By  on February 3, 2005

ORLANDO, Fla. — Thomas J. Cove, the new president of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, thinks the fitness industry could use a makeover, and he’s moving the organization to Washington, D.C., to help jump-start the process.

“We’ve been selling fitness as drudgery for too long and people are turned off or intimidated,” Cove said during an interview at The Super Show, which SGMA sponsors. “Everybody wants to look as great as the women on ‘Desperate Housewives,’ but we need to promote fitness as a way of life for everybody, not just celebrities and elite athletes.”

Cove said the sports industry is at a unique point, as increased awareness of obesity as a public health threat merges with the potential of technology and entertainment.

“We’re at a nexus, a time when electronics, entertainment and sports could combine and explode,” he said, citing the use of heart monitors and pedometers, or applications of radio frequency identification to help motivate and reward fitness participants.

In May, SGMA will move its North Palm Beach, Fla., headquarters to Washington to enable the organization to better lobby lawmakers on public health policies and trade issues that affect the industry. The move also gives SGMA better access to partners, both private and public, for fitness initiatives, and to the New York media, which may boost exposure.

Key goals include raising support and funding for P.E.4LIFE, a program to increase physical fitness in public schools, and support for community-based sports leagues and organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs.

“We need to see something of the magnitude of Title Nine,” said Cove, referring to the 1972 law that mandated equal opportunity for girls in sports. “Since Title Nine, we’ve seen a 500 percent increase in women’s participation in intercollegiate sports.”

Cove called for more innovation in low-impact fitness equipment and products that make consumers perceive exercise as fun rather than as a chore. In apparel, where performance fabrics and special features have boosted sales, manufacturers do a better job of educating consumers on how they can enhance the exercise experience, Cove said.

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