More than 80,000 industry professionals gathered in Munich last week for ISPO, the world’s largest sport business exhibition. Uniform’s Luke Andrews spent three days putting his Fitbit through its paces trying to visit over 2,500 stands. If you missed this year, or didn’t manage to make it round every stand, we're catching up with Luke for his take on key themes, trends and future predictions for the outdoor sport industry.
What recurring themes or trends stood out for you at ISPO this year?
1. Wearables. ISPO dedicated a whole hall to health and fitness for the first time; it was a comprehensive display of what the world’s saying about the relationship between health & fitness and new technologies. Nearly half the hall was wearables, from coaching swimming goggles through to performance-tracking bike attachments. Wearables are also making their way into less visible sports such as yoga and boxing. What I took away from ISPO this year was that wearables are here to stay across the entire spectrum of sport.
2. Gamification. This year saw brands try to answer the question of how to keep sport fun. The Garmin stand had a TV screen where you could put a wristband on and sprint against an opponent. Whoever sprinted fastest won tug of war match that was appening on screen in front of you.
Is gamification just about brands trying to tap into younger markets?
I think there’s definitely an aim towards a younger market. Most of the people I watched engaging with the stand were under 30. There’s definitely space to reach other demographics in interesting and insightful ways. For the up and coming generations, exercise often isn’t something that’s seen as a priority, and gamification can fight this apathy by tapping into our competitive nature.
3. Drones were everywhere. Content curation was a strong trend, or as we like to put it, the rise of the co-sumer. There’s huge scope for expansion here. Using wearables, a drone could track as you kayak, cycle swim... It’s thrilling that as the price falls, the intelligence of the device is increasing.
Do drones have lasting power?
Well, the US government predict that over a million drones were given as Christmas presents in 2015. While drones are used for tracking performance, I think the main draw is compelling content. With the use of GoPros and built in cameras, anyone with a drone can be a content creator. With the rise of YouTube and Vimeo and Facebook’s video functionality, there’s a real desire to create and curate content. People can generate buzz in their sport’s community, and be the star of their own videos.
Are sports brands using these improved social media channels?
Some of them are. Brands can really tap into the widening of these platforms and the diversification of voices. They can create richer content that reaches further than static filming ever could. The use of drones fits outdoor brands perfectly. Drones are primed to take brand comms to new levels.
4. Sustainability is more important than ever. This year, ISPO supported something called Brands for Good: brands they highlighted and championed as having something more to say than simply selling their product. The importance of sustainability was a clear message across many stands, perfectly represented by Patagonia’s reps mending kit throughout the entire exhibition. Patagonia believe in the quality of their product so much, they help you make it last a lifetime. I think this message is set to align with consumers more and more. We all want to buy less and buy better. Their ethos felt so genuine, and crucially, they actively demonstrated it- they didn’t just stick up a poster.
5. Finally, personalisation, which follows nicely from the idea that people want to buy less but buy better. Brands have realised that people want bespoke products, whether that means design, fit or performance level. The CEP stand had a booth where you could get your body measured from 15 different points; they would then produce a bespoke base layer. ESKA had the same for gloves. They’d measure your hands and then you’d pick up your gloves the next day - not only tailored to your hand size, but also your sport.
Did anything surprise you?
With the amount of technology, innovation and future-talk at ISPO, the actual delivery for some stands was very lifestyle. Take a brand like Gore-tex. They’re extremely technologically-minded in their manufacturing process and material innovation, yet their whole stand was lifestyle: from photography through to messaging. People know that technology is the future. They know it’s constant innovation that will keep them walking the cutting edge. But it’s not enough just to say it. Brands seem unsure of how to communicate their innovations. It’s about having engaging tech that people can identify with. I felt that some of the really impressive, thought provoking technology you had to really dig for.
I also expected to see more innovative engagement. By that I mean stands that offer something in an engaging way: beyond a poster, beyond a lifestyle film and beyond a rep simply telling you the benefit of the product. Someone like GoPro who had a stand where you put on a Samsung VR headset then base jump off some of the tallest buildings in the world. For me, that was the kind of engagement that not only clarified their product and also let me have a new experience that I then wanted to share. Not many brands were offering that. People were wobbling, putting their hands out to get a sense of balance - it was so immersive. If you’d never worn a VR headset before, then your experience of not just the tech, but also of the brand would be so memorable. It was definitely something I was shouting about to other people when they asked for stand recommendations.
I imagine ISPO for you is a bit of a kid-in-a-candy-shop event. What were you most excited about?
Free German beer! And the use of tech for good. A lot of current tech helps you get fitter, and of course that’s a good thing, but what really excited me was LifeStraw’s - yes - straw. This simple product had a filtration system built in that allowed you to drink from any water source. That’s tech that not only improves lives, but could also save them. Imagine the difference that straw could make to both the family wild camping no longer needing to boil a pot of river water, or the ultramarathon running able to carry a straw instead of heavy camel packs. They demoed with really dirty water in a fish tank, which was both gross and effective. I’m excited that there’s a brand out there looking at these everyday issues and taking it upon themselves to solve them.
How did ISPO make you feel about the future of the outdoor industries?
Seeing over 2,500 stands with such energy shows there’s a real desire for constant improvement, and to see this industry grow. On a critical note, many brands and their messaging were very similar. There’s some disruption needed, brands that can offer something new, something that cuts through all the noise. While this consistency speaks to the strength and unidirectional nature of the trends, I have to admit it also made it feel a bit safe this year. If there’s a brand out there who’s willing to put their neck on the line, that’s going to create a lot of traction and interest around them. The future is bright, but wants brave brands to say something in a different way.
You mentioned price falling while size decreases and object intelligence increases, which is interesting considering all the tech that has recently dropped to affordable levels for many consumers: Google card and 3D printers for the home to name just a few. You mentioned that at the Samsung stand, many people hadn’t worn a 3D headset before. I expect by next year this won’t be the case. How will this impact the outdoor industry and events like ISPO?
You’ve got a window over the next 6, 12, possible 18 months where it’s still that first experience. There’s forgiveness with that first experience. Forgiveness for both the clarity of content and the smoothness of the engagement. As more and more people interact with it, expectations are going to get higher and higher. The new Oculus has just launched on pre-order - people are going to widely be experiencing this very quickly. Brands need to jump on this first time experience messaging.
In terms of the cost coming down, there’s a new wearable, MOOV, that I was really drawn to. It’s a multi sport wearable, and one of the first that’s waterproof. I was speaking the people on the stand, and couldn’t believe it when they said it would retail at £59. When the first fitbit or jawbone was coming out at £200, only real enthusiasts might invest. This new price point is within reach of many more people.
Make some predictions for ISPO 2017. What do you imagine will be different? The same?
I think we’re going to see further integration of tech. There are a few stands at ISPO that showcase newcomers. Many of these products were small, such as wearables that would clip onto your shoe or your goggles. I think these newcomers are leading us into a future that will see that tech embedded into everyday objects rather than secondary devices. So whatever your sport, you won’t need an extra accessory for all these new tracking, improving and capturing capabilities - just the kit you’d use anyway with embedded technology. As all this tech gets cheaper, smaller and more accessible, we’re going to see these evolutions. That’s going to be an interesting space.
The next highlight on our calendar will be SXSW in Austin, Texas this March where Uniform will be exploring the space between the Internet of Things, VR and grassroots sport. If you’d like to catch up with our thoughts on the future of sport, download a pdf of our viewpoint below.