Open data: business survival for gym, leisure centres and activity providers post lockdown

By Orsola De Marco, Head of Innovation at the Open Data Institute

As gyms and leisure facilities begin to reopen all over the country from 25th July the landscape they are operating in is likely to be massively different from the one they left pre-lockdown. City gyms will have less footfall due to increased working from home, classes will be reduced in time and size and no one is able to predict the number of gym goers that will continue to use home workouts as a viable alternative to the gym.

From travel to banking to healthcare, digital is transforming how consumers interact with products and services. An explosion of consumer-centric products, from websites to apps, offer a seamless customer experience, helping individuals efficiently manage their day-to-day lives. With lockdown only increasing consumer expectations for the convenience of digital products and services, now is a crucial time for the sports and physical activity sector to pay attention to digital innovation, not only to compete with other sectors but to financially survive in a ‘post-lockdown’ world.

Searching online for the right exercise classes or facility that is available at the right time and at the right location is often challenging. Customers have to trawl through multiple different sites and pages to find the information they need. Even then, the information they do find might be out of date, or it might not have enough detail – such as intensity level, equipment needed, or accessibility information – to help them make a decision. This poor digital experience is causing the fitness sector to lose out on reaching and retaining customers: research commissioned by Sport England supports this as it shows one fifth of adults have been put off doing a sport or physical activity because it was too difficult to find or book online. This was before lockdown even happened.

Making data about where and when activities happen openly available is one step towards improving digital services in the sector. Innovators can use this data to create products that help consumers to find and book activities, tailored to their needs and interests, with ease. The activity sector equivalent to Lastminute.com and Trivago.  One study showed that publishing open data helped leisure operator Everyone Active gain 11,500 new customers, 95% of which had never been members before, and 36% had never used an Everyone Active service.

OpenActive is a sector-led initiative, supported by Sport England, that created the first open data infrastructure for the sport and physical activity sector. Guided by the sector knowledge of ukactive, and the technical expertise of the Open Data Institute (ODI), OpenActive created common data standards for publishing non-personal and non-commercially sensitive data about sport and physical activities openly. These standards make it easier for organisations offering physical activities to publish quality data about their available classes or facilities. This covers any type of opportunity, from a group fitness class at a leisure centre, to a pitch for 5-a-side football, to a stretch & balance class run by a volunteer in a village hall. Additionally, the data standard helps organisations building consumer-facing digital products to combine different datasets from different activity providers.

By sharing data about their classes and services, businesses can increase their market reach, without increasing their marketing spend, or becoming dependent on one third-party provider. Information about classes and facilities can feature on multiple websites, platforms and apps, without the need for the organisation delivering the activities spending a large amount of time establishing one-to-one agreements. An independent assessment of the OpenActive standards estimated an increase of 1 to 2.5 participants per session or slot published as open data.

As more organisations in the sector start publishing data and using it, we will see much more impact being unlocked for the sector as a whole with more people being more active. There are also plans to use open data to expand into other sectors, such as health and social care, which will unlock wider revenue opportunities for activity providers.

During lockdown, organisations on a clear path towards digital transformation are able to rapidly release new products in line with customer needs, establishing brand relevance, new revenue models, and customer loyalty. Publishing open data is an easy way to kickstart an organisation’s digital transformation journey, and move beyond the initial digital presence that a website offers. ukactive and the ODI can help you start this journey – find out how.