Madonna’s Hard Candy gyms file bankruptcy in Berlin, owing members

Madonna opens Hard Candy Fitness in Berlin
This story is somewhat personal to me as I go to Berlin frequently and used to work out at a Hard Candy gym, which opened in late 2013. (There’s a photo of Madonna above at the opening of the first Hard Candy in Berlin in October, 2013.) It was an excellent gym, with state of the art facilities and friendly staff and instructors. (However there were large comically photoshopped images of Madonna all over the place and her performance videos running on a loop in the entryway.) After less than three years in Berlin, Hard Candy has declared bankruptcy. All but one of the eight gyms abruptly closed in June, with no warning to members. What’s more is that the gyms were routinely selling €1,000 “10 year memberships,” likely when they desperately needed funds to continue operating. So not only do they owe money to creditors in rent, power and water bills, they also shafted members. It’s though that they left one single gym open so that they wouldn’t have to refund contracts. The liquidator has stated that they’re trying to sell the gyms to another company, but if that happens the new company would be under no obligation to current members.

This isn’t all Madonna’s doing, she didn’t manage the gyms of course, she just started the brand with her manager, Guy Oseary, and Mark Mastrov, the CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, and handed off the operations to a pair of brothers named Jürgen and Ralf Jopp. The Jopp brothers bungled it badly and have blamed Madonna for not being more involved in the operations.

The first warning came in June when lights went out in Hard Candy studios. The local franchise owners had not paid their electricity bills.

After news spread, they told members it was a short liquidity problem and asked for one more chance. Two months on, deeper and deeper in debt, a liquidity problem has turned existential.

“As things stand now it is not realistic that the branches closed now will open again,” said administrator Torsten Martini to the Tagesspiegel daily.

Worse, the fitness studio’s financing model – offering discount pre-paid membership – means that many customers’ money is gone, too.

He is in talks with other fitness chains about buying some of the nine Hard Candy facilities – a challenge given top locations and corresponding rents.

“I cannot imagine that any purchaser would allow [Hard Candy] customers train for years for free,” he said.

The only hope for gym members is to join the long queue of creditors: the Berlin electricity company, the gym landlords, even the cleaning firm with unpaid bills of €35,000.

The collapse of Hard Candy ends a strange business arrangement that began in 2013. Madonna caused a commotion at the launch of the chain, flanked by Berlin’s portly gym-owning brothers Jürgen and Ralf Jopp.

The idea was simple: Madonna collected licence fees but had little to do with the day-to-day running, the Jopp brothers meanwhile could use her heavily Photoshopped image to pull in the customers.

“To be honest, we would have wished for a little more engagement,” the brothers told the Tagesspiegel newspaper, miffed over how the singer, in their view, never followed through on her end of the deal.

“Apart from our studios one club opened in Toronto but closed again,” they complained.
“We’d hoped and assumed that Hard Candy Fitness would become a worldwide brand with hundreds of studios, where members could train. Sadly that didn’t happen.”

[From Irish Times]

This reminds me of the fact that Madonna’s charity had a similar fate. Do you remember how her Malawi charity shuttered after collecting millions in donations and doing little to no charity work? Do you remember how the head of that charity quit and went to live with Tracy Anderson (Madonna’s former trainer, they’ve of course since broken up) after all that money went missing? Madonna has a history of hiring the wrong people to run her businesses, for whatever reason.

Here’s a photo one of my spin instructors took of a class last summer. (We moved all our bikes outside and took the class on the terrace.) There are also some photos from the Hard Candy website, which has a brief message notifying members of the gym closures and directing them to call a phone number for more information. Two members tell me that they were never contacted about the closure of the gyms and found out after a sign was posted that the gym was closed because the power was shut off.




These are the Jopp brothers on either side of German TV presenter Patrice Bouédibéla.
Hard Candy Fitness Club Opening Berlin

photos credit: WENN, Hard Candy

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11 Responses to “Madonna’s Hard Candy gyms file bankruptcy in Berlin, owing members”

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  1. anna says:

    berliner here! i think i am the luckiest hard candy customer. had a ridiculously cheap pre-paid contract for almost three years (about 18 € a month and i could use all the clubs) that ran out in may. i almost signed up for a new one. dodged a bullet there.
    i miss the cardio kick classes and my yoga instructor though. anyway, bye hard candy. we had a good run!

  2. greenmonster says:

    Who wants to work out and look at photoshopped pictures of Madonna? If you wouldn’t know that their are in deep trouble you couldn’t guess it from their website. The first thing the customer looks at is an offering for 29€/month membership and underneath that it is just saying “if you have questions about the situation of your club call…”. What situation? Closure? Water damage? New Madonna posters? A situation could be anything. Their are not even talking about closures! That is shady.

  3. Jade says:

    Not surprised by the cashflow issues. We have the same issue here with California Fitness. Jackie Chan wisely stopped endorsing haha. Some customers had paid for an average of 2k.

  4. Megan says:

    I get that Madonna is a fitness nut, but is fitness really her “brand”? When I think of celebrities who could endorse a gym, Madonna doesn’t come to mind.

  5. lucy2 says:

    Gym abruptly closed, customers screwed out of money. I bet that sounds familiar to Tracy Anderson.
    Madonna clearly needs to hire better people to manage her various endeavors.

  6. velourazure says:

    Uh, the owners don’t look….fit.

    • Starkiller says:

      They surely don’t. Had I just seen the picture with no context I would’ve thought they were rednecks from Ohio.

      • Poisonous Lookalike says:

        Oh, I dunno… they look more like rednecks from Michigan to me.

        Just teasing! As an Ohio native who earned two degrees from Ohio State University, I think I’m contractually obligated to respond when someone says something like that.

  7. Stella Alpina says:

    I don’t find this surprising. Madonna has promoted herself as a savvy businesswoman, among other things. She’s been very successful at self-promotion, but her business ventures. . . not so much. There’s Hard Candy and her charity, as Celebitchy points out. There’s also her entertainment company (Maverick Records/Maverick Films/Maverick Musica) which has been defunct for several years. Then there’s her association with Vita Coco and also with that ridiculous Kabbalah water, which was claimed to help heal cancer and neutralize radiation. How long will her Material Girl clothing line last?

    I remember reading an article about her Hard Candy gym that had just opened in some ritzy part of Mexico. Supposedly, Madonna wanted to see photos of the affluent people applying for gym membership. If she thought they were unattractive or fat, membership was denied. With her history, this isn’t hard to believe.

    • Ferdinand says:

      Yeap. The gym opened in one of Mexico city’s richest neighborhood. Basically where the 1 percenters live.

      And I don’t know if it was the same on hard candy gyms all over the world, but here in Mexico the price was exorbitant, selected people were invited and to become a new member someone had to support your application as it was an invite only club.

      No idea if it is still running under this rules.

  8. Daniel says:

    Why would a celebrity with a fortune approaching a billion dollars bother with this to begin with? it’s obvious her assets are protected from this bankruptcy. One area she has excelled at( besides music) is collecting valuable art. With scores of Warhol’s, important works by Picasso and Freda Karlo, just to name a few, she could be sitting on a third of a billion in fine art. Don’t be too hard on the woman. Whitney Houston fritted away 300 million and died close to broke. Michael Jackson was over extended and living off a Sony loan on his music catalog. By all accounts Madoona has been frugal with her fortune.