Dirk Sorenson, Executive Director, Industry Analyst, Sports, The NPD Group

My son obsesses over Fortnite. A lot of kids do. It’s this kind of focus and energy that has allowed eSports gamers to earn millions of dollars in endorsements by playing video games. Like traditional athletes, these gamers attract eyeballs and present manufacturers with new sponsorship opportunities that lead to increased brand and product recognition. Look no further than Tyler “Ninja” Blevins—who reportedly earns about $500,000 a month playing games online—to recognize that our notion of sport is changing.

eSports has its roots in gaming that’s controlled by thumbs and fingers. But, as we move into a new decade, the latest movement of creating new, digital versions of sports activities and augmenting them could have the impact that e-commerce and the “Internet of things” has had on consumers. These platforms have the potential to change the way sports is perceived and pursued, and open new avenues for traditional manufacturers to create and market products.

To give a taste for how widespread this movement is, leading brands are investing in eSports players with sponsorships; arenas are being built; and the Olympics is considering eSports for inclusion as an activity. I believe that what we’re now seeing in eSports—projected to be a $1 billion dollar “sport” with 300 million fans by 2022—is only the beginning of a massive transformation that can revitalize fitness and healthy activities.

A number of new services offer a glimpse of how the digital experience will transform the $104 billion sports apparel and footwear business and $26 billion sports equipment industry in the U.S.* These services have evolved well beyond tools that simply measure and record our physical activity. Apps like MapMyRide and Strava are being eclipsed by more experience-based products and services.

These new service types fall into four categories:

  • Products and services that deliver training “media” to the home (i.e. Peloton)
  • Online services that enable competition between athletes in a virtual multiplayer gaming environment (think of this as an online game where the athlete truly sweats)
  • Online training tools and equipment that focus on athletic skills development
  • The online experience changing studios, gyms, and other destinations by gamifying workouts through heartrate monitors and other smart equipment, to allow the consumer to measure their efforts against one another

Over the next month or so, I’ll take a deep dive into each of these four services that make up what I consider the “Internet of Fitness.”

*Source: The NPD Group/ Consumer Tracking Service (apparel/footwear) and Retail Tracking Service (equipment)/ 12 months ending December 2019