment in the world, iFIT has since been dethroned by the much younger Peloton. After an alleged 2013 meeting at iFIT’s Logan office, where iFIT claimed in a 2016 lawsuit that Foley asked for access to the company’s bike technology—an offer the firm refused—Peloton took off and quickly eclipsed its older competitor. When the pandemic hit, Peloton’s popular touchscreen-fitted indoor bike and online workout classes allowed it to cement its place at the top: Its nearly $3 billion revenues last year—its first full year since going public in September 2019—were double iFIT’s $1.5 billion.