DHalftime in December’s Brooklyn Nets game saw a group of young women, many between 20 and 30, making a run for the court. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen were there, sitting in prime seats, but the couple wasn’t their target. These women were hoping to take a picture with Ally Love, the team’s in-arena host. Love, one of Peloton’s most popular instructors, flashed a smile at the group and made a gesture suggesting they could huddle in the stands as she introduced a breakdancing team. They performed their duties with aplomb. They remained close to her even after the game was over.
Love is a former dancer and was working with Adidas and the Nets when she became a Peloton instructor. Her opportunities for success have expanded significantly since that time. NARS, Nissan and Therabody have been her partners. She’s also built her own brand, and fans can purchase $25 socks or $78 sweatpants with the Love Squad logo on her website. While she was in London, she hosted a upcoming Netflix dancing competition. “I’ve opted into the slash generation,” she says, referring to the phenomenon of millennials with multiple income streams. “I can get a little impatient if I’m doing the exact same thing every day.”
There has been much written about the relationships that Peloton members have with their instructors. Each one cultivates a certain style, whether it’s motivational mama or drill sergeant, and members gravitate to the ones whose personalities appeal to them, the ones they think could be their friends. “They’re talking to us every day, right?” says Jared Watson, a marketing professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “They might not hear us talk back. But it feels like we’re engaging in a relationship with them.” According to interviews with five of Peloton’s top instructors, that relationship is lucrative.
Robin Arzón, Peloton’s VP of Fitness Programming
Victor Llorente for TIME
They may be able to film up to eight classes per week, plan workouts and create playlists. But these days, that’s just the baseline. Having built considerable followings on social media, they’ve also become influencers, able to drive fans who admire their lifestyle to buy the items they’re hawking. They’re so sought-after, in fact, that some now have their own agents and earn a sizable portion of their income through endorsement deals and partnerships, appearing in traditional advertising and posting sponsored content. These people are particularly well-off. Peloton charges nearly $2,000 for its newest bike—and that’s before the cost of cycling shoes, weights, and a monthly subscription for classes. Peloton bikes (or at least fictionalized versions) have been featured prominently in shows like Emily in Paris Curb Your EnthusiasmAs a symbol of wealth or privilege That cultural cachet benefits instructors.
Chief content officer Jennifer Cotter, who cut her teeth managing talent at HSN (formerly known as the Home Shopping Network), was brought in three years ago to help navigate the instructors’ growing fame. “My original intent was really to reduce the friction instructors were starting to feel here,” she says, explaining that they were waiting a long time to hear back about brand partnership opportunities.
The instructors’ stars have continued to rise even as Peloton’s has begun to lose some of its sheen. This company became a global pandemic-juggernaut and grew its revenues from $915 million in 2019 up to $4 billion by 2021. But a return to gyms, product recalls, a series of PR disasters—including episodes of And Just Like That … and Millions in which characters suffer heart attacks after riding the bike—have taken a toll. Peloton, which had announced John Foley as its CEO, was retiring in February. It was also cutting 2,800 positions. The company did not lay off any instructors. Peloton’s quarterly report, released May 2, showed that revenues fell 24% last year compared with last year and that the company lost $757million last quarter. Still, the relationship between the company and its marquee talent remains symbiotic: certain instructors might be big enough to make it on their own as influencers if they were to leave, but they would lose an unparalleled platform in terms of reach—7 million members—and a key connection point with their fans.
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Ask Love or her Peloton peers if changes at the company have affected their plans, and they’ll say they’re concentrating on inspiring their acolytes to climb steep hills and lift heavy weights. Their expanding portfolios show that they also plan to capitalize on this moment of spotlight and create mini-empires.
In March 2020 Peloton shut down its New York City studio, and in April, head instructor Robin Arzón led a cycling class from her apartment. Everything about this first “live from home” session was MacGyvered: Arzón fidgeted with the music on her laptop, and Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” occasionally drowned out her aphorisms about building character in trying times. She shouted out some usernames. “ElaineNeedsWine,” she read, laughing. “I have a feeling you might not be alone, Elaine.” Twenty-five thousand people tuned in, in no small part to get a peek at Arzón’s apartment.
In recent years, Arzón, 40, has welcomed riders not only into her home but into her life. She’s shared her journey with IVF, pregnancy, and motherhood. “The frequency with which people come up to me crying, I’m still figuring out how to manage that. It’s a new, intense thing that happens every single day,” she says. “A woman announced her pregnancy to me in the bathroom of an airport in Puerto Rico. It was because she shared her pain and joy with me. [on the bike]. More common than not, that’s the reaction: the physical shaking, quivering.”
Peloton’s instructors worked together to help riders make their passions marketable. Arzón, for instance, would describe herself as Type A—she loves a vision board and taught an 11-episode MasterClass course on how to manifest success. MasterClass representatives declined to speak on the issue of instructor compensation. However, 2017 MasterClass course material did not mention any such issues. Hollywood ReporterThey are usually paid between $100,000 and $150,000, according to an article. An experience being held hostage at gunpoint inspired Arzón to take up running and eventually pivot from a career as a corporate litigator to one in wellness. She’s now Peloton’s vice president of fitness programming. In recent years, she’s evolved her brand to center more on motherhood: She’s developed prenatal and postpartum workouts; she dots her Instagram with images of her daughter Athena, with whom she posed on the cover of Latina Parents magazine; her children’s book For a strong Mama Recently, she was a bestseller and signed a deal to represent Pottery Barn Kids.
Ally Love, Peloton instructor
Victor Llorente for TIME
However, instructors need to be mindful of how they present their lives. Love for instance has attempted to build intimacy, even though it draws more eyes to her account. Vogue, People, and “Page Six” breathlessly covered her five-day wedding in Mexico, which included 200 drones taking to the sky to spell Love You, but only her followers could view more personal photos from the extravaganza in her Instagram Stories. She cites her husband’s privacy concerns for this decision: “He’s my No. 1 supporter, but he didn’t sign up to be a Peloton instructor, so it’s about making sure that I protect the people I love and respect their boundaries while servicing my community so they know they have access.” Of course, gating the wedding content only drove more people to follow her account.
Newer instructors look up to older teachers who are more adept at social media. Cotter mentions Love’s conversation with Tunde Oyeneyin, a fellow instructor who was formerly a makeup artist as an example of the way Peloton talents curate their social media feeds in order to get endorsements. “Ally actually gave her advice that maybe you should do makeup on social media,” says Cotter. “Tunde got a Revlon deal out of that.”
When Cody Rigsby, now 35, first joined Peloton, he thought perhaps imitating Arzón would be the best route to success. “It wasn’t authentic to me,” he says. “Robin is amazing at being Robin. I had to figure out who Cody was.” Rigsby, who sports a Mickey Mouse tattoo on his bicep and worships Britney Spears, studied his sessions and found riders responded to his pop culture references and self-deprecation. His comments about Cheetos’ texture were a hit with them. “I became sort of the opposite of an inspirational fitness trainer,” he says.
Cody Rigsby – Peloton Instructor
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Rigsby boasts over 1.2million Instagram followers. This is more than any Peloton instructor. He won the 2021 Peloton Championship. Dancing With the Stars He was able to make it through the finale together with Cheryl Burke. (A Dancing With the Stars representative said the show does not comment on contestants’ salaries, but VarietyIn 2019, it was reported that the team made $125,000 in their first weeks, and they earned bonus money as they moved up to $295,000. Peloton created a temporary studio inside its Pasadena showroom, where he would record classes during rehearsals and performances. Gatorade. Chobani. Capital One. Invisalign. Adidas. Pure Leaf. Whole Foods. Primal Kitchen. Therabody.
Eric McCandless—ABC/Getty Images
Emma Lovewell too has noticed her offer expand. Her SoulCycle competitor Peloton sent her a newsletter with travel tips, recipes and gift guides. It was not until she changed to Peloton, that the business was built. “At SoulCycle, I was reaching 40 to 50 people a class—hundreds of people, tops, all in New York City,” says Lovewell, 34. “Peloton is just massive.” She’s also designed jeans for the brand Sene, modeled for Under Armour, and developed recipes with plant-based food company Kite Hill.
Emma Lovewell, Peloton Instructor
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A 2020 study on the influencer market found that the most valuable level of social media influencer to corporations is the “macro-influencer” who has between 100,000 and 1 million Instagram followers. “It’s a sweet spot, because they are not super expensive yet, but they still have a sizable follower base and they’re more authentic and get more engagement,” says co-author Colin Campbell, a marketing professor at the University of San Diego’s Knauss School of Business. “Once they get bigger, they tend to become more diva-like in terms of their demands and pay.”
Arturo Holmes—Getty Images
Alex Toussaint with 571,000 Instagram fans falls directly into this macro-influencer class. He has deals with Puma and Hyperice, another massage-device company, and wants to model his career on athletes who tend to be selective about where they lend their names, like LeBron James and Steph Curry (who takes Toussaint’s classes). After becoming a Puma ambassador, Toussaint (29 years old) partnered with the brand to support his Do Better Foundation, an organization that helps people from marginalized areas. “I’ve never chased a dollar. I’ve always chased purpose,” says Toussaint. “My grandmother always told me purpose is the most powerful, and the money will follow.”
Alex Toussaint is a Peloton Instructor
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However, it is possible to make more money if you have more followers. “It wouldn’t be surprising to me if instructors like Cody and Robin are getting close to $20,000 per post on average,” says Watson of NYU. Asked how much she makes from outside endorsements, Arzón is coy. “It’s more than my income at Peloton,” she says. “Let’s just say it’s a few salaries.”
Paras Griffin—Getty Images
Barry McCarthy took over as CEO in February, instructors’ outside deals—and time away from the studio—came under scrutiny. “He was like, ‘Tell me again why we let them do this?’” says Cotter. “Not everyone at the organization always understands. Why not just tell them the equivalent of ‘Shut up and dribble’? They are highly skilled professional athletes and Peloton will make a fortune off of their success. So why not make them feel super valued?”
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Peloton instructors are now able to run possible deals through a committee, and receive a prompt answer. Cotter encourages instructors who have been in the business for less than a year to consider outside partners. Peloton bans instructors from appearing in commercials for competitors or endorsing alcohol companies. However, almost any other activity is allowed. “Did people watch Dancing With the StarsGo buy a Peloton. We’re not sure that happened, but we don’t care,” says Cotter of Rigsby’s stint on the show. “It exposed him to the masses, and that’s great value for him, which is great value for us. There’s not a direct response in our business, but it does make people at Peloton feel happy and heard and respected.”
Jennifer Cotter, chief content officer at Peloton
Victor Llorente for TIME
The company also doesn’t dictate what instructors say on the bike. Toussaint gave a passionate speech to a class during the 2020 racial justice demonstrations. “For some of y’all, I’m the one person from the African-American community in your household,” he said. On social media, he shared stories about being pulled over by police. “I never had to ask approval for anything,” says Toussaint. “The reason you get the job is that level of trust and authenticity.” Lovewell has similarly spoken out about anti-Asian hate during rides.
Cotter is only against instructors who want too many responsibilities. Cotter fears that this could cause a loss of trust with their followers. Rigsby admits his initial inclination was to sign more deals: “In retrospect, I’m glad they guided me away from certain partnerships that weren’t worth my time.”
Very few instructors have left the Peloton family, in part because they’re afforded so much leeway. But this freedom isn’t the only reason they stay. According to a Bloomberg report, senior instructors were paid $500,000 or more in January 2021. A recent earnings report nodded to their value, noting that Peloton’s declining stock price may hamper its ability to hire and retain top-tier fitness talent who are offered shares in the company. “If they haven’t left the Peloton ecosystem, it’s almost certainly because Peloton has signed them to exclusive contracts where they’re paying them several million dollars,” Watson says. Peloton spokesmen said that the company doesn’t comment on compensation for employees.
Instructors also know that just as Peloton’s future is uncertain, physically, they can’t do this job forever. They’re incentivized to squeeze what they can out of the gig. Toussaint went to military school, and worked his way from a mop floor at a bike studio to becoming a pro in the fitness industry. He compares being an instructor with that of a professional athlete. “We train. “We study the tape. We produce at a high level every single day,” he says.
However, this intensity can be exhausting. Rigsby admits his inability to ride the bike for long periods of time. “I grew up with a single mother who was on welfare and food stamps. Multiple evictions were a part of our lives. So my relationship with money is interesting,” he says. “I recognize that notoriety and fame only lasts for so long, so I do want to capitalize on it in an authentic way and set myself up for success in the future.”
Clockwise from top left: Peloton instructors Cody Rigsby, Alex Toussaint, Ally Love, Robin Arzón, and Emma Lovewell in May in New York City
Victor Llorente for TIME
Peloton opened in-person classes for a limited number of members in June 10. The new Manhattan studio was specifically built to highlight its stars and features a bigger floorplan with more cameras. The studio will fully reopen later this summer, and Peloton riders are already taking to social media to plan “Pelogrimages” to New York to work out with their favorite instructors.
Cotter imagines a future where instructors will have less to do. “I’ve talked about it with the instructors and do want to make them feel their sense of mortality is not as imminent as they think it is. I’ve already told them, ‘You can do fewer classes. Don’t worry about it. You’re going to be here until you’re 90,’” she says. “But yes, we understand that’s why they pursue these things.”
She sounds like a proud mother as she discusses the talent: she beams when she recalls Toussaint winning MVP at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and raves about Arzón’s books. Their successes are her successes—well, Peloton’s—even as it becomes increasingly apparent that one day they may leave the nest. “I hope they never quit,” she says. “Not on my watch.”
By reporting Simmone Shah and Nik Popli
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