N.Y.C.’s Ivy League Clubs Are Struggling to Attract Members: Report

Throughout New York City, some members clubs are on the rise—take Zero Bond, Casa Cipriani, or ZZ’s Club. Others, however, aren’t doing so hot.

The city’s Ivy League clubs are struggling, and they’re trying out new efforts in a bid to attract younger members, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. That includes more casual dress codes, young-alumni events, reduced membership dues, and even speed dating.

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“When you hear people talking about clubs they’re excited about, they don’t mention university clubs,” the real-estate developer David Gutstadt told the WSJ. Gutstadt’s firm was consulted for renovations at the Princeton Club before it closed in October 2021. (He’s also an alum of the university.) That club lost about one-third of its members during the pandemic, a person familiar with the situation told the newspaper, and it defaulted on a $40 million loan tied to the building.

The dire straits are being felt across the university-club landscape: Since 2016, the Cornell Club has lost $280,000 to $2.1 million every fiscal year, according to tax filings reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Penn Club experienced a decade of annual net losses in membership after being founded in the mid-1990s, a member of the club’s leadership told the outlet. And at the Yale Club, you no longer have to be affiliated with the school to become a member; you just need the endorsement of at least two existing members. (A representative for the Yale Club declined to comment to the WSJ.)

In response to these trends, the clubs are dropping some of the stuffiness they’ve become associated with. Instead of suits and ties, members can now wear jeans at some of the clubs. Memberships for young alumni often come at a discount, and the Cornell Club even gives recent grads free fitness memberships. At the Penn Club, speed dating and late-night networking helped the institution gain members and recover its losses in recent years. And a spokesperson for the Harvard Club told The Wall Street Journal that membership there is also growing. (Maybe that’s because they’re inviting in speakers like Alison Roman …)

If these clubs are to continue strongly into the future, that sort of growth is a must—because as Zack Bates, a private-club consultant, told the newspaper, “Their existing members all die out.” The question, though, is whether Millennials and Gen Zers will save the university club from that slow death.

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