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The Leisure Media Company Ltd | Fit Tech promotion
The Leisure Media Company Ltd | Fit Tech promotion
features

Industry insights: A whole new ball game

It’s time to lead the agenda and face our societal challenges head on. Steven Ward reports

Published in Health Club Handbook 2018 issue 1

What a year 2017 turned out to be. Whether it’s the fall out from Brexit and the early General Election clogging up British politics, or the daily episodes of drama emanating from the Trump White House, last year was certainly a tumultuous one. Whereas once a president was elected with the mantra ‘yes we can’, today’s political and social climate seems closer to ‘no we can’t’.

The upshot is that taking matters into our own hands has become more important than ever. Nationally and globally, the health and fitness sector must strike out and lead the way to address the challenges we now face.

Health on the front line
Despite these challenges, the growing influence of our sector now spreads throughout UK society, and this is being increasingly recognised.

At National Summit 2017 we explored the role of physical activity as the ‘Golden Thread’ running through various aspects of our society, and this will only increase this year as our sector plays a growing role in the delivery of positive outcomes in health, education and civil society.

Our sector’s position as a key delivery mechanism for Sport England’s new national strategy for an Active Nation is already established, but there’s potential to do even more. For example, ukactive has called for £1bn capital investment to regenerate Britain’s ageing fleet of leisure centres into wellness hubs, serving as the front line for the preventative health agenda. It’s up to us to align with current and future government strategy and ensure we make the clearest case for investment.

Government is facing a myriad of challenges in the coming years with Brexit and slowing economic growth on the horizon, so the health and fitness sector must also find alternative solutions to drive forward the physical activity agenda and tackle the issues facing our nation.

Relying on government alone has never been a viable strategy, and this is true now more than ever. Former PM David Cameron was once derided for his ‘Big Society’ concept – how civil society can step into places that the government can’t. But by working collectively, our sector can serve a wider social and public health purpose independent of government strategy, leading rather than following. Over the past year, for example, several distinct exercise referral programmes across the UK attended to 125,000 people, but by joining forces to serve as one central National Activity Therapy Service the outreach could have been significantly higher. During 2018, as we continue to build momentum behind the physical activity agenda, I expect the trend to work collectively to pick up steam.

Brand new partnerships
Physical activity initiatives are also increasingly coming together with support from nontraditional partners: third-sector groups and big corporates. Who would’ve predicted the rise of parkrun five years ago, yet it now has more than two million registered runners worldwide.

Meanwhile, major brands are playing an increasing role in encouraging physical activity. For example, the role AXA PPP healthcare and Argos played in National Fitness Day 2017. The borders of the sector aren’t just blurring; they’ve fully dissolved. This means we have more support and resources than ever to fight the battle to tackle inactivity, so we can be more ambitious with what we can achieve in both the short- and long-term.

Global growth
In stark contrast with events in wider society, 2017 was a stable year for the physical activity sector, a story of continued growth and development. Low cost fitness continues to grow, with all the budget operators opening new gyms throughout 2016, and plans to build new clubs in the year ahead. The growth isn’t confined to the budget gym sector, however. High-end gyms and boutique fitness both saw healthy development in 2017. Meanwhile, public leisure has proven a real engine for growth, with the ukactive report Active Leisure Trends finding a nine per cent rise in membership over the past year.

That doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Indeed, the competition facing our sector is greater than ever before. Joining the myriad of new fitness concepts springing up across Britain is competition from across the world. Take Peloton – launched five years ago, this new idea for cycling from home is now a US$1bn company challenging established operating models. Peloton will likely soon have a presence in the UK, perhaps within the coming year, and that will bring even more new challenges to our sector.

This year will see an increasingly globalised fitness world, with global behemoths entering the UK market and British fitness operators looking to expand abroad. Only the fittest will survive or face being consigned to the growing list of founding fitness brands left behind. This increasingly global market should not be viewed solely as a threat however; it’s also an opportunity. We’re seeing a global coming together of technology, health, fashion, music and social media around physical activity. What that means for us in the coming years is an increasingly self-confident sector, able to attract world-class talent and high-value investment from the business world and other industries. This affords an enormous opportunity for the UK physical activity sector to become a global economic leader. We’ll begin to stimulate an investment culture that sees banks and major investors (public, private, third sector, institutional) primed to support the best initiatives we can offer. We must ensure that we’re ready to embrace these strategic opportunities –finding new ways of working and embracing innovative solutions to old problems.

Professional personnel
As the stakes get higher for the health and fitness sector, the standards will need to rise in tandem. Much excellent work has been done to professionalise our workforce, and these professional standards will continue to rise, from the front line through to the boardroom.

There’ll be a concerted focus on developing skilled personnel capable of delivering high-quality workloads, in the face of rising recruitment costs. The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) will become increasingly central in driving forward high standards and in continuing the push to full professionalisation, particularly given the £1.2m financial backing from Sport England’s Active Nation strategy. It’s up to stakeholders across public and private leisure to work with CIMSPA to hike up standards.

Pooling data
Operators are beginning to see the benefits of pooling data to build an evidence base for our work. We’re actively addressing the knowledge gap in our sector by sharing information, and operators increasingly recognise the huge advantages to be gained through access to sector data.

Our industry’s willingness to share has resulted in the creation of DataHub, enabling us to assess what more than 250 million customer visits can tell us. This growing understanding of the sector is a huge opportunity, giving operators greater insight than ever before and allowing detailed evaluation of prevailing trends, customer segmentation and target markets. Robust data will also allow those working in our sector to make a much stronger case for the services provided, whether courting public and/or private investment.

Titans of tech
Technology and innovation tend to feature prominently whenever we look to the future, and this is for good reason. Sector leaders have long acknowledged technology not as a perceived threat, to be managed, but as an opportunity to be taken advantage of.

The speed of change is now accelerating, with on-demand fitness apps becoming the norm among major operators rather than the exception, and immersive fitness concepts like The Trip by Les Mills – an immersive workout experience combining a multi-peak cycling workout with a journey through digitally created worlds – becoming increasingly popular.

Thousands of new disrupters and innovative concepts will stake their claim in the coming years – and ukactive’s goal with the ActiveLab accelerator is to help us to navigate through these to find the real game changers shaping our sector’s future. Many of last year’s alumni have since scored strong investment, and ActiveLab 2018 will build on that success to serve as the global launchpad for physical activity start ups, giving them the tools to become the next fit-tech titan.

Global vanguard
To summarise, when we talk about the future of physical activity, we’re no longer talking about simply the UK fitness market. The fading lines that separate nations and industries have blurred such distinctions.

It means that everyone in the fitness sector must look to 2018 with a global mindset, while being bold enough to embrace innovation and come together to share information – all with a view to making a local impact. If we can do so, I’m confident that together we’ll transform physical activity in the UK from being the pinnacle of our sector to being in the vanguard of a global movement.

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features

Industry insights: A whole new ball game

It’s time to lead the agenda and face our societal challenges head on. Steven Ward reports

Published in Health Club Handbook 2018 issue 1

What a year 2017 turned out to be. Whether it’s the fall out from Brexit and the early General Election clogging up British politics, or the daily episodes of drama emanating from the Trump White House, last year was certainly a tumultuous one. Whereas once a president was elected with the mantra ‘yes we can’, today’s political and social climate seems closer to ‘no we can’t’.

The upshot is that taking matters into our own hands has become more important than ever. Nationally and globally, the health and fitness sector must strike out and lead the way to address the challenges we now face.

Health on the front line
Despite these challenges, the growing influence of our sector now spreads throughout UK society, and this is being increasingly recognised.

At National Summit 2017 we explored the role of physical activity as the ‘Golden Thread’ running through various aspects of our society, and this will only increase this year as our sector plays a growing role in the delivery of positive outcomes in health, education and civil society.

Our sector’s position as a key delivery mechanism for Sport England’s new national strategy for an Active Nation is already established, but there’s potential to do even more. For example, ukactive has called for £1bn capital investment to regenerate Britain’s ageing fleet of leisure centres into wellness hubs, serving as the front line for the preventative health agenda. It’s up to us to align with current and future government strategy and ensure we make the clearest case for investment.

Government is facing a myriad of challenges in the coming years with Brexit and slowing economic growth on the horizon, so the health and fitness sector must also find alternative solutions to drive forward the physical activity agenda and tackle the issues facing our nation.

Relying on government alone has never been a viable strategy, and this is true now more than ever. Former PM David Cameron was once derided for his ‘Big Society’ concept – how civil society can step into places that the government can’t. But by working collectively, our sector can serve a wider social and public health purpose independent of government strategy, leading rather than following. Over the past year, for example, several distinct exercise referral programmes across the UK attended to 125,000 people, but by joining forces to serve as one central National Activity Therapy Service the outreach could have been significantly higher. During 2018, as we continue to build momentum behind the physical activity agenda, I expect the trend to work collectively to pick up steam.

Brand new partnerships
Physical activity initiatives are also increasingly coming together with support from nontraditional partners: third-sector groups and big corporates. Who would’ve predicted the rise of parkrun five years ago, yet it now has more than two million registered runners worldwide.

Meanwhile, major brands are playing an increasing role in encouraging physical activity. For example, the role AXA PPP healthcare and Argos played in National Fitness Day 2017. The borders of the sector aren’t just blurring; they’ve fully dissolved. This means we have more support and resources than ever to fight the battle to tackle inactivity, so we can be more ambitious with what we can achieve in both the short- and long-term.

Global growth
In stark contrast with events in wider society, 2017 was a stable year for the physical activity sector, a story of continued growth and development. Low cost fitness continues to grow, with all the budget operators opening new gyms throughout 2016, and plans to build new clubs in the year ahead. The growth isn’t confined to the budget gym sector, however. High-end gyms and boutique fitness both saw healthy development in 2017. Meanwhile, public leisure has proven a real engine for growth, with the ukactive report Active Leisure Trends finding a nine per cent rise in membership over the past year.

That doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Indeed, the competition facing our sector is greater than ever before. Joining the myriad of new fitness concepts springing up across Britain is competition from across the world. Take Peloton – launched five years ago, this new idea for cycling from home is now a US$1bn company challenging established operating models. Peloton will likely soon have a presence in the UK, perhaps within the coming year, and that will bring even more new challenges to our sector.

This year will see an increasingly globalised fitness world, with global behemoths entering the UK market and British fitness operators looking to expand abroad. Only the fittest will survive or face being consigned to the growing list of founding fitness brands left behind. This increasingly global market should not be viewed solely as a threat however; it’s also an opportunity. We’re seeing a global coming together of technology, health, fashion, music and social media around physical activity. What that means for us in the coming years is an increasingly self-confident sector, able to attract world-class talent and high-value investment from the business world and other industries. This affords an enormous opportunity for the UK physical activity sector to become a global economic leader. We’ll begin to stimulate an investment culture that sees banks and major investors (public, private, third sector, institutional) primed to support the best initiatives we can offer. We must ensure that we’re ready to embrace these strategic opportunities –finding new ways of working and embracing innovative solutions to old problems.

Professional personnel
As the stakes get higher for the health and fitness sector, the standards will need to rise in tandem. Much excellent work has been done to professionalise our workforce, and these professional standards will continue to rise, from the front line through to the boardroom.

There’ll be a concerted focus on developing skilled personnel capable of delivering high-quality workloads, in the face of rising recruitment costs. The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) will become increasingly central in driving forward high standards and in continuing the push to full professionalisation, particularly given the £1.2m financial backing from Sport England’s Active Nation strategy. It’s up to stakeholders across public and private leisure to work with CIMSPA to hike up standards.

Pooling data
Operators are beginning to see the benefits of pooling data to build an evidence base for our work. We’re actively addressing the knowledge gap in our sector by sharing information, and operators increasingly recognise the huge advantages to be gained through access to sector data.

Our industry’s willingness to share has resulted in the creation of DataHub, enabling us to assess what more than 250 million customer visits can tell us. This growing understanding of the sector is a huge opportunity, giving operators greater insight than ever before and allowing detailed evaluation of prevailing trends, customer segmentation and target markets. Robust data will also allow those working in our sector to make a much stronger case for the services provided, whether courting public and/or private investment.

Titans of tech
Technology and innovation tend to feature prominently whenever we look to the future, and this is for good reason. Sector leaders have long acknowledged technology not as a perceived threat, to be managed, but as an opportunity to be taken advantage of.

The speed of change is now accelerating, with on-demand fitness apps becoming the norm among major operators rather than the exception, and immersive fitness concepts like The Trip by Les Mills – an immersive workout experience combining a multi-peak cycling workout with a journey through digitally created worlds – becoming increasingly popular.

Thousands of new disrupters and innovative concepts will stake their claim in the coming years – and ukactive’s goal with the ActiveLab accelerator is to help us to navigate through these to find the real game changers shaping our sector’s future. Many of last year’s alumni have since scored strong investment, and ActiveLab 2018 will build on that success to serve as the global launchpad for physical activity start ups, giving them the tools to become the next fit-tech titan.

Global vanguard
To summarise, when we talk about the future of physical activity, we’re no longer talking about simply the UK fitness market. The fading lines that separate nations and industries have blurred such distinctions.

It means that everyone in the fitness sector must look to 2018 with a global mindset, while being bold enough to embrace innovation and come together to share information – all with a view to making a local impact. If we can do so, I’m confident that together we’ll transform physical activity in the UK from being the pinnacle of our sector to being in the vanguard of a global movement.

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
Editor's letter

Into the fitaverse

Fitness is already among the top three markets in the metaverse, with new technology and partnerships driving real growth and consumer engagement that looks likely to spill over into health clubs, gyms and studios
Fit Tech people

Ali Jawad

Paralympic powerlifter and founder, Accessercise
Users can easily identify which facilities in the UK are accessible to the disabled community
Fit Tech people

Hannes Sjöblad

MD, DSruptive
We want to give our users an implantable tool that allows them to collect their health data at any time and in any setting
Fit Tech people

Jamie Buck

Co-founder, Active in Time
We created a solution called AiT Voice, which turns digital data into a spoken audio timetable that connects to phone systems
Profile

Fahad Alhagbani: reinventing fitness

The team is young and ambitious, and the awareness of technology is very high. We share trends and out-of-the-box ideas almost every day
Opinion

Building on the blockchain

For small sports teams looking to compete with giants, blockchain can be a secret weapon explains Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol
Innovation

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App analysis

Check your form

Sency’s motion analysis technology is allowing users to check their technique as they exercise. Co-founder and CEO Gal Rotman explains how
Profile

New reality

Sam Cole, CEO of FitXR, talks to Fit Tech about taking digital workouts to the next level, with an immersive, virtual reality fitness club
Profile

Sohail Rashid

35 million people a week participate in strength training. We want Brawn to help this audience achieve their goals
Ageing

Reverse Ageing

Many apps help people track their health, but Humanity founders Peter Ward and Michael Geer have put the focus on ageing, to help users to see the direct repercussions of their habits. They talk to Steph Eaves
App analysis

Going hybrid

Workout Anytime created its app in partnership with Virtuagym. Workout Anytime’s Greg Maurer and Virtuagym’s Hugo Braam explain the process behind its creation
Research

Physical activity monitors boost activity levels

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have conducted a meta analysis of all relevant research and found that the body of evidence shows an impact
Editor's letter

Two-way coaching

Content providers have been hugely active in the fit tech market since the start of the pandemic. We expect the industry to move on from delivering these services on a ‘broadcast-only’ basis as two-way coaching becomes the new USP
Fit Tech People

Laurent Petit

Co-founder, Active Giving
The future of sports and fitness are dependent on the climate. Our goal is to positively influence the future of our planet by instilling a global vision of wellbeing and a sense of collective action
Fit Tech People

Adam Zeitsiff

CEO, Intelivideo
We don’t just create the technology and bail – we support our clients’ ongoing hybridisation efforts
Fit Tech People

Anantharaman Pattabiraman

CEO and co-founder, Auro
When you’re undertaking fitness activities, unless you’re on a stationary bike, in most cases it’s not safe or necessary to be tied to a screen, especially a small screen
Fit Tech People

Mike Hansen

Managing partner, Endorphinz
We noticed a big gap in the market – customers needed better insights but also recommendations on what to do, whether that be customer acquisition, content creation, marketing and more
More features