ukactive and Sport England launch third Digital Futures report

Third Digital Futures report shows rewards for operators investing in digital strategy

Fitness and leisure organisations that make continued investment in digital transformation are moving ahead of the competition, according to findings released in the third annual Digital Futures report from ukactive and Sport England.

The report follows a third year of consultation with the fitness and leisure sector, providing a measure of how well organisations are embracing digital and highlights the main areas for improvement to digital strategies, services and connections for consumers.

The report presents the fullest picture yet of the sector’s digital maturity levels with a total of 204 fitness, leisure and sports organisations taking part this year including a 12% increase in the number of private operators taking part in 2023.

Since the Digital Futures Consultation began in 2021, participation has doubled each year and this year’s cohort represents more than 2,200 sites across the UK (up from 1,800 in 2022) which serve an estimated 5.5 million members nationwide. For the first time, the consultation also included National Governing Bodies for sports and the Active Partnership Network.

The growth in participation provides greater insight into the digital challenges and opportunities across the sector, meaning ukactive, Sport England and partners can deliver tailored support to enable the sector to continue to advance their digital maturity with the ultimate aim of helping operators to grow participation in physical activity and reduce inequalities.

Key findings:

  • Five operators reached ‘Digital Leader’ status, the pinnacle of the digital maturity and effectiveness index, by scoring 80% or more, compared to three in 2022. Digital Leader typically means an organisation that is already making digital deliver significant business performance and setting the benchmark for peers to follow.
  • Fitness, leisure and sports organisations taking part in the consultation for a second or third time on average scored significantly higher with a 57% digital maturity score (+4% on their previous score), compared to new participants who scored an average of 43%. This suggests continued involvement in the Digital Futures programme leads to an improved digital maturity rating.
  • Of the total sample, UK leisure, fitness and sports organisation scored on average a 47% digital maturity score and leisure and fitness organisations specifically, achieved a score of 51% (the same figure as 2022). The index describes this level (40-59%) as ‘Digital Experimenter’, typically meaning operators are making great strides forward but missing the investment, goal alignment and rapid advances to yield a strong performance.
  • To complete the consultation, organisations answer a set of questions designed by experts at Rewrite Digital, following the same questions as in previous years but this year with the addition of two questions around emerging technologies (such as artificial intelligence/AI) and environmental impact.

In addition, the third year of the programme saw the integration of data from ukactive’s Consumer Engagement and Insights work to provide greater context behind consumer’s preferences that may impact an operators’ digital journey.

The report’s recommendations include how operators can do more to ensure inclusion and accessibility in digitisation to the benefit of all individuals – particularly through personalisation. Work is already underway, with the launch of ukactive’s EDI self-assessment tool to help understand existing levels of inclusion and areas for improvement.

The authors also recommend harnessing the increased wealth of data and insights within the digital space to enrich experiences and provide further commercial opportunities.

The Digital Futures programme is referenced in the Government’s ‘Get Active’ strategy for sport and physical activity, which aims to get 3.5 million more people active by 2030. It highlights the combined work of ukactive, Sport England’s Uniting the Movement strategy, and the British Chamber of Commerce’s report ‘Digital Revolution Challenge’ on the growth and opportunity presented by emerging technology.

Today’s publication is the third annual report of its kind and is supported by ukactive Strategic Partners, Gladstone, Myzone, EGYM, Les Mills, Technogym, and Xplor and its contribution partners Keepme, Leisure Labs, Perfect Gym, Endurance Zone, Xn and Zoom Media.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “It’s great to see more organisations engaging in our Digital Futures programme so we can gain the most accurate picture of where our sector stands in terms of its digital maturity.

“This year’s findings are encouraging and it is clear that participating in this consultation is providing tangible results for operators who are accessing evidence and clear recommendations to enhance their digital strategies.

“By supporting our members’ understanding and progress of digital strategies, we’re helping them to engage customers in new and innovative ways – not only to get more people through the doors, but reducing health inequalities and delivering a more active nation.”

Allison Savich, Strategic Lead for Innovation & Digital at Sport England, said: “Digital is absolutely here to stay and it is particularly encouraging, in this third year of building our collective understanding of how best to apply digital to improve the experience of getting active, to see the growing participation numbers in Digital Futures from across the whole system, including NGBs and the Active Partnership network.

“We encourage all our partners to engage with this year’s recommendations, and to prioritise completing the Digital Futures consultation, as the results clearly show that regular review of progress is beneficial to our collective growth.

“The findings will help ensure we can design and provide the right services to help meet our partners’ needs in digital, which in turn helps us to unite together to tackle inequalities and to deliver on the government’s target of getting 3.5million more people active by 2030.”

To see the Digital Futures report findings and recommendations in full, click here.

To use ukactive’s free Digital Maturity and Effectiveness Index Tool, click here.

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