Insight Update

How will Coronavirus change the way Britain exercises?

Sports Marketing Surveys looks at how the COVID-19 lockdown has affected home fitness

Coronavirus has brought fundamental change to almost all areas of society. How we work, how we socialise, how we eat, drink, and above all, how we play. Almost no sports have escaped the quarantine and lockdown measures brought in to slow and tackle the spread of Covid-19. Gyms and swimming pools have shut their doors, whilst golf courses, tennis courts, football pitches and cricket nets around the world lie empty and unused. Only running, walking and cycling are expressly allowed in the UK, as these are seen to enable adequate social distancing.*

At Sports Marketing Surveys we know that exercise is a crucial part of how people live their lives. Our studies show time and time again that exercisers appreciate the wide range of benefits to health, mental health, weight loss and their social life.** These are fundamental things to leave behind and the loss of preferred sports and activities will have profound impacts on the people who play them.

To understand exactly how the public are reacting to this radical change to the way they exercise and participate in sports, Sports Marketing Surveys has launched a new nationally representative programme of questioning. Surveying 1,000 UK households, the programme is designed to track how Brits across the country are adapting and exercising, whether from their homes or within the confines of lockdown.

Where was the exercise market at the start of the Coronavirus crisis?

Our first findings suggest that 46% were already doing some form of exercise at home in the very first days of the Coronavirus crisis. Based on an estimate of 52 million adults in the UK, this figure would mean that almost 24 million people are exercising in their homes. The appetite for home exercise stretches across the country, with over 40% of respondents in all regions saying that they already exercise at home, peaking at 53% of Londoners. Exercise is an almost universal love in Britain. It transcends socioeconomic boundaries, education level, regions, ages and genders. In fact our results suggest that you could drop into almost any house at random, and expect to find a 40% chance or better that some of the household exercise at home in some form.

Can home exercise expect an upsurge during the coronavirus crisis?

In the early days of coronavirus, the signs were that this number is likely to increase even further. An additional 21% of respondents added that although they did not previously exercise at home, they are now planning to do so. This is perhaps unsurprising given the curtailing of other avenues for exercise. Many team sports for example had already seen fixtures for the weekend of the 23rd March cancelled due to Coronavirus, and plenty of people quickly realised that many other pursuits would not be compatible with rules around social distancing and touching shared surfaces and materials.

Even if the uptick in home exercise is expected, it is worth pausing to reflect on what this means for the exercise industry. An additional 21% of people exercising at home would mean nearly 11 million additional participants. These are people who may well be in the market for exercise equipment including weights, treadmills, exercise bikes, rowing machines, yoga mats, personal training programmes, online classes and many other pieces of equipment and services. Exactly how much they invest in new equipment is a topic that SMS will return to, but it is worth noting that a recent study on the running market, suggested that regular runners spend £160 per year just on activewear.** As new people take up new activities, or increase their frequency with which they take part in old ones, sports brands may well see an increase in spending on exercise equipment and apparel, at least in the short-term.

In the early days of the crisis, many commentators felt that the younger generation were taking warnings and news from abroad more seriously than older age groups. Others felt that while this was true for millennials, the youngest adults, those in gen Z, were perhaps not taking the outbreak seriously enough, and seemed unwilling to change habits.

It may be telling then that 18-24s were the group already likely to do the most exercise at home. 62% of this group reported exercising at home, above the national average. A further 17% planned to start doing so when we asked them. Meanwhile it was people aged between 25 and 44 who were the most likely to consider taking up exercise from home for the first time.

Whilst the results do suggest a significant increase in the number of people turning to home workouts, this may not be the crest of the wave. The questionnaire was in field whilst the situation was still evolving. Golf courses were still open, whilst gyms only closed during questioning. Could it be that even greater proportions of those who were originally planning to adapt rather than stop their exercises, people hoping to continue to play tennis or squash, or go swimming, might come to add to the number of home sportsmen and women during the lifetime of the crisis?

Will this grow further?

Our fieldwork will continue to track the ongoing situation and report on how habits change as the lockdown wears on. Will gymgoers turn increasingly to home exercise, or perhaps to sports like running or cycling? What proportion of people will end up abandoning exercise altogether because their favourite sport is unavailable? How will consumer purchases reflect the new constraints? To find out more, or if you wish to understand more on a particular issue or subgroup, please contact Sports Marketing Surveys.

Sports Marketing Surveys is a leading global sports insight company. It provides bespoke and off the shelf research to drive strategy, change and growth at some of the leading sports brands, venues, events and federations in the world.

*Nationally representative fieldwork took place among 1,000 households between 20th and 23rd March. The UK advised against non-essential travel on 16th March and went into coronavirus lockdown on 23rd March. Gyms were closed on the 20th March.
** Exercise research programme undertaken in 2019 with readers of Elle, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Red, Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Women’s Health.

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