Perchance to Disrupt


Perchance to Disrupt

Morphing is a special effect in films that changes (or morphs) one image into another through a seamless transition. Across Europe, former fitness agencies are all morphing into something hopefully Active. Ireland and Europe are the latest two (formerly ILAM Ireland and EHFA, European Health & Fitness Association) are now called Ireland Active and Europe Active. In the UK the former Fitness Industry Association morphed last year into UKActive.

Famous corporate morphs include one of the earliest, Brad's Drink, created by a young pharmacist, Caleb Bradham in 1893, then in 1898 it was renamed Pepsi-Cola. In 1996 two guys in California called their new search business BackRub; two years later it morphed in to Google. Did Sergey Brin and Larry Page have the foresight to rename their company with a single word (Google) that within eight years would become a daily call to action, an 'active' verb that describes phenomena and enter the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2006? The words Cola and Pepsi over the years and with billions spent on advertising have now become figures of speech. So will .... Active enter into daily conversation amongst the many over the next 8 to 116 years?

Listening to J.S. Bach, St Mathew's Passion over Easter made me wonder if the European fitness industry, as it is, has the passion to grow the market. If the former Pope Benedict, who you suspect had God on his side, admits there were times when the 'Lord seemed to sleep' - how do we mere mortals wake up the majority who are sleeping? Academics across the world have looked at 'frameworks for action', 'blueprints' and 'concepts' but found all failed to achieve a long term positive improvement in increased activity and therefore did not improve the overall health of any nation.

Perhaps too many organisations that are keen to change their name are following 'best practice' or worse using 'common sense' to solve a current, insoluble problem. Perhaps the 'Active' movement has, Lord forbid, just fallen asleep. At the last IHRSA convention in San Diego a keynote speaker talked about 'confirmation bias'; when your contemporaries can't be arsed to question or debate the here and now, or the future, for fear of offending anyone or disturbing vested interests.

It seems we have had 'sustaining innovation', that's innovation which does not affect existing markets, for too long. Disruptive innovation helps create a new market and both sport and fitness is ripe for change. In the UK GymFlex and PayasUgym are good examples of organisations seeing an annual contract system that is broken, receiving bad publicity, under investigation and scoring some spectacular own goals. GymFlex now has over 1,000 companies in its network while PayasUgym has over 1,700 sites and with a nod to John Lewis stores states, 'always cheaper than going direct or we will give you the difference back'.

Disruptive technology is even more exciting with the potential to reach a wider audience. For example, the top four international sports tracking apps have a global audience of over 100 million. Splashpath in the UK came up with the idea of linking swimming pools with free easy to use software to maintain their pool timetables. At the time most pools marketed themselves as though it was 1994. It was mostly out of date posters, diary events and 3 month old pdf's on internal boards. Thinking as a consumer, a keen swimmer, a water polo club captain and a developer of iOS apps, Dan (the creator of Splashpath) saw how to disrupt these lazy sites and catapult them into 2014, a win-win for the pool operator and the consumer who can now view live timetables.

Over 50% of all public pools across the UK now use this embeddable timetable system including the newly opened Olympic Aquatic Centre in London. Over 500,000 live timetables are viewed each week and over 150,000 registered swimmers tell what their favourite pool is, how often they go, what they like and dislike about the experience. Some pools like the Triangle at Burgess Hill Sussex, have over 1,200 customers favouring it.

Splashpath morphed into Speedo Fit a year ago and has since launched in over 100 countries including Japan. To see a short video produced when the app went live in the USA follow this link, the voice over is in English only at the moment. Speedo is a Great British heritage brand which sponsors Olympic swimmers in over 160 countries and several national swim teams.

In 2014 Dan created a new app for the Pebble watch which helps swimmers from all over the world, including Japan, connect too. Pebble is not simply a swim watch, it's a smart watch that runs a swim watch app. For someone that loves notifications and is into the 'quantified self' the app/watch counts how many lengths you swim, it can tell the difference between swim strokes and provides the algorithmic data on your smart phone before you get back to the changing room.

The watch by itself is not disruptive but by adding Evernote, Time Warner, eBay, Starbucks, Yelp, Pandora Music, Google Navigation and fun things like photos every hour from the Mars rover it builds a following which will soon become a movement. After my Easter weekend cycle ride I got a message about a PB (personal best) from RunKeeper (app) via my smart phone onto my Pebble watch, YES! The watch provides me with moments of awesomeness on a daily basis. This is innovation that is creating a new market which ultimately (and unexpectedly) overtakes an existing market. My Pebble watch morphs daily into modern watch faces (yes it also tells the time), provides live weather and temperature, a 7 minute workout, and controls the camera on my iphone5.

Over 2,300 apps have been developed for this watch, which is part of a new trend, BYOD, Bring Your Own Device, to a fitness or sports club. A growing number of consumers already do, so why not encourage it.

There's a massive wave of wearable fashion and tech devices to choose from that's constantly changing; Nike announced in 2014 it will no longer develop the FuelBand while Facebook purchased the fitness tracking app Moves and Sony launched a waterproof smart watch. It seems sports and fitness will be less about the venue and product and more about the experience and instant feedback.

It's time for change, it's time to morph, it's perchance time to disrupt.


David Minton

David Minton

Founder, The Leisure Database Company
Special Advisor, Sasakawa Sports Foundation