Sports Practices in a Post-Covid World

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the global sports ecosystem. But how has it impacted the sports practice of the population? Has the way we do sports been changed for good, and how will this affect the industry?

The ESSEC Sports Chair in collaboration with ESSEC Alumni sought to answer these questions in the Sports Knowledge and Leadership talk “Sport Practices in a Post-Covid World” with guest speakers Stéphane Bail (VP of Training for NIKE EMEA), Arnaud Leroux (Marketing Director of ASICS Europe), Augustin Pénicaud (Deputy CEO of Havas Sports & Entertainment), François Thauvin (Ministry of Economy and Finance- Youth and Sports budget), and Julien Vivier (Head of Market Research France, Nielsen Sport).

By ESSEC Sports Chair students Antoine Dioulouffet, Ulysse Navarre, and Bhanu Yashwant Yenduri

Rediscovery of the benefit of sports during first confinement

To observe the impact of the crisis, market trends were studied in 3 periods: March to May 2020 (first confinement), May to September (Deconfinement and summer period), and from September onwards (beginning of school year). From 2012[1] onwards, there has been a gradual increase in the interest of sports amongst the French population. During the first confinement, this interest was shown extensively with the practice of sports being the third most over practiced activity behind domestic activities and use of screens.[2]Around 82% of the population were discovering or rediscovering the benefits of sports in their daily lives and the majority of them were ready to continue with these activities after this confinement period.[3] Due to this massive increase in interest amongst the public for sports, there was a high increase in consumption (37%) of sports items and equipment as well with an average basket of around 55 euros. [4]

Change in sports practice with people adapting to and using digital platforms and apps

Even during the second period, French people wanted to practice more sports compared to before the pandemic. One out of two people wanted to practice sports more regularly and was interested in buying more sports equipment.[5] This trend was especially consistent amongst millennials. This trend was mostly due to the fact that global awareness of the impact of sports on health and well-being increased. Around 61% of the people who had increased their sports practice during the confinement maintained it during the summer. Exercise apps like Strava had an enormous gain in the number of registrations and sports like running, biking and yoga benefitted a lot from this increased activity. The way sports were practiced changed, with more people using apps and virtual training sessions compared to fitness clubs. This increase in sports practice also provided an ideal opportunity Brands expanded their product lines in order to align themselves with new practices and gain more consumers.[6]

Decrease in sports with licensed practice but acceleration in adaptation of virtual coaching

After September, once the school year had started, almost half of the people surveyed were still practicing sports regularly, similar to 2019, and 81% of people said they practiced sports at least once a week, a 4% increase from 2019.[7] However, the intensity of sport practices was decreasing and outdoor sports practice became popular once again.

Overall, there has been an increased desire to practice sports but there have also been challenges. The practice of sports in schools was severely affected.[8] More people were practicing sports at home and were taking virtual coaching sessions or practicing with virtual communities through apps like Zwift or Runkeeper[9], and this led to decrease in sports with licensed practice.[10] The pandemic has accelerated trends which can be attributed to many factors such as the flexibility of not travelling for classes, peer pressure to join friends on sports apps, motivation, etc.

Despite the setbacks due to Covid-19, there are ample opportunities in the sports industry, with Paris2024 providing a perfect platform to promote and revitalize sports amongst the youth

The pandemic has brought with it an increase in the interest in the practice of sports compared to the previous years. When the pandemic ends, schools and corporations will play an important role in keeping this interest alive amongst the youth and employees and ensuring that this trend of increased sports practice is sustained over a longer period of time. The digital transformation of sports practice accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic provides ample opportunities for the industry.

[1] Nielsen Sports Baromètre trimestriel SPONSORLINK vague 1 : décembre 2012 / vague 34 : septembre 2020

[2] Nielsen Sports - Baromètre trimestriel SPONSORLINK – vague 33 : 16-25 juin 2020

[3] étude RunToFeel par Asics Mai 2020 14 000 répondants dans le monde / 1000 répondants en France.

[4] Joko

[5] étude Fans.Passions.Brands par Havas Sports & Entertainment Juillet 2020 1 500 répondants

[6] Etude «Sport dans la ville 2020 » Union Sport & Cycle Octobre 2020

[7] Etude «Sport dans la ville 2020 » Union Sport & Cycle Octobre 2020

[8] Source: Decathlon

[9] étude # RunToFeel par Asics Mai 2020 1000 répondants en France.

[10] Source : Le Monde, Novembre 2020