SoulCycle, Equinox, Blink Fitness, and PURE Yoga are all facing backlash and membership cancellation threats after news that Stephen Ross, chairman of parent company Related Companies, plans to hold a fundraiser for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
And the backlash may not end with those companies.
Ross is majority owner of the Miami Dolphins. (Venus and Serena Williams are among the team’s minority owners.) Related is the company behind the Hudson Yards real estate development in New York, and its recently-opened tourist destination “The Vessel.” At a cost of $25 billion, Hudson Yards is the most expensive development in U.S. history.
Ross’s venture capital firm, RSE Ventures, has invested in a slew of startups, many of them in food or fitness, including: Gary Vaynerchuk’s VaynerMedia digital branding firm; David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant chain; Bluestone Lane coffee; DRL (Drone Racing League); Relevent Sports Group; Omaze, a charity donations site; NextVR; and Lola, a feminine products brand.
An immediate backlash
It’s the latest example of brands getting forced into politics in the Trump era. The speed of the backlash is also Exhibit A in how quickly social media can throw fuel on a fire: Stephen Ross was already a known Trump supporter, but most consumers clearly were not aware of his ownership ties to these companies.
That is not an accurate use of the term “passive investor.”
Ross is chairman of the company that owns both companies. And in an interview this summer with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer, Ross sounded very active indeed: “We've grown [Equinox], it's become a great brand. We've branched out and own SoulCycle as well as Equinox, and we have a lower-priced option that is hot as can be called Blink. And we're now opening up Equinox hotels... We're managing it ourselves. Some of the large chains wanted to manage it for us, but we thought to do it the right way, and so we could control it, we've brought on a whole management staff."
SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan also said in her statement that SoulCycle “in no way endorses the political fundraising event being held later this week.” Ross is hosting the fundraiser at his Southampton home in Long Island; tickets reportedly cost $100,000 to $250,000.
Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills called out Ross in a tweet, saying Ross’s nonprofit RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality) doesn’t align with fundraising for Trump.
It’s worth noting that a handful of other NFL owners are public Trump supporters, including Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but their businesses have not yet faced this level of public backlash.
Someone to “take on China”
In a statement on Wednesday, Ross, who is worth $7.7 billion according to the most recent Forbes list, did not back down from his support of Trump, and did not change his plans to host the fundraiser, though he said he and Trump “strongly disagree” on some issues.
“I have always been an active participant in the democratic process,” Ross said. “While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about. I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions.”
In his interview this summer with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer, Ross also praised Trump’s trade policies.
“The economy has never been any stronger than it is today,” he said. “In terms of Trump—and you know, there’s a good and bad obviously, with anything—the trade policies, I think we need him as a strong leader, what he’s done with China and taking on China. Somebody had to do it, and he was probably the only person that would take him on the way they are. And I think that’s important for the future of the United States.”
Daniel Roberts is a senior writer and on-air host at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.