Early February, we were in Melbourne to discuss “how to get the world moving through Sports Tech” at Pause Fest. In essence, Pause Fest is one of the world’s leading festival for business and creativity and has been described as 'Australia's SXSW', 'Octoberfest for business' and 'Woodstock for digital natives’.
Today, more than a quarter of the world's population, 1.7 billion people, are not doing enough physical exercise and are not active enough to stay healthy. A number that has barely moved since 2001. A great concern is that not only have technology and our digital products become essential, but they have also become addictive. Extensive screentime is making people inactive and has shown to have physical and mental health implications, as well as sleep problems, depression, loneliness, and stress. Inactivity and poor health are not only bad for the individual, but it’s also one of the world’s biggest public health challenges. There is an urgent need to get people moving.
Charles Johnson, Global Director of Innovation, Puma Group; Ben Sanders, Founder, PlaySport; and Gideon Silverman, Founder & CEO, Awayco convened at the panel to explore how technology and our digital products can help us be more active and outdoors, and facilitate the participation in sports. Our Managing Director, Ida Bjerga, moderated the panel. There was a lot to talk about and not enough time, so we thought we’d sum up the most interesting takeaways.
Digital Fitness and Mobile Apps
“Our role as a sports brand is to equip people to be active. Professional sports is one thing, but everyday athletes and everyday active people is another - how do we engage them and how do we help them to be active?” Johnson asked. “PumaTrac is one of our solutions. It’s a digital app and it’s free. It goes beyond just measuring your activity, it gets to know you, it gives personalized recommendations and it makes it easy for you to schedule workouts, connect with the community and motivate yourself,” he said. Can digital fitness and apps really make people more active? Maybe not, but for some, it can make a difference, Johnson argued. “We don’t have it all figured out yet. We are on a hunt for finding basic, authentic, genuine and seamless ways for people to become active. Data doesn’t do the trick. What kind of experience can we bring them that will engage them?”
“We don’t have it all figured out, but we are making discoveries," Johnson continues. "Puma actually launched its first smart shoe 30 years ago. We put a computer chip inside a shoe and got basic measurements for runners. That idea merged from our laboratory where we had biomechanists using computers and sensors to measure runners and help them improve their performance. We turned that into a product, the RC Computer Shoe, and that was 30 years ago. Today, we’ve moved forward and we are still using digital technology in a product called Fit Intelligence”, Johnson added. The Fit Intelligence (Fi) Technology is designed to automate and finetune performance for the Puma footwear. The very first Fi footwear style is a self-lacing training shoe made for workouts and light running. You can adjust the shoe by swiping it or control the lacing through an app. Johnson explained that before they brought the product to the market last year they allowed people to sign up, through PumaTrac, to become beta testers. 29.000 people signed up. They narrowed it down to 20 beta testers based on differences in geography, physical ability, and gender. “We had two people (beta testers) with disabilities. The discovery here was that this was actually a product that could get someone active when normally they couldn’t. Why? Because now they could put on their shoes. It sounds basic, but really, that can make a difference to somebody”.
Digital = Accessible
There are 350 different sports types in Australia all with a national body, in addition, there are 71.000 local sporting clubs. When you empower both the national and the local sport creators to create sports, you get a powerful network that knows the local community and the applicable sports for their communities, Sanders said. “PlaySport is a platform that wants to connect players to anything you perceive as sports with those that provide sports,” Sanders added. “By empowering the local communities to produce accessible, entertaining, and convenient sports, PlaySport is about connecting players to those who create play - so that people can enjoy the power that sports, particularly community sports, brings us.”
Sanders explained that the PlaySport platform is two-sided. On one side it allows you to search and find sports based on a variety of criteria and locations. In addition, you can tell the platform what kind of sports you like and PlaySport will reach out to you, and your kids, to invite you to sport and activities. On the other side, it's about the creation of sports. “The sport creators know the applicable sports for their communities so it’s very powerful,” Sanders said. “We ask the sport creators a range of questions: Is it for individuals or teams? For families or corporate? What time is it? What price?” Sanders continues, “The sport creator can also create new types of sports, like “Sports before and after work”, “For pregnancy”, “Before 9 am and after 5.30 pm”, “I’m Broke" (free sports), or something like 20 of your mates going for a five minutes walk and then hitting the pub after that. As long as you are doing something for your mind or for your body or for social interaction, we classify that as a beneficial activity, a PlaySport activity”.
An audience member asked what can be done to keep people coming back and build it into a habit? Sanders said that one of the challenges is to break down the barriers to enter “I’m too fat, I’m too old, I’m too useless” and to transform the message of sports. “When sport creators and communities don’t have to focus on technology and having their digital system up and running, they can focus on breaking down the messages and the barriers: “for beginners”, “never tried before”, “doesn't matter if you never picked up a ski,” Sanders said. “We need to break down the stigma that you have to be cool. You just have to turn up. That's cool. And share experiences - (we need to) make it inclusive for all”, he said. ”That is essential to get all of us moving. We need to feel confident in our choices, otherwise, we will not do it.”.
Digital equipment rental
Silverman, whose product offerings stand out from the group for its outdoor and action-sport focus, said that Awayco exists to bring people into the outdoors, to make the outdoors more accessible, to help brands become more sustainable by departing from linear retail and building a premium rental business.
Awayco is a digital gear platform that lets you search and reserve high-quality gear so you can travel lighter, discover new equipment and try before you buy. “My philosophy, having worked in technology in silicon valley is that technology is just an enabler. We have this incredible distributed network of passionate people that participate in surfing, snowboarding, skiing, and downhill mountain biking, which are the activities we address today. They are fairly fragmented. Then we have brands, that they identify with, which has these linear retail models, where you have to buy something to participate, and the average participation decision is 450 dollars+. It's really expensive, it excludes a lot of people, and it’s not great for the environment cause you are producing this thing out of carbon and fiberglass and resin and all these unsustainable materials,” Silverman said. “We built Awayco for a better way. We want everyone in the world to be able to enjoy the majesty and humility of standing in the base of the mountain or feeling the upswelling of the ocean as you catch a wave or, maybe, hopefully not, going over the handlebars on the mountain bike, but maybe scraping your knees.”
Today if you look at surfing, mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding, it’s a fairly undifferentiated crowd. It tends to skew towards higher income with communities that exist in mountains and coastal areas. Awayco's philosophy is that by reducing the cost of participation and making gear more ubiquitous, they can foster a more diverse and inclusive culture around these beautiful activities that are important for the world, Silverman explained.
“We exist to increase sharing, to make rental and sharing feel better than ownership”, Silverman said. And it is the passion, the user experience and the quality of the gear that distinguishes Awayco from existing equipment rental services. "If you look at awayco.com, we got incredible brands participating, but it's not all expert gear. It's really important for us to have beginner gear all the way up to the skill level of expert gear, but its basically new gear and available for everyone at low price points", Silverman explained. Awayco’s average daily rate is 15 dollar, that means that for as low as 15 dollars per day anyone can ride the newest seasons Salomon skis or rent an 800 dollar Patagonia jacket. And when asked specifically how they support beginners to get outdoors, Silverman said: "(We want you to be able to) have that feeling, like an expert, even if you are a complete beginner - it's a big part of our focus! Right now, we’re just trying to get people on the right gear in the right places in really frictionless ways. To answer your question, it's super important for us to address the beginner, and to support them through their lifecycle."
A big thanks to Pause Fest for a great conference and letting us be part of the important discussion on digital and technology and how we can grow together.
Noise Studio is a creative agency that specializes in digital strategy, branding and design for Sports, SportsTech and the Outdoors. You can follow us on Instagram, Dribbble, Behance, Linkedin, Medium and Twitter. Like us today and we will love you forever.