Shuttered boxing club leaves new members punchy after they paid for full year upfront

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LIBERTY, Mo. -- The lights are out and the doors are locked at the Title Boxing Club in Liberty, and Tracy Swehla is furious.

"They sold me something they knew didn't exist," said Swehla who joined Title Boxing Club just about two weeks ago.

She said she signed up to lose weight, but all she lost is the $1,180 she paid for a family membership. She said she paid for the whole year in advance at the urging of club employees.

"There were monetary incentives," said Swehla, but no warnings that the club would soon be closing its doors.

Stacy Fluhart said she is out more than $500. She joined the same Liberty Title Boxing Club December 1. She said she was also encouraged to pay for a full year upfront.

The Liberty club is one of three that suddenly closed its doors in the last week. The other two Title Boxing Clubs are in Blue Springs and Lee's Summit. Members tell FOX 4 Problem Solvers they received an e-mail Sunday with the same message that's now posted on the guy's door.

"Title Boxing can no longer meet its financial obligations and has closed effective immediately," it states.

The notice has no mention of a refund and phone calls and emails to gym's owners have gone unanswered, members told FOX 4 Problem Solvers.

FOX 4 Problem Solvers tried to reach Title Boxing Chairman Tom Lyons. Problem Solvers interviewed Lyons two years ago when he had a problem of his own. He wanted his $46,000 suite back at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Kansas City Chiefs had sold it to another fan without Lyons' knowledge. Lyons was eager to talk to Problem Solvers then, but this time he hasn't returned our phone calls.

But Problem Solvers kept trying. We finally reached someone at Title Boxing's corporate headquarters in Michigan who sent us this statement after we inquired about refunds:

"Each one of our TITLE Boxing Clubs is independently owned and operated. All memberships sold are owned exclusively by the independent franchisee."

Meaning if you want your money back you'll have to get it from the franchise owner. So Problem Solvers paid a visit to the home of Catherine Sadler, owner of the three closed clubs. But no luck. We couldn't find her at home. She did e-mail us, however, referring us back to corporate for any comment. However, it was coporate who referred us to her.

The two frustrated members we spoke to have now filed disputes with their credit card companies and are contacting the Missouri Attorney General. They say they're convinced that Title Boxing knew or should have known it would soon be closing its doors and should have never taken their money.

Title Boxing's corporate spokeswoman said members can transfer their memberships to another club. But the women we spoke to say that's not an option because the closest club is more than 40 miles away.

If you are also a member and can't transfer your membership, you should consider filing a dispute with your credit card company or the bank attached to your debit card. If that doesn't work, file a complaint with the Missouri Attorney General's office.

A spokeswoman at Title Boxing's corporate office tells us the company warned the franchisee months ago that her gyms did not meet their standards and would have to close unless she complied. The spokeswoman said Title Boxing was shocked to learn the franchise owner was still signing up new members as late as December 21:

“The owners of the Blue Springs, Lee's Summit and Liberty locations signed a legal Franchise Agreement with TBC International to operate as franchisees of TITLE Boxing Club. They agreed to operate each of their clubs in accordance with the requirements of the TITLE Boxing Club system in order to provide a consistent, exceptional experience to their members. After the three clubs did not meet all requirements from a routine site inspection, the franchisees were required to make certain updates to the facilities and the class offerings to improve member experience, cleanliness, safety and to maintain consistency with other TITLE Boxing Club fitness facilities across the country. Rather than implement these updates, these franchisees chose to cease operations. It is our sincere hope that these franchisees comply with the mutual termination agreement which they negotiated with us in refunding or transferring memberships to other area locations.” 

Late Wednesday, FOX 4 Problem Solvers heard from the franchise owner who told us she will "do her best" to either transfer memberships to other Title Boxing Clubs or provide refunds. She said her three clubs had more than 1,000 members.