How marketing and communications are changing for the sports and fitness industry

The sports and fitness industry is a healthy sector that is also experiencing some major changes. There are new playing fields and new challenges that require new marketing and communications strategies. But how marketing and communications are changing for the sports and fitness industry? Here are the 10 hottest topics that professionals need to know about.  

The interest in sport and fitness has been on the rise for several years, with no hint at stopping, in all areas of the world. Cities are filled with crowded gyms and swimming pools, with people jogging, cycling, or participating in some form of exercise or as an audience to an increasingly wide and diverse range of sporting events. In this sector, the digital world is also rapidly expanding with dedicated apps, wearable networked devices, and a growing space on social networks, forums, influencers, and then the first experiments in virtual or augmented reality. Moreover, sports today has a more diversified audience—by gender, interests, and age groups—than ever before.

But let’s go beyond pure impressions and look at some data. 

  • Let’s start with a significant indicator, sportswear. In 2018, the world market for sportswear was estimated to be worth around $167.7 billion. In 2026 this value is expected to reach around $248 billion, with annual growth estimated at around 5% (source).
  • Also in 2018, 1.76 million European workers were employed in the sports sector. This growth, compared to only five years before, was 3.2% (well above 1.4%, which is the growth figure for general employment).
  • Let’s move on to China. In 2013, the market value of sportswear was 134.7 billion Yuan (about $20 billion); in 2020 it more than doubled to 310.4 billion Yuan (about $45 billion) (data).
  • The number of gym members in Europe, according to the latest 2019 figures, was 62.2 million, up 3.5% compared to the previous year.

The majority of indicators in this sector will confirm this trend. That’s not all: this growth is associated with a great turmoil, a period of dramatic change in the sector, which started a few years ago and will continue to bear fruit for a very long time. It is a “permanent revolution” that has been triggered, above all, by the advent of digital.

 

10 hot topics about sports marketing and communications

In short: those who deal with marketing and communications in the sector must start from this awareness, to turn these challenges into opportunities. In this post, we will identify 10 hot topics influencing the sports sector, points of reference that every good marketer should keep in mind.

 

1. Marketing that is increasingly digital

Let’s start our overview from this awareness: the advent of digital, with Digital Transformation, has revolutionized the marketing of all sectors. The sports sector is no exception.

This points to the growing importance of AdSense, indexing and SEO, data collection and analysis, online shops, fitness apps, but also wearable devices, social networks, influencers, and eSports.

This is not a complete list, and some of these topics will be discussed in the following points. However, let’s focus on this point: marketing in the sports sector today means digital marketing. And it will be more and more so.

    

2. An increasingly globalized audience

Another consequence of digital is the loss of meaning of many traditional “boundaries.” For example, Italian soccer is no longer seen only in Italy (but increasingly in Asia, for example). The American NFL championship has more and more fans in Europe, the NBA is gaining an increasing number of fans in India… and so on.

There are many examples; what’s important is to learn how to deal with this varied and globalized target. Knowing how to intercept it, with actions as tailor-made as possible, means being able to seize huge opportunities.

 

3. The new importance of the feminine

As we mentioned above, in sports, the audience is increasingly diverse. In this sense, the most conspicuous novelty is the growth of female fans.  

For decades, the sports industry revolved almost entirely around a male target, but this is no longer the case. All of the brands in the sector have noticed this (check out the “She Moves Mountains” campaign by North Face, for example).

 

4. More and more social

There is no digital marketing and communication without social media marketing, and this is all the more so for sports brands. 

In fact, social media is often the first point of contact between brand and customer; it is one of the most important places where the voice, identity, recognition, and reputation of companies in the sector are formed. This is where most of the engagement is played out. But they are also channels in which a “slip” can be amplified in an uncontrolled and dangerous way.

Furthermore, social is the ecosystem where large and small influencers move, which have become central to the world of sport and fitness.

In short, the field of social networks in the Sport Industry, alone, could deserve an in-depth post of its own. Stay tuned. 

 

5. Data, data, data… and personalization

If we take an in-depth look at the digital revolution, we can see that it translates above all into a huge and unprecedented availability of data, which has become the real treasure of companies and marketers alike.

But why is data so fundamental? For a very simple reason: data allows you to get to know your audience, in its varied composition: characteristics, recurring behaviors, the customer journey, habits, preferences, potential desires. 

We have seen above how the target of the Sport Industry is increasingly diversified: that’s why data analysis, in this sector, is even more valuable than for others. However, it’s not enough to collect a huge amount of data; you need to know how to interpret the data in the most profound, intelligent and functional way.

The real point of arrival, in this sense, is personalized marketing, with its perspective of one-to-one dialog.

 

6. Mobile first!

Let’s get more specific. Smartphone owners across the world number about 3.5 billion (source). In 2018, mobile traffic was 52.2% of the total. Daily mobile internet usage has increased by 504% since 2011 (source). 

For marketers, this means only one thing: digital marketing strategies must be as omnichannel as possible, and must be “designed” from mobile.

Here’s a significant figure, coming directly from Google: the average smartphone user spends 50 minutes on apps dedicated to the world of sport and fitness (source).

 

7. Wearable technology

According to a recent survey, sales of wearable products will reach $95 million by 2021. We are talking about wearable digital devices, such as smartwatches, “smart clothing,” pedometers, and other devices designed specifically for the sports sector, for training, or more generally, for health.

Needless to say, here too there are interesting (and innovative) marketing opportunities, as well as data collection, in an increasingly personalized perspective.

The big brands in the sector are moving decisively in this direction. One example is Nike, with its “smart shoes” (see here for more details).

 

8. eSport

eSports are the “electronic sports,” such as competitive video games. This is a sector that is in powerful growth, a market segment of one and a half billion dollars, with a number of fans that, by 2021, will exceed 250 million (source). Even more importantly, these are mainly young people.

This is a trend to keep in mind, with enormous marketing potential.

 

9. Virtual reality and augmented reality

No, let’s not talk science fiction. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are gaining more and more space in sports marketing and communication, also because of the reduction of their costs.

A concrete example of application? The possibility to “virtually try on” basketball shoes, before purchasing them, with the help of smart glasses, or even a simple smartphone.

Needless to say, the potential in this field has yet to be explored.

 

10. The old “responsibility”

In the previous point, we addressed the frontiers of marketing in the sector. But there is a word that is becoming increasingly important. We are talking about the “responsibility” that a company must show that it has on a social, environmental, and ethical level.

It is customers themselves who are asking for it. According to a study conducted by Nielsen, as many as 66% of consumers are ready to pay even more to “reward” those brands that are committed to having a positive social and environmental impact. Clearly, this responsibility must also be communicated in the right way!

So: more and more digital, an increasingly diverse audience, ever more accurate personalization. These are the areas where companies in the Sports industry will face their biggest challenges and opportunities.