The Future of Sport: An ISPO Edition

As ISPO approaches, we’ve been thinking about the future of the outdoor industries.

21.01.16 | Research

By Luke Andrews, Erika Shorter

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As ISPO approaches, we’ve been thinking about the future of the outdoor industries. Events like ISPO demonstrate how the sector is growing exponentially. We could give you the stats, but our interest in this growth isn’t really about the numbers. There’s a buzz, an undercurrent of anticipation for an industry that could be the answer to countless modern malaises. An answer to increased global well-being. At Uniform, we’re not just interested in football. We want to explore how outdoor sport uses technology to reach a grassroots population ready and eager to get outside, explore, smash boundaries and laugh off limits.  

2015 was the year climbing caught the attention of mainstream media with Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell’s ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley. Dangling high up on the freezing face, they knew something was happening from the vehicles and crowds that punctuated the usually empty valley floor. But they had no idea it was because of them. No idea that over those gruelling two and a half weeks, children all over the world pinned up new heroes and signed up for their first classes at a local wall.

Tunnocks Teacakes and Scotch Beef are ‘sponsoring’ athletes. Liverpool’s own Shauna Coxsey is pushing the agenda for increased participation in climbing, running the Women’s Climbing Symposium and acting as an ambassador for the viral hashtag #thisgirlcan, a national campaign developed by Sport England. Multisport watches that track speed, distance and vertical drop now also have automatic run counters, GPS radio, compasses and even altimeters. A skier’s dream, with new versions coming out each year. Glaswegian filmmaker Jen Randall, founding Director of Light Shed Pictures, revived the past with Operation Moffat: amidst the bevy of adrenaline and action filled extreme videos, her quietly thrilling exploration of the life of Britain’s first female mountain guide scooped prize after prize after prize. British kayakers Tom Mustill and Charlotte Kinloch gained internet fame when a whale breached and dragged them under; coverage of the event now flaunts drone footage of tourists petting whales. What does all this mean? It means that even as we increasingly move to cities and develop our sense of place in urban spaces, an evolving phenomenon we’re helping shape and explore, our appreciation for nature and the athletic pursuits it affords is on the rise. But is it enough?  


Shauna Coxsey. Photo: Shauna’s blog.

While some covet their pastimes and outdoor spaces (often with complicated arguments, such as the threatened closing of Everest to climbers because of tensions with Sherpas), the overwhelming majority understand more people being outside for what it is: a Very Good Thing. Good for the environment, good for health, good for happiness. It’s emblematic of respecting our planet, our health and our need for a ‘meaningful’ life. When what we spend our money on is a pursuit of joy, then we’re more likely to be open to new ideas; fresh ways of appreciating, communicating and accessing that joy.

Let’s return to the Dawn Wall. Kevin was on the verge of giving up. It was pitch 15, and he had failed 8 times - each attempt excruciatingly recorded by the crew swinging above his head. Until finally, a simple bit of technology made all the difference. The film producers sent him a clip of his failed attempts via a password-protected Vimeo link. Kevin analysed his movements and mentally corrected his mistakes while watching on his smartphone, huddled on a portaledge 14 pitches up. He succeeded the next day.


Photo: Corey Rich/Aurora Photos

His partner Tommy Caldwell was in Kendal recently at the mountain film festival, where wilderness enthusiasts gathered to help The Lakes District World Heritage Bid, a cause close to our hearts. Kayakers, mountain bikers, climbers, hill walkers, wild swimmers and fell runners came together from all over Britain and the world. They started hashtags. They blogged. They livestreamed from GoPros. All to share their experiences of outdoor sports in a place they loved. All to get people outside: from the 5-year-old minnow catcher to the grizzled weekend warriors. Technology is not important for increased involvement in outdoor athletics participation; it is essential.

What else is happening? Tech that enables skiers and snowboarders to be located in an avalanche has increased in sophistication. Now we not only know where skiers and snowboarders are, but also if they’re still alive. Trail running books now have apps, increasing accessibility. Mountain biking technology has allowed for crowdsourcing and co-creating popular routes - which led to the overuse of certain runs, but also a new sense of community. There is scope here, as we discuss in our Future of Sport white paper, for a swelling of the converse. Riders would put in weeks and weeks of hard work only to have the masses skid out corners and ruin the track. Could apps like Strava develop privacy locks that still record performance, but no longer broadcast location? Can drones capture the memories of our best days in the sun without intruding on them? How can all outdoor athletes and recreationalists see technology as the life raft, the base layer, the Munroe summit photo that it is?

More people participating in outdoor sport means more commercial opportunities. However, while we believe technology is the future of sport, brands need to be mindful of overkill. Sport – and ‘adventure’ sport in particular - has always thrived on the unpredictable. Technology must not turn nature hygienic, into something that doesn’t command awe. It must maintain a healthy nervousness at the unpredictability of the natural world.

Brands participating in the outdoor industries have an advantage. What they do is tailored perfectly for social media - grassroots advertising, if you will. It’s exciting. It’s photogenic. People are proud of what they accomplish. More than feats of physical endurance and prowess, outdoor sport success is about bravery, imagination and mental resilience. Joining and even leading these participant-led conversations and campaigns can deepen a brand’s understanding of their current and potential target audiences, creating lucrative, enduring relationships that give birth to a new generation of brand fans.

Brands can use technology to enrich the experience for current enthusiasts and introduce the grassroots to outdoor pursuits – pursuits that are admittedly high commitments in effort, time, and even kit – but offer an immeasurable reward. We challenge you to see the rise of technology in sport simply as the rise of sport. Ask yourself: how can brands better harness technology to get more people outside? Teach them new skills, push limits, explore? How can they enhance the experience for everyone – from kids hiking with their families at weekend, to a local Uni kayak club to the Danny MacAskills of the mountain biking world?

The following 6 recommendations were developed from our recent white paper, ‘The Future of Sport’, where we examined how technology can revolutionise sport from the perspective of players, spectators and viewers.

  • Brands can use gamification to return to the principle of getting outside: fun.
  • Explore new, creative ways for technology to enhance the experience, bringing the best of the outdoors to the time spent with technology before or after.
  • Outdoor enthusiasts are a community of like-minded people; encouraging brand loyalty is one way you can help them find each other and build community.
  • Remember the importance of region-specific content for global participants.
  • Support platforms that enable people to co- create their experience.
  • Getting involved at a grassroots level will form enduring relationships with new generations.

Uniform believes ‘generation sofa’ can be challenged by technology. Our viewpoint reveals a clear trend for technology to rapidly open up new possibilities to experience and profit from the global appeal of outdoor sport. Technology can get people experiencing nature. It can keep them connected, to what they do and who they do it with. Technology has the power to reach all over the world. It is the future of sport.  We see clear paths for brands to rise above the noise, distractions and competition and employ technology in new, impactful ways. Ways that will unlock opportunity, fire the imagination and build relationships with over 6 billion hikers, skiers, swimmers, cyclists and nature lovers. Now is the time to get outside. Now is the time to play.

This blog is part of a wider piece of research.  

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