With the culmination of Active London just over a week ago, I left excited that once again the topic of technology, digital sport and innovation played a part in the broader context of the conversation.
I would never advocate that a technology product is a replacement for physical activity provision.
However, this emerging part of the sector – technology and digital – is undeniably part of the solution to make a more Active London and Nation.
I believe it is pivotal that we continue to break down barriers on the importance of embracing and adopting technology, becoming a more digital sport sector and why collaborating with start-ups and scale-ups across sport, fitness, wellness and health is key.
Adoption of technology due to COVID-19
The very latest Active Lives Adult Survey report by Sport England painted a bleak picture in terms of how COVID-19 halted the rise in activity levels. However, it wasn’t all bad news.
With brick and mortar spaces closed and the opportunity to active travel limited, thousands of people across the UK embraced a new way to be active – exercising at home and digital sport.
Spurred on by a nationwide lockdown, top down encouragement on being active, the #StayInWorkOut campaign, work by the OpenActive community publishing live virtual classes and I would like to think that our work on the #ActiveAtHome database, millions of people across the country began to exercise in the comfort of their home.
This new demand was met by an influx of new apps, online work-outs and equipment, all of which used technology to support people to be active.
The result, a monumental increase in home exercise by 2.1m and this was largely driven by women.
How about trends beyond here?
With the view of trying to be as critical as possible and bring to light more depth, the above trends compliment a global report which highlighted a 67% jump in global installs of health and fitness apps in late March and early April.
If you prefer a closer to home stat, then more than 858,000 people downloaded the NHS-backed Couch to 5K app between March and the end of June, that is a 92% increase over the same period from the previous year.
Even closer to us, Gympass, the world’s largest corporate wellness benefits platform, with circa 10m users worldwide quickly adapted to help its users stay active while at home.
By way of their digital offer, they joined forces with us (Sport Tech Hub) which led to nine tech products from within our network being included in the Gympass Wellness Platform.
Big tech wants a piece of FitTech / SportTech plus investment floods in
As popularity in the sector continues to rise, the biggest players in technology have begun to stake their claim of the market. Apple announced the launch of Apple Fitness+, Amazon launched Halo (the tech giant’s new fitness tracker plus an option for customers to access extra features through a monthly membership) and Spotify set-up Spotify Pumped.
It wasn’t just the big tech companies paying attention though.
In the last few months, we’ve seen new levels of investment flood into the space; Future – a workout coaching app raised $24m, Playbook – a fitness platform putting creators at the core of the offer raised $9.3m and Freeletics – an app using artificial intelligence to provide fitness plans raised $25m.
Investment does not guarantee the quality of the product, but for the public sector as well as tech companies bringing a potential solution to the table, they are bringing this at the risk of private funding not public!
Risks of digital divide and exclusion
With the world becoming increasingly connected, it’s becoming impossible to not acknowledge that technology will play a powerful role in physical activity for years to come.
Recent ONS data highlights that 91% of adults in the UK were recent internet users in 2019. In the same year, the number of disabled adults who were recent internet users reached over 10 million for the first time, that is 78% of disabled adults.
However, technology is not the perfect solution for all. Barriers such as connectivity, digital literacy, access to mobile data and cost risk creating a bigger divide between active and inactive audiences.
For some, the new digital experience instigated by COVID-19 will stay with them and those people will continue to expect and access physical activity in this new way.
For others, there is more work to be done to ensure they can benefit from tech products to help them be active just as much as anyone else.
Work to be done
- Publish insight: We as a sector need to present digestible and easy to understand insight which shows gaps in provision and market
- Instigate new ideas and products: This insight can be then used to enthuse and inspire a new wave of entrepreneurs which are attuned to participation barriers and needs
- Fit for purpose products: Work with existing start-ups and scale-ups where their product could be tweaked so it becomes accessible to other groups and parts of the community
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: Work with the physical activity and sport sector to test and pilot technology products within their communities, service users, members or employees
- Extract value: Get entrepreneurs, public and private sector organisations to challenge and extract as much value as needed from Sport Tech Hub
We want to work and collaborate with organisations to make this a reality.