The sporting goods market is undergoing a major technological disruption: smart products are changing the way consumers and elite athletes interact with once seemingly simple products.
Technology is ubiquitous and has dramatically changed consumer expectations for connected, or “smart,” sporting goods – so much so that this new high-tech sports equipment market is expected to reach $1.2 billion in sales by 2022.
Consumers and elite athletes are obsessed with data and how it can help them achieve better health and personal performance, whether it’s a young professional looking to get into shape, or an elite, high-paid athlete aiming for peak performance. Different consumers want different things from the industry. Let’s explore some of the most important consumer expectations.
Winning marriage of aesthetic design and product performance: Whether an athlete or soccer mom, consumers want a “wow!” experience that combines the best aesthetic design with robust functions that deliver reliability and safety.
Consumers first became aware of the ways in which electronics and wearable technology can improve their fitness experience with the arrival of wearable fitness trackers like Fitbits. While these “virtual coaches” defined a new relationship with sporting goods, they played the role of a new accessory on the arm or waistband. Consumers want sleek, streamlined products that can be worn at any occasion; not just during a formal sports activity – function meets fashion.
Elite athletes need the smart part of the product to be virtually invisible. A smart bat or golf club can’t feel different in the hand than a traditional one. If it did, the athlete’s swing would be thrown off and the value of their ability would be lost. With 40 percent of the smart sporting goods market dominated by smart baseball bats and golf clubs, analyzing a swing has become a big business.
Real-time information, data synchronization and analysis: Consumers and athletes alike want immediate feedback. Getting information on an app is acceptable for the average consumer, but athletes need more. Elite athletes, coaches and trainers are looking for real-time data synchronization in the moment of activity so they can analyze performance, fatigue and even safety conditions. The competitive edge in high-tech sports equipment increases wins, and analyzing real-time information is that edge that makes a difference.
Competition and community: Smart sporting goods manufacturers have also created virtual communities for their members, and consumers are embracing them. These communities create a movement to better health and performance while increasing brand loyalty. Consumers thrive on the virtual competition with members from all over the world. Some even build real communities in unique and inspiring ways. Uncharted Play by SOCCKET created a smart soccer ball with a generator inside, for example: as children play, they create electricity for their real community to advance.
The bold new world of smart, connected high-tech sports equipment is already happening. It will be exciting to see how it evolves over the next few years and how ubiquitous it becomes to the world of childhood – and professional – sports.
About the author Suzanne Kopchais the vice president of consumer products & retail strategy for Siemens PLM Software. She is responsible for using Siemens PLM’s resources to provide value-added solutions for the consumer products and retail industry. Kopcha has spent her career leading and consulting with others on the transformation of their innovation processes and leveraging technology as a catalyst for business growth. She’s been involved in transforming consumer products companies for almost 3 decades and has more than 27 years of experience in the industry. Kopcha was previously the PLM leader and an Enterprise Transformation Leader at Procter & Gamble, where she was responsible for technology and shared services across the company’s design and innovation processes; she also spent 2 years in the Corporate Strategy Office. Kopcha holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from LeMoyne College and an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.