In the twenty-first century, smart technologies have begun to penetrate nearly every facet of our lives and the sports and fitness industry is no exception. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a global tech trend that marries everyday devices to the power of the cloud, thus creating endless opportunities for businesses. IoT has the potential economic impact of up to $1.6 trillion in the health and fitness sector globally by 2025, according to McKinsey and Co. In addition, the global sports tech market is expected to reach $40.2 billion by 2026. And yet, businesses at the intersection of sports, fitness, and health still fail to identify the benefits that disruptive technologies have to offer.
The Shift in Consumer Expectations of Sport and Fitness Industries
To illustrate how technologies have tightly wound themselves into our everyday lives, let’s look at how someone might start their day. They wake up and exercise or maybe start their day with yoga or meditation. In all of these activities, they are most likely to use technologies at hand – to track their heartbeat with fitness bands or smartwatches, track their speed or count the distance, or use guided meditations that help switch off the distractions and remind them to concentrate on breathing.
All of these fitness trackers with sensors that collect data are nothing other than IoT that we use on a daily basis without even realizing it. What we do realize is that we use all these devices to improve our performance, and in order to improve, we need them to collect more and more data about our activities. Data aggregation, analysis, and connectivity make these devices smart. With such smart fitness devices, consumers’ expectations become limitless.
Users want real-time monitoring and analysis of their vitals. They expect their smart gadgets to be tailored to their needs and offer them a more personalized approach. The smart wristbands and watches should – and are already – reading blood oxygen levels, generating an ECG, detecting spikes in heart rate levels, tracking sleep stages, and even detecting if the person wearing it has washed their hands.
Beyond health tracking, smart devices also connect us to global sports events with remote spectating, stadiums and sporting venues now offer immersive fan experiences. The connected person isn’t just a concept from sci-fi movies anymore, it’s reality.
So what does it all mean for businesses? The growing demand for enhanced personalization in sports and fitness means that technology is now seen as an integral element for business success. Businesses need to keep up and find ways to integrate IoT into fitness and sports to keep up with consumers’ expectations.
IoT Solutions in Sports and Fitness
Not to lean on hyperbole, nor overstate its importance, but IoT is conquering the sports world. Athletes, people who do sports, sports fans, and venues – are all seeking to utilize the benefits of connected technologies. Everything IoT has to offer can be used to improve the user experience: sensors of all kinds that collect data, advanced analytics, asset tracking technology, remote monitoring, and equipment maintenance. All of these technologies lie at the heart of wearables of all sorts, connected equipment and sports gear, stadiums, and venues of the future.
Connected wearable technologies are reshaping not only professional sports but also the way regular people do sports, too. Offering a variety of features to track progress, monitor healthcare, and receive insights into fitness activities, wearables are quickly becoming indispensable. It is expected that the global wearable devices market will reach $62.82 billion by 2025.
Wearable technologies can come in many different forms. One of the most recent use cases that has been given the spotlight due to Euro 2020, is high-tech GPS tracking vests worn by football players. STATSports vests gather information that is used to analyze and improve the performance. Vests worn by players track performance statistics including speed, acceleration, distance covered, heart rate, intensity, and fatigue. These wearable devices also produce heat maps that show the areas where players are active on the field. All this information can be streamed to a phone, a tablet, or a smartwatch, and helps coaches make more accurate game strategy decisions.
When talking about wearables, it is impossible not to mention Apple Watch. With their latest iWatch series, Apple took a definitive fitness and health-monitoring approach. Apart from giving their customers access to insights about their health like tracking blood oxygen levels, monitoring heart rate, sleeping respiratory rate, and generating ECG, the devices come with a subscription to Apple Fitness+.
This brings us to the next popular representation of IoT in sports – apps. They come in many forms – fitness apps, tracking training data apps, apps for live streaming, etc. Mainly they are the part of an IoT solution that the end-users get to see. All sorts of data collected by sensors from the devices are further analyzed and displayed in an app. Apps such as Strava or Nike Run Club rely on GPS in your smartphone to track your running progress.
Nike Run Club is all about running. Strava, however, gained popularity among people who are into both running and cycling to help them track their distance and pace. The app can sync with other devices like smartwatches, head units, or heart monitors and collect data from them. Strava also helps users connect with other users and see their workouts, and to find local challenges like marathons. As of January 2020, Strava has been downloaded by 49 million people in 195 countries, and the company claims it attracts a million new users a month.
The majority of the fitness trackers like Fitbit or Garmin have apps of their own that offer actionable insights in their dashboards based on the fitness data and other metrics like oxygen saturation level, skin temperature, and sleep data. By giving users a highly personalized experience, they push them to monitor their health and be more active.
Connected Sports Gear
Another example of IoT use cases in sports is connected training equipment and gear that can be used in gyms and at home. Smart yoga mats, rowers, kettlebells, stationary bikes, and treadmills offer users a personalized approach to training, giving them the ability to track their performance and set fitness goals. The global pandemic only spurred the distribution of such smart sports equipment at homes.
When talking about stationary bikes, Peloton steals the limelight. The company was a trendsetter offering bikes with large screens that allow users to participate in livestreaming online classes. All Peloton bikes are equipped with two sensors that collect data like revolutions per minute (RPM) and resistance when a user is cycling. This data is sent to the bike’s LED screen in the form of metrics that show the user’s performance and track progress. Peloton also has a cloud platform where performance data is collected and can be redistributed to other users who take the same livestream class. It is displayed in the form of a leaderboard, which makes at-home cyclists feel engaged. Instructors can also see users’ data in real-time and can interact with them remotely.
Now collaborating with stars like Beyonce on themed fitness classes, and with a loyal fanbase of celebrities like Richard Branson, Jimmy Fallon, and the Obamas, Peloton continues to attract customers.
Seeing the rise in popularity in connected sports equipment, many IoT companies try to follow suit offering solutions that can make, for example, the treadmill you already have, smart. North Pole Engineering has developed a Runn smart treadmill sensor that can be connected to any treadmill and the fitness app users already have. It is a viable option for gyms that already have lots of expensive equipment and would like to jump on the IoT bandwagon and offer more for their customers.
Compared to smart wearables, fitness apps, and smart sports equipment, connected stadiums are a relatively uncharted terrain for businesses. Stadiums that offer enhanced fan experiences, such as opportunities to engage with their favorite teams, haven’t been given much attention. That is, until now. 2021 has seen the rise in IoT technologies use in big sporting events.
This year the technical partners of the Tour de France, the third-largest sporting event in the world, created a digital twin. The race lasts 3 weeks, spans 3,400 kilometers, and takes place in remote areas like mountains. The digital twin that was used to cover the event gave the organizers greater control over the race, ensured its continuity and safety, and also provided immediate insights to fans. The company called this innovation “the world’s largest connected stadium”.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games also incorporated next-gen technologies like IoT and AI to bring the maximized experience of the Games to their fans. The Olympic Broadcasting Services expanded virtual reality technology using Intel® True VR. The stadiums were equipped with stereoscopic camera pods that filmed panoramic views of the athletes. Using this data and high-performance computing and software algorithms, Intel® True VR was able to deliver a high-quality, real-time video stream, providing an immersive experience to the viewers.
What Can Businesses Gain by Joining Forces With Iot?
Businesses can tap into the abundant opportunities that IoT offers by adding this technology to their existing products or services. Incorporating the IoT approach to current business products can help optimize processes and save operational costs. It can also open new ways to get to hard-to-reach targets, help launch new products, and expand the customer base. By collecting tons of data from customers, businesses can fine-tune their offerings, achieving greater customer loyalty. If that’s the ultimate goal of any business, then why not give IoT a try?