Winning At The Wellness Game

October 29, 2008
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When Bob Vander Weide gets in a game, he gets in it to win. And that’s what he has tried to do for both the Orlando Magic and MVP Sports.

Vander Weide seems to fit quite naturally into the dual roles of president of the Orlando Magic basketball team and CEO of seven world-class MVP Sports Clubs. He’s competitive by nature and grew up as the youngest of three boys in a very sports-minded family. His father had been a professional baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox, and Vander Weide played baseball, basketball and football at Grand Rapids Christian High.

Perhaps more than anything else, however, the series of massive strokes his father suffered at age 43 underscored for Vander Weide the importance of maintaining health and fitness.

A native of Grand Rapids, Vander Weide is the son-in-law of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. He graduated from Aquinas in 1981 with a business degree and an interest in real estate development and construction. One of the first developments he was involved in was the Crystal Springs Golf Club in Caledonia.

Vande Weide recalled that in the early- to mid-1980s, there was a lot of talk about bringing a minor league baseball franchise to Grand Rapids. In 1984, local businessman Lew Chamberlain and his business partner, Denny Baxter, actively began pursuing that goal, with the vision of an outdoor ballpark. Vander Weide became a silent partner in the project.

Meanwhile, local businessman Bob Sullivan and his contingency were focused on building an enclosed baseball stadium downtown. In February 1993, Chamberlain and his partners purchased the Midwest League’s Madison Muskies, which became the West Michigan Whitecaps. The Whitecaps began their inagural season in 1994.

In the process of  working with Chamberlain to get the ballpark developed, Vander Weide connected with his brother-in-law Dick DeVos.

“I told Dick that there was a lot of interest in a downtown venue to attract concerts and things like that, and that’s when Dick started rolling with Grand Action,” Vander Weide recalled. “So out of a focus on minor league baseball came a very nice venue (the Van Andel Arena).”

The DeVos family was introduced to Orlando during the drive to bring major league baseball there. Pat Williams, who went on to become senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, spearheaded the drive and turned to Rich DeVos as a potential investor.

“We didn’t get the baseball franchise because someone else got it. But in the process of pursuing baseball, we (the DeVos family) fell in love with Orlando,” Vander Weide said.

So instead of a baseball franchise, the DeVos family purchased the Orlando Magic franchise in September 1991 for $85 million, and it became part of RDV Sports.

The family asked Vander Weide and his wife, Cheri, if they would move to Orlando to oversee the franchise.

“We agreed to three years, and I’m on my 18th year year now,” he laughed.

Vander Weide said the business he now operates is much more complicated and sophisticated than when he started. Orlando Magic’s budget the first year was about $16 million and it now exceeds $100,000. In that 18 years, he said, NBA basketball went from a sport with some support to a big buiness with every division imaginable, from marketing to ticket sales to finance. 

“It’s an interesting business because everybody can tell how you’re doing every night based on wins and losses,” he added.

In the early 1990s, there were two small YMCA facilities in Orlando but no family health and fitness clubs, Vander Weide said.

“I believed we could tie pro sports to wellness and give it some real horsepower,” he said. “I wanted to do wellness better than anybody in Orlando, and I had to get all my hockey and women’s basketball clubs under one roof to better manage them. My personal desire to attach wellness on a larger scope to what we were doing with the Magic led us to design what was at that time a crazy big building.”

In February 1998, RDV Sports partnered with a Florida hospital to open the $55 million, 365,000-square-foot RDV Sportsplex in Orlando. The world-class health, wellness and rehabilitiation facility also featured a Magic Athletic Club, training facilities for the Magic, two ice rinks, restaurants and retail shops. RDV Sportsplex has 8,300 members now and is going on its 12th year.

“I’m all about winning a championship with the Magic, but I can tell you that I almost get goosebumps every time a member tells me I changed his or her life. They say: ‘When you put this facility in my backyard, I was motivated to go use it, and now my family has benefitted because I’m in better health.’ I’ve heard that comment 200 times, minimum.”

The success of RDV Sportsplex led RDV Sports to develop six more world-class sports and fitness complexes: the MVP Sportsplex, MVP Metro Club and MVP Fieldhouse in Grand Rapids, the MVP Athletic Club in Holland, the MVP Athletic Club in Rockford, and the MVP Sports Spot in Kentwood.

MVP Fieldhouse is different from the clubs in that it offers kids, adults, teams and groups a site for practice and training in soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball and football. The facility also accommodates youth and adult leagues, tournaments, and specialized sport camps and clinics., groups and in

RDV Sportsplex is the largest of all the facilities but only one portion of it is actually devoted to the health club members. The suburban MVP model is in the 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot range and the urban model is in the 15,000- to 18,000-square-foot range.

The three Grand Rapids facilities are affiliated with Spectrum Health. The clubs with a hospital affiliation can address rehabilitation and preventive medicine because the hospital brings those capabilities to the partnership, Vander Weide said.

“We’ve always wanted to have the best wellness facilities in Orlando and in metro Grand Rapids, and we’re close to really being that,” Vander Weide remarked. “I can get as excited about MVP as I can about the Magic winning the Eastern Conference, because MVP changes people’s lives.”

On Sept. 17, Vander Weide, along with Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr., joined in unveiling a new initiative aimed at expanding academic and athletic opportunities for students at the Grand Rapids middle school level.

The Academic and Athletic Expansion Project is a public-private venture that includes the Grand Rapids Public Schools, the Bob and Cheri Vander Weide Foundation, the Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, and the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation. The group is seeking additional partners to help support the project.

"Our hope is that more students are positioned to succeed by tapping into their existing interest and potential in athletics and then being intentional about academic performance.  This approach is consistent with findings from a recently released Harvard Study on the potential opportunities in out-of-school time activities," said Vander Weide said.

The Academic and Athletic Expansion Project is a multi-year investment designed to establish a comprehensive middle school athletic program, expand academic support programs and leverage academic success through athletic participation. HQsports performance training options to teams, groups and individuals

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