An Asian View — Transforming Engagement in the Health and Wellness Industry

This is the second of 3 articles in our series which will examine the digital transformation in the health and wellness sector particularly for gyms, fitness centres and personal training from the impact and changes brought on by Covid-19, and what comes next.

Digital transformation may previously have been a low priority in the traditional fitness industry but with changes to operations during an unprecedented pandemic, businesses had no choice but to think on their feet to respond immediately and evolve tremendously during this time. In addition to that, the acceleration of the consumption of digital and remote content has modified the way the brick-and-mortar businesses, as well as, traditional sports have engaged with their clientele over the years. At AST, we foresaw the evolution of that relationship from a simply physical one to a more integrated #phygital (Physical and Digital) one. This article will highlight several examples of how the traditional sports world has adopted digital transformation during the crisis that could help accelerate digital transformation in the traditional fitness industry in Asia and around the world.

  1. Traditional Sports Went Completely Virtual and Esports As A New Engagement Tool

With Covid-19 bringing the professional sports world to a halt, many high profile names in traditional sports have turned to virtual platforms or esports to maintain engagement with their fans and potentially provide some value to their sponsors.

Two of the biggest leagues in America turned to online during their suspension. The NFL moved to a virtual platform for one of their most prestigious events of the season that set viewership and engagement records, the NFL Draft. Though without its usual fanfare and execution of the first ever virtual football draft took place and was broadcast on ESPN. The NBA created the NBA 2K Player Tournament, a NBA 2K20 game play tournament between 16 current NBA players, which included superstar Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks, to compete in a single-elimination, player-only tournament. The winner was crowned the ultimate NBA 2K20 champion and selected a charity to receive a $100,000 donation in support of ongoing coronavirus relief efforts.

With their season suspended indefinitely, NHL teams like the New Jersey Devils quickly mobilized to bring its fans NHL 20 video game simulations on every game night against its would-be opponents for the remainder of the 2019–2020 season,providing fans with an approximation of that game day feeling. The team had a radio announcer to do the play-by-play for the games and integrated actual game day sponsors throughout the broadcast as well as post-game at home interviews with the players. According to team figures, a simulated NHL20 game between the Devils and Philadelphia Flyers drew over 60,000 live viewers across its platforms.

Formula 1 is hosting virtual races in place of every postponed Grand Prix with special guests taking part in some events, like Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero in the official Virtual Spanish Grand Prix. The virtual series has been created to enable fans to continue watching Formula 1 races virtually and allow F1 to reach and engage with a younger audience like millennials, despite the ongoing situation that has affected this season’s race calendar.

In tennis, we saw the first virtual competition on an international scale in March with the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro. The innovative tournament was a virtual replica and had some of the biggest ATP and WTA stars competing using the Tennis World Tour video game from the comfort of their home. The action was streamed live across Facebook Gaming from the Mutua Madrid Open account.

Cyclers worldwide are joining Zwift in droves. Zwift is a virtual trainer game that enables riders to link their home bike trainers to their computer, iPad, iPhone or Apple TV, allowing them to ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment. Amateurs and professional riders are utilizing this platform to allow them to train and ride indoors during this pandemic. Zwift established a new series of races, The Tour for All, for professional men and women riders, which features a host of WorldTour teams for charity to raise funds to support Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in their Covid-19 response. The Tour for All, which kicked off earlier this month, is a five-stage race with stages from 45 to 75km and a mix of sprint and climbing courses was broadcasted live on Eurosport, Eurosport and Global Cycling Network. Every stage of the Tour for All was also followed by a mass participation event that encouraged amateur Zwift users to take part. Teams have also started their own Zwift virtual rides that are open to fans. Team Ineos’ recent live race broadcast drew a Zwift record combined audience of 273,000 across its own YouTube, as well as Team Ineos’ YouTube and Facebook channels. All 30 Team Ineos riders took part from remote locations across 11 countries and the event brought in 624,000 non-live stream video views, with a reach of 6.1 million on all Team Ineos channels seeing 211,000 engagements. Other teams like US based Rally Cycling even launched interactive series at home and social media based fitness challenges to help build community spirit.

With nearly 100 of its events impacted in 2020, the Ironman Group has announced that its triathlon racing series will be moving to a virtual format to allow amateur and professional athletes to compete at home during the pandemic. Athletes can sign up through Ironman’s virtual club for free and participate in the races through connected devices, wearable technology, app trackers, smart bikes and treadmills to log results. The series has leaderboards and Facebook Live look-ins. Format and distances will vary each weekend. Ironman’s virtual training platform also offers free weekly training challenges. This approach of using interactive and connected fitness applications like Zwift, Strava and Rouvy deepen engagement with Ironman participants and integrate the Ironman brand even more into the participant’s daily lives. In April, the two virtual events that took place attracted 23,000 participants with a mix from over 130 countries. At the same time more than 56,000 people joined the brand’s virtual club platform and the series has raised nearly $100,000 for the Ironaid Covid-19 support fund.


With many professional footballers themselves avid gamers of Fortnite, Call of Duty, and of course, FIFA, it was easy for clubs to find a player to represent their team in the Premier League’s ePremier League Invitational. The invitational saw representatives from all 20 clubs compete in a 5 day charity tournament on the FIFA 20 video game which had two key aims — to engage fans during the lockdown and to raise funds for causes related to the British National Health Service. Every match was broadcasted on a variety of platforms, including Sky Sports’ YouTube and Twitch channels, as well as on the Premier League’s YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, with the finals broadcasted live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League in the U.K., as well as re-broadcasted on NBC Sports Network in America. The presentation was unmistakably Premier League in terms of branding, with viewers treated to live footage of the players and commentary by analysts alongside the match itself. It’s success accelerated the league’s eSports ambitions and provided a visibility boost at a time when no matches were being played.

The coronavirus outbreak has also sent shockwaves throughout the entire esports industry as typically esports tournaments draw thousands of spectators into sports arenas. Just a week into the 2020 season, the Chinese League of Legends Pro League (LPL) suspended play. Though the league resumed in early March, there were big changes as matches could no longer be played in studios and arenas in front of fans in the short term. Instead, the LPL shifted to an online format with teams playing out of their local headquarters, with the exception of players who are in provinces under quarantine. Further, to make sure every game is fair, the league sent referees to each team’s headquarters. This marked the first-time a professional League of Legends played online instead of in a live in-person format.

Riot Games, creator of League of Legends, has also had to change many of its planned competitions and events this year due to the pandemic, including canceling the Mid-Season Invitational, one of the league’s premier international competitions. Last year the same event drew an impressive 1.7million peak viewers, not including China or Russia. To give fans something to look forward to, Riot Games will host a 48-hour League of Legends charity stream to raise money for COVID-19 relief. The stream, called the Mid-Season Streamathon, will feature competitive and exhibition matches from all over the world on May 29th

Despite the challenges forced by Covid-19, traditional sports have accelerated their digital transformation resulting in new business opportunities and ways to engage with their customers. Given the examples above, what are some examples and lessons that the fitness, health and wellness industry can adapt to reinvent and deepen their relationship with their customers including all the new ones that were acquired during the crisis?

  1. Solution Based Digital Transformation of Gyms and Fitness Practices

Covid-19 has helped accelerate the digital transformation of some of the traditional brick and mortar businesses in the fitness industry to develop a closer, deeper, and 24/7 relationship with their clients via live streaming. However, as more and more gyms and fitness practices endeavour to establish reach outside of their gyms and studios, as evident by the abundance of content being pumped out daily, online, there is an alarming need and heightened interest in sports technologies and innovations to maintain a connection with existing clients and generate new revenues. This has also accelerated more investment in the sector since the start of the crisis.

FORTË is an end-to-end white-label digital technology platform and subscription-based streaming platform for fitness studios. Both a technology and subscription based streaming platform providing access to boutique studio classes worldwide, FORTË installs hardware and software into boutique studios, which enables classes to be streamed live on their platform and also offers subscribers the opportunity to experience their favorite classes live or through their on-demand library. The company has partnerships with leading studios that offer a variety of classes such as The Dailey Method, Exhale, GYMVMT, JoyRide Cycling Studio, Ripped Fitness, Body Space Fitness and MyStryde. Showcasing growing interests of their business, they have even raised capital during this crisis, securing investment by sports tech venture capital firm SeventySix Capital.

Glofox, a gym management software provider, has secured additional investment worth US$10 million during Covid-19. At the same time, the company launched a new digital platform to enable gyms and fitness practices to operate remotely and keep members engaged. The platform allows delivery of live as well as on demand content to their respective members during the pandemic. Glofox has been allowing their partners, which includes gyms spread across 48 countries, to deliver value to their members. Brands like F45, Snap Fitness, Tough Mudder, are some of their partners who have retained 85% of their member revenue during the spread of the coronavirus just by adding online workouts and on-demand content.

Trainme, an alumni of the Tremplin – one of the leading sports innovation hubs based in Paris, is a sport and wellness solution focusing on health and wellness activities for B2C and B2B clients. Trainme allows individuals and corporate employees to stay active at home during Covid-19 and they also offer a solution allowing companies to continue to deliver their health and wellness programs. They also helped personal trainers to monetize the work they do and generate some revenues in these difficult times. Being a very agile and tech driven company, Trainme was, in a matter of days, able to deliver their programs, usually delivered outdoors or in office spaces, online. Thanks to that, their corporate clients were able to continue engaging with their employees with fitness sessions during lockdown.

With the lockdown easing for many countries and the uncertainties of customer behaviours post Covid-19, we are eager to see if gyms and fitness practices will; a) integrate their current online content offering into their long-term strategy; b) accelerate their digital transformation or c) return to their traditional brick and mortar business model digital and the online streaming was all just a quick response to make ends meet. Time will tell, but from what we can see, digital transformation in the fitness industry will move from a trend and become the norm with even more changes and opportunities to come. Our view is that there are huge opportunities for innovative gyms and fitness operations in Asia that accelerate their digital transformation and connect with a population that is mobile savvy, eager to try new experiences, and want increased levels of customer engagement and personalization. Stay tuned as this will be the focus of our final article in the series.



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