Digital Transformation Agency

As the fitness industry regains its footing, it’s time to embrace innovation

By Roger Barr | Chief Digital Officer

iCrossing UK

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The Drum Network article

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July 21, 2022 | 6 min read

It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for fitness industry providers. The Covid-19 pandemic placed a renewed focus on health and wellbeing, with an accelerated need for digital transformation putting a spotlight on fitness providers’ ability to react quickly to changes in customer demands. For The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, Roger Barr, chief digital officer at iCrossing UK, tells us that innovation is essential in this space.

With large percentages of the world’s population being forced to stay at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw sudden and major behavioral change and increased focus on health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep and mental health. With many people saving money on travel, spending increased on wellness-related digital products and services. According to the 2021 Global Fitness Report, 50% of people are now focusing more on their wellbeing.

Consumers have adapted to hybrid models of work and there’s been a fragmentation in the way that consumers access solutions for wellness. Consumers’ relationships with established fitness providers have been weakened and heads have been turned by a plethora of innovative digital and in-person solutions.

A man picking up a weight in the gym

What does the future look like for fitness providers? / Victor Freitas via Unsplash

For example, people are now choosing to use gyms nearer to home (as opposed to centralized urban areas). There’s also a fragmentation in how people choose to exercise. In group exercise, we’re seeing rapid growth in outdoor, community-based propositions. In the UK, Parkrun continues to go from strength to strength. Parkplay launched in July 2020 and now has more than 30 locations around the UK. Bootcamp UK is the fastest-growing outdoor fitness group in the UK, further eroding the role of traditional fitness providers.

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Taboos around talking about mental health have broken down over the last couple of years. Providers have an opportunity to enable conversations, and for fitness delivery to target overall health and wellbeing (as opposed to just fitness).

But The Active Lives Adult Survey, published in April, suggests that activity levels have fallen at a worrying rate, while our physical spaces, such as gyms and leisure centers, are seeing slow recovery in numbers, with those taking part in fitness activities remaining notably below pre-pandemic levels.

Who adapted well?

Traditional operators, such as Everyone Active, which has 200+ leisure centers, were forced to innovate fast. In July 2021, with all its centers shut, it launched Everyone on Demand, a holistic range of fitness and wellness solutions offered by a range of strategic partners.

Virtual classes such as Peloton saw members nearly double from March 2020 to March 2021. Cycling platform Zwift saw its membership nearly triple as Zwifters sought solace in community and its virtual reality (VR) fitness space.

As a mentor to the London Sport Tech hub, we’re seeing huge amounts of activity in technology solutions that support mental health.

Time spent at home and finding new ways to work on physical and mental health during the pandemic is personified in the rapid growth in popularity of ‘personalized fitness and health coach’ Whoop. Whoop was conceived by amateur athlete Will Ahmed. Ahmed fell into the trap of overtraining, focusing purely on tracking his output. Whoop lets people track inputs that make them perform better, rather than just their output (such as sleep patterns, when to train or specifically when not to train).

The 2021 Global Fitness Report by Les Mills found the majority of exercisers now favor a 60:40 split between gym and home workouts. “The ultimate winner will be the consumer, who now has more ways to work out and greater flexibility, making it easier to sustain their exercise habit,” says the report. “For clubs, the key challenge will be to leverage these digital tools to maintain member motivation and engagement in a way that complements the in-club experience.”

What does the future hold?

The economic headwinds add another dimension to the challenges facing the industry. It remains to be seen whether the trends seen in 2021 and 2022 will continue long-term as people continue to define their new normal. How and where people choose to exercise is still up for grabs. Providers will need to closely monitor behavior and listen to their consumers.

Here to stay is the need to continually innovate. New digital and in-person fitness, health and holistic wellbeing products and services are key to getting ahead.

For me, the smarter money is on creating experiences that embrace a multitude of inputs and are agnostic to the type of activity, device, level or location (in the gym, at home, in the park or up a mountain). Brands that get creative in how they engage, educate and support customers will benefit most.

Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, and learn the tactics employed by the world’s biggest sports organizations and their star athletes to stay at the top of their game.

Digital Transformation Agency

Content by The Drum Network member:

iCrossing is a digital marketing agency that works with businesses to create a real step-change. Setting it apart, iCrossing is owned by Hearst, the world’s largest independent media, entertainment and content company. Being part of the Hearst family gives iCrossing access to Hearst audiences, data, consumer research and category experts which allows iCrossing to better spot new insights, trends and inform direction for its clients.

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