Article Thumbnail

Sweating It Out at the Dallas Cowboys-Branded Luxury Gym

What makes people want to work out at a fitness center run by America’s Team?

When you walk into Cowboys Fit, the luxury gym opened by the Dallas Cowboys this past summer, the check-in counter looks like the control deck from a large spaceship. It’s at least 15 feet long from end to end, and the deep brown wood (which looks similar to the luxe lockers the team has at AT&T Stadium) curves slightly inward so the workers are enclosed in an elongated ellipse.

Behind the check-in table is the recovery suite, which houses hydro-massage chairs and cryotherapy tubes. The gym’s app also recently informed me about a “Botox Flash Sale!” that would be fulfilled in the recovery suite as well. Next door is a fitness room for yoga and other group classes; then there’s a spinning room with about two dozen stationary Schwinn bikes. The front wall is all windows and can open to that hot Texas summer, if y’all want. The room’s right wall is Cowboys blue with the word “relentless” across the entire wall, in all caps: RELENTLESS. (Elsewhere, there’s another fitness room that looks like any other dance studio, except this one is for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.)

When you walk up what appear to be marble-slab stairs to the second floor, the wall by your side features a quote from head coach Jason Garrett: “THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS WHAT WE DO NOW.” It’s also in all caps, with a period at the end—a forceful 3-D thought for a wall, and a bit more pressure than I personally need from my gym. Upstairs, there’s a 40-yard football field with CrossFit-esque covered tires, monkey bars and fitness bands as well as Cowboys-branded end zones.

As impressive as Cowboys Fit is on the inside, however, it’s swallowed up by what surrounds it—The Star, the team’s headquarters and practice facility. It’s amazing, in fact, that they somehow managed to obscure a 60,000-square-foot facility. But such is the team’s physical footprint in the state of Texas (to say nothing of its hold on the populace therein).

It’s also the main appeal of Cowboys Fit: The pros are just a building over.

Once you find parking (pretty easy by Texas standards) and walk past the team headquarters at One Cowboys Way — which can blind you if you walk by at midday, thanks to all the crystal chandeliers in the lobby — then you see a field. This isn’t the typical open field you’d find on the Texas prairie, ripe for development, either. It’s an honest-to-God 50-yard turf field on a plaza sponsored by a chip company. (Everything at The Star is sponsored: Whataburger lays claim to the high school games played on Friday nights at the Ford-sponsored 12,000-seat indoor arena, which houses the Texas Lottery Commission’s tribute to the area’s best high school players.)

The field is there to give you the general football ambiance, but the chandeliers are there to remind you only the Dallas Cowboys could pull off something like One Cowboys Way. The brand of the Cowboys, for better or worse, is Here Are The Best Things Money Can Buy. Owner Jerry Jones and his children have infected the franchise with this suburban mindset. Why not take everything a bit further? It’s why there’s a Dr. Pepper-sponsored memorial to past Cowboys greats, and small monuments to Emmitt Smith’s rushing records. Any way you can dream up to pay tribute to your fandom can become real at The Star. Just look at AT&T Stadium: Jerry Jones doesn’t do anything halfway, especially luxury.

At the ribbon-cutting and subsequent media blitz for Cowboys Fit, Jones said he wanted the gym to be the thing that brought together people who loved the team and those who, well, didn’t. “The dream was to make it so that not just our fans, but all could integrate within what goes on with the NFL sports and the Dallas Cowboys,” he said in an interview published by the NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth. “We really associated ourselves with real winners.” (Cowboys Fit and the Cowboys declined to be a part of the story, but did answer a few questions over email.)

The gym’s third floor is its roof, which features a lap pool and a view of the practice fields. Despite my tour guide’s enthusiasm, only one corner of this floor really gives visual access to Dem Boyz. As a Cowboys spokesperson confirmed, practices are closed to the public during the season anyway. “[The pool] isn’t a place to gather to watch practice, as the team goes outside and inside. And the team isn’t out there much; they’re usually inside Ford Center, which is closed to the public, as all practices are closed to the public during the season,” a spokesperson writes over email.

The Cowboys are the only team in the NFL with a facility like Cowboys Fit. It’s unclear whether the gym would exist if the team hadn’t built this massive team headquarters in Frisco, a suburb within the Dallas-Forth Worth metro area. I’m sure other fanbases would respond to the idea — there are diehards among every franchise — but no other team is quite as committed as the Cowboys to making money. The speciality of the Jones family has been getting Cowboys fans to continue giving them money, even when the team isn’t winning (or when they’re not watching the team play).

But in an era when the NFL leaves an ever-worsening taste in the mouth, what kind of person wants to work out at a franchise-branded gym? Or, better put, who is this massive gym facility actually made for?

When I meet Allison Soladay, she comes dressed to talk about fitness in an Under Armor tank top, leggings and purple sneakers. I found her on Instagram. The Cowboys Fit location geotag is filled with people like her, all of them much more committed to exercise than I am. Soladay was drawn to Cowboys Fit by the inventive classes, which go far beyond her normal Zumba. She usually works out three or four times a week, but as an art teacher with a lighter schedule over the summer, she’s upped her game. “This summer I’ve been meeting my husband at lunch. We’ll do an hour and a half of circuit training and then we’ll finish with lifts,” says Soladay, an incredibly thin but muscular blonde.

“I came in by myself and did the tour. [The guide] was showing me this and all that, and I was like of course Jerry Jones has that,” Soladay tells me. She later purchased a monthly family membership for herself, her husband and their four children. A family membership costs $188 per month while a couple membership checks out at $138; individual plans are $88. Her husband is a “huge” Cowboys fan, which is a big part of the gym’s draw. She jokes that her teenage boys would love getting to see the cheerleaders practice.

A week later, I find Tatiana Velasquez, 27, and Jonathan Martin Coello, 25, at Cowboys Fit. They’d just finished up a family workout with her young son and his mother. Both Velasquez and Coello are weightlifters and big Instagrammers. (Velasquez now works for Cowboys Fit as a trainer, though that was not the case when I spoke to them.) Coello has three gym memberships in addition to Cowboys Fit. One is for “hardcore bodybuilders but it’s friendly, open to anyone”; another is a Cowboys Fit-esque mega-gym; the third is an LA Fitness, but that membership will probably be canceled because Cowboys Fit is better.

“I just feel comfortable here now. I feel welcomed. They’re very attentive to their clients that come here,” Coello says. “It’s very clean, doesn’t smell. It’s very sanitary.”

Coello is a Patriots fan, but after 10 years in Texas, he isn’t anti-Cowboys. “You kinda have to support them one way or another. I have nothing against them.”

I ask him what appeals to him about the gym’s weightlifting options specifically. To my surprise, he says it’s the machines. “Typically, I’m against machines [as opposed to free weights], but nowadays with all the advanced machines, they help you prevent injury. They have a lot of state-of-the-art equipment that helps you isolate the muscle more instead of the joints. You can actually hit the muscle.”

Another weightlifter, Jackie Ton, only has a single complaint about Cowboys Fit: It needs more mirrors. The weights area overlooks the replica field out front, “which is beautiful” but leaves something to be desired during a workout. “When I’m doing my dumbbell set, it’s pretty out there, but I’d rather see what I’m doing so I don’t hurt myself or something bad.”

Apart from that quibble, though, Ton’s enthusiasm for the gym is boundless. She’s training for her personal training certification and would love to work in a gym like Cowboys Fit. “I literally go there just to have the experience and work out and the energy to feed on,” she explains.

Despite its over-the-top vibe and almost eerie cleanliness, the whole facility struck me as oddly comforting. It reminded me of going to a rich friend’s home, where you know everything you could ask for and more will be provided.

And so, as I stood on that replica field, I found myself lost in the fantasy of the person I could be if only I went to a gym like this—the kind of person who wants to go to the gym; who wants to keep pushing herself further and further; who is always getting better. And while Cowboys Fit’s packaging is one of a kind, the fantasy it’s selling is the least unique one in America.