The Future of Sports...
What the future of Action Sports looks like.
Factory Media - Our markets / scale and relevance
The Olympic Pull
The news of the inclusion of ‘cult’ sports (skateboarding, surfing) into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has stirred mixed emotions in public and in the press. The move has forced traditionalists to re-evaluate their definitions of competitive sport, just as the IOC are being forced to re-evaluate their well-established format: the reason for this fresh injection of ‘action sports’ into the Olympic calendar is the IOC’s critical need for a catalyst to engage the youth of today: Generation Z.
Skateboarding has until now been the preserve of grassroots communities and ‘scenes’, however the tides are dramatically changing. We interviewed skateboarding (and pop culture) legend Tony Hawk to determine his view on the sport’s inclusion in the Olympic programme, and he championed the move:
“Skateboarding is more popular than most Olympic sports, both in terms of participation and excitement. The IOC needed the youthful energy that snowboarding brought to their Winter Games introduced into their Summer Games. They don’t have anything that’s young like that. They’re losing an audience, so I feel like skateboarding would fit right in."
Hawk’s assertion is supported by the President of the IOC himself, Thomas Bach:
“We want to take sport to the youth. With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them."
The hard stats ratify that the IOC are backing the right horse with skateboarding, as within the UK, active participation in skateboarding has increased 24% in the past year, from 47,800 in 2014/15 to 59,200 in 2015/16.
The Olympic coup is a monumental step towards the mass acceptance, understanding and acknowledgement of action sports – the very sports that comprise Factory’s hyper-engaged fan base, driven by adrenalin and high-octane ambition, and underscored with a highly individual sense of cool.
At the London 2012 Games, BMX racing (introduced to the schedule at the 2008 Games) was the BBCs 20th most watched Olympic video, out performing a lot of traditional sporting disciplines - and it’s easy to understand why. Staggering crashes, arresting speeds, the drama of elbow-to-elbow heats culminating in first-past-the-post finishes create compelling visual theatre that’s so easy to consume.
These ingredients pull at the same strings as blockbuster action films from the Bond franchise to Fast and Furious, and appeal across the generations due to the universality of BMX’s intrinsic emotions: anticipation, determination and exhilaration. This extends as far as nostalgia: Gen X spectators may well remember racing BMX bikes through their own neighbourhoods as teenagers, evoking an emotional reverence that reaches out to you through the eras. This perfect storm of feeling towards the sport saw a post-2012 BMX boom, with tracks up and down the country suddenly at capacity due to a level of participation that challenged the sport’s mid-80s heyday.
With mountain biking, BMX racing, skateboarding, surfing, track cycling, road cycling, kayaking, canoeing, snowboarding (winter) and skiing (winter) all now staples of the Olympic programme, what next for action sport?
Sporting Zeitgeist: Established and Emergent Trends
Some of action sport’s most decorated athletes now own the apex between sporting stardom and pop culture iconoclasm, as their influence holds sway beyond the parks and trails into the mainstream arenas of music, cinema, fashion and (overwhelmingly), gaming. Tony Hawk is a household name due to his globally celebrated computer game franchise and high-level brand endorsements. Kelly Slater, possibly the greatest surfer of the past two centuries, has made more TV and film cameos than most trained actors.
Action sports athletes are now impressing their weight of endorsement on signature product lines with sportswear giants like Nike and Adidas, often in ultra-premium limited runs that exacerbate demand and stoke social virality: one of the best selling Nike sneaker models of the last two years is the now legendary Nike Janoski - the signature shoe of skateboarder Stefan Janoski. In a Google search of “Stefan Janoski", the first four links recommended surround the Nike sneaker model, with only the fifth comprising the Wikipedia page of the man as athlete. In this, he has become more cultural myth than man.
Similarly, action sports stars have penetrated YouTube – mountain biker Danny MacAskill and drift/gymkhana driver Ken Block clock up views into scores if not hundreds of millions.
The halo effect of action sports in terms of influence, credibility and cool is now such that celebrities are appropriating elements of the sports’ cultures to bolster their appeal. The behemoth style gospel American Vogue dedicated a whole week’s coverage to skateboarding and skate culture last year, apparently setting the style agenda for summer 2016. From producer and recording artist Pharrell Williams riding down the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet on a BMX (with a full BMX crew in tow), to pop megastar Justin Bieber skateboarding across his set on stage and Brooklyn Beckham’s look accessorised by a board slung under his arm at any given occasion, action sport cultures are gaining momentum.
Though very uniquely, in defiance of this mass proliferation, they still retain their sense of cool through their grassroots movements. Authenticity is all.
It’s no news that TV commercial directors have harnessed the overwhelming strength of spirit that’s so present in action sports content to captivate an audience. Everyone recalls the 1998 Guinness creative that adopted the power of surf, and with the likes of Audi (snow), Nissan (skateboarding) and Chanel (surf) following suit it is clear that in our hands we hold a very evocative marketing tool.
Action sports’ cultures and their ambassadors are being leveraged prolifically by global corporates to access influential, hard-to-reach communities who they know will drive authentic sharing and word of mouth endorsement with organic credibility. Beats by Dre, Under Armour, New Balance and Fiat are just a handful of brands that have a full action sports ambassador programme at their disposal.
Beyond leveraging premium talent, the opportunities for public participation are growing and growing: winter sports engagement has increased due to low-cost airline expansion, and in turn resorts are booming. The domino effect ensures that indoor snowdomes are at capacity all year round. Skateparks are springing up in every town up and down the country as skateboarding is seen as a healthy activity that tears teens away from their screens. Mountain bike parks are opening weekly, creating safe and managed environments that cater to beginners and seasoned pros alike. An inland ‘wave garden’ has even been erected in mid Wales for surf fans without access to the coast, or restless for the perfect swell. In an age overwhelmed by technology, fresh-air pursuits are seen as a restorative antidote that balances bodies and minds afflicted by constant connectivity.
Beyond board-based sports, cycling has truly skyrocketed over the last four years. From commuting to work every day to boost wellbeing, to competing in sportives, avidly following the Tour de France and of course the notorious MAMILs, the cycling movement has taken hold. From a business perspective, cycling ‘is the new golf’ (or the new post-recession midlife crisis!) with deals being done on 40k road rides rather than on the 19th hole. From a youth perspective, more and more schools are inviting cycling initiatives into the PE curriculum and with the Tour de France still the most watched annual sporting event in the world, the trend is only gaining pace.
The future of sports is exciting and exhilarant, and Factory are at the very forefront of the freshest ‘Action, Adventure and Extreme’ sports cultures.
They are now accessible, desirable, aspirational – and cool.
Though don’t just take our word for it -