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We are constantly being informed and educated about the importance of health and fitness and the ways in which physical health and sporting activity can benefit our mental wellbeing. But not all of this is presented to us through mere information alone.
From gym membership discounts every January, to discounted vegetable boxes and healthy meal preparation kits, through to 3-for-2 gym classes and online yoga tutorials, the ways in which the sports and fitness industry is introduced and marketed to consumers is wide ranging and actually spans across a vast range of other sectors and industries; including fashion, footwear, travel and more.
When we compare the modern sports and fitness industry with that of a mere couple of decades ago, one of the major shifts that the industry has seen is the acceptance of mainstream media coverage and consumer participation. No longer is sport something to be watched on television or from the stands at a match – sports have become integrated into daily life, with communities offering all manner of different clubs and experiences for residents to try their hand at sports for themselves and learn the value of team sports. This, in turn, makes mainstream sport even more popular as consumers become interested and engaged in the activity across all levels, ultimately watching it to learn more and apply their own experiences as viewers.
And it isn’t just the sports themselves and their popularity which benefit from industry trends. The retail sector around sports and fitness is one which has seen huge uptake in the past few years due to the rise in education and understanding about the importance of physical health, with gyms and gym classes growing exponentially to accommodate more demand from users of all abilities and demographics.
The growth of the sports and fitness industry
When we look at the sports and fitness industry, it is impossible to argue the fact that the industry has grown exponentially over the last few years. However, what requires a little more research is understanding how it happened and what sparked the boom in personal and community fitness.
One of the most prominent factors in the growth of the industry across the majority of the population can largely be attributed to the ways in which sport and fitness suddenly infiltrated areas of retail where previously it had not existed. Fashion designers and high street stores started creating entire collections built around fitness and sports apparel, lining store windows with fitness-oriented outfits which took casual wear to a new level and changed the way that fitness clothing was worn – showcasing for the first time that fitness wear could still be stylish. Meanwhile healthy foods started lining the shelves of mainstream stores as education around healthy eating increased, and even school meals were taken hostage – with schools removing unhealthy items from vending machines and canteens and putting more PE on the menu.
But what sparked this industry trend in the first place?
A large majority of the industry growth around sports and fitness is linked with the rise in technology – more specifically wearable technology, which tells consumers and users how many steps they have done, how far they still have to go, and what activity they need to do in order to burn off various treats and meals. The education around calorie intake and nutrition, matched with an understanding of the level of activity needed to balance it out, has been responsible for huge lifts in the number of people doing exercise – which, in turn, increases demand for fitness apparel and thus creates the space in the marketplace for those high street retailers and fashion designers to fill, making fitness fashionable and stylish.
Another reason for the growth of the sports and fitness industry comes from the rise in affordable gyms, with renowned luxury gyms like David Lloyd and Virgin Active being joined by the likes of The Gym and Fitness First – both of which operate much more basic packages which give the mass market an opportunity to access gyms for affordable prices. By investing time and energy in creating subscription and membership deals, these various gyms also drive demand in their own services by giving people a very clear incentive to attend – they have paid for a membership, and so if they don’t go then they are wasting their own money. Of course, with the rise in affordable gyms there also became a space in the market for boutique gyms and more tailored gyms which provided as much of a high end experience as one driven by the need to exercise: offering spa like surroundings and lots of green juices. When you break the industry down into its financial viability, these are the gyms which are frequented by the wealthy, operating with big overhead costs but charging high membership fees to remain financially stable.
The one other factor which is responsible for the rise in popularity of the sports and fitness industry is simple: the choice available to those who are interested and engaged in the sector has grown hugely, and now encompasses so many different activities that there truly is something for everyone.
Top brands in the sports and fitness industry
When it comes to breaking the sports and fitness industry down into its main brands and retail names, the first thing to do is to establish the main areas and sectors which operate within the umbrella industry. These include:
- Sports and fitness apparel
- Sports and fitness accessories and tech
- Organised race and sporting events, e.g. Ironman, Rat Race
- Sports and fitness service providers, e.g. gyms and gym classes
- Sports equipment
- Fitness supplements and health food
From here, it becomes possible to isolate the top retailers and brands across each of these sectors, judging them on popularity and their influence within the industry as a whole.
One great example of a sports and fitness brand which has made real waves in a selection of different areas of the industry is Nike – traditionally an apparel brand which now acts as a sponsor for many mainstream sporting events and occasions, has expanded its apparel line from sporting wear into fitness fashion and footwear as well as fitness accessories, and has even launched its own range of sporting equipment. Nike is one of the most influential brand names and retailers in the sports and fitness sector and beyond, and sponsors big individual names in the sporting world like Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James.
Another example of an influential brand name in the sports and fitness industry is Ironman, which started as a simple triathlon for elite athletes and has now expanded with a global footprint, races being held throughout the year all over the world, and its own brand of sporting apparel, accessories and souvenirs including sports watches.
Trends in the sports and fitness industry
When it comes to identifying the major trends which drive the sports and fitness industry forward, one cannot argue that that the most influential trend comes from the development of sports and fitness outlets for the mass market to enjoy. From affordable gym memberships to discounted fitness apparel and accessories available across high end and discount retailers, all the way through to the development of races and sporting events which are open to consumers from all demographics, the way in which the industry has opened up to appeal to a wider audience has lent itself perfectly to overall growth and expansion.
To look at these a little more closely, the rise in mass participation sporting events has had a huge impact on the way that consumers interact with the industry as a whole – driving full communities to participate in local runs, marathons, cycling events, swimming events and more whether they are partaking themselves or choosing to support.
And speaking of support, this is another hugely overlooked area of the industry which is in fact responsible for a large portion of its growth – the idea that supporting an event is as important as taking part, with many of the larger events and ultra-marathons relying on their athletes having a support team to watch over them throughout the course of the race. This need for supporters has always been a tradition across professional sporting events as well as amateur ones, with stadiums full of fans always playing a big part in the atmosphere of a sporting event – and with retailers providing those supporters with the accessories and apparel they want in the form of team shirts, flags and banners.
Another trend which interlinks with the rise in mass participation and amateur sporting events is the development of new fitness trends – with many available both in gym and dance spaces and also online; creating an on-demand audience which can tune into various workouts whenever they have chance. Some of the most popular new examples include Zumba which relies on dance fitness; Barre which engages many of the skills learn through ballet and bar work; and aquarobics which is particularly ideal for consumers who struggle with various aches and pains – giving them access to a water-based exercise routine which uses the resistance of water to gain strength and muscle.
If there is one area of the technology industry that has benefitted the sports and fitness sector more than any other, outside of the streaming of live sporting events, it’s the concept of social media and Youtube giving personal trainers and workout leaders a platform on which to share their routines and make their workouts more widely available. Prior to the rise in technology, one of the main reasons for consumers not engaging with the sports and fitness industry was lack of time – however with the rise in technology playing such an integral part in meeting demand for information ay any time, anywhere, workouts are now available 24/7 on a global platform.
The other trend which is intrinsically linked with and a part of the rise in technology is the influence of wearable technology and the part that this plays in the fitness world. In fact, in 2019 fitness tech was the most influential and prominent fitness trend across the world, using technology to enhance fitness experiences – whether that be through the provision of a virtual class, the addition of a fitness watch to count steps and monitor heart rate, or the ability to link virtual cycle rides with visuals videos which take users all over the world on a series of different courses – known to industry fans as Zwift. Zwift highlights another example of technology influencing the sports and fitness sector – and that is by letting users in different places all band together and play or ride as a team through connecting devices.
And finally, to the rise in wellness and the impact that mental wellbeing as well as physical health is having on the sports and fitness industry. The fact is that the recent rise in awareness of mental health has shone a spotlight on the fitness industry – not only for keeping our bodies healthy but also for helping us to work out stress and keep our mental health in check. More and more organisations are bringing team sports in their workplaces and fitness activities into their daily routines; offering lunchtime yoga classes, discounted gym memberships and team challenges which boost morale and physical health as well as promoting team spirit. Meanwhile, we are also seeing charities play a bigger part in promoting health and fitness, and gyms and health and fitness clubs themselves creating more of a community so that going to the gym or heading to a sports class feels more like a social activity than a chore that has to be done.
In short, the sports and fitness industry is one which is subject to various trends – many of them linked to lifestyle more than anything else. However, with more of a focus on our overall wellbeing it seems as though the industry is on the rise – reaching new audiences and attracting new consumers in with offers and deals created for different demographics and target audiences.
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