Success in sport is eclipsing success in the office for a new generation of sports enthusiasts.
Traditional signifiers of success are being eclipsed by personal sporting endeavours, according to new research from sports brand Oakley.
It says 40% of employed athletes would rather excel at their sport than their job, presenting a tipping point in what constitutes success for Oakley’s core target audience, which the brand has dubbed ‘The Obsessed’.
This target group of consumers, which is based on mindset not age, play their sport at least five times a week or for a minimum of 10 hours per week. According to Oakley, the group consists of ‘committed everyday athletes who pursue their sporting passion and strive for personal progression in every aspect of their lives.’
Ben Goss, global marketing director at Oakley, says: "It is clear that many athletes are evolving the concept of what work/life balance really means to them. People define success in different ways and not just in promotions and pay rises. If you get more joy from progressing in your sport than your job – that is awesome. We encourage people to own it and get after it."
Social-media driven sporting pride
For a generation who increasingly find their outside the confines of an office, has sport become the ultimate in status validation on social media? Oakley’s Goss says for some, sport is certainly a source of pride. He explains: "It’s part of their identities. The fact that this group values their sport so highly (and they put in the hours accordingly) makes them truly committed. It’s great they have a platform to share that passion."
"If it didn’t happen on Strava, it didn’t happen at all"
He emphasises that ’the Committed’ aren’t just ‘in it for the content’ though. He adds: "Even if no-one was watching, they would be out there training. That is what came through loud and clear in the research. First and foremost, they are doing it for themselves, not their followers."
Goss, whose personal mantra is 'if it didn’t happen on Strava, it didn’t happen at all’ believes that social media is media is inspiring more people to take up a sport or a new physical challenge on a daily basis. He explains: "There has been a surge in specialised apps and tools that hit core communities and link them globally. Apps like Strava and Ski Tracks have allowed people to connect through their passion-points and push themselves, their communities and their sports further."
Pointing to the "huge" impact of instagram, he explains: "The visual medium is so inspiring for bringing people into a sport while also encouraging them to continue a sport. The content that we’re able to create and distribute with our athletes is incredible, and we hope that it helps inspire others to take on new challenges. It’s also a great place to flaunt your obsessions where everyone can see them."
Sport as social validation
In the midst of an uncertain economic climate and traditional social pressures amplified through social media research from Canvas8 suggests that consumers view sporting endeavours as a ‘safe space’ in which they can carve out a sense of control and validation.
Hannah Elderfield, a senior behavioural analyst at Canvas8, explains: "People are taking sports and fitness more seriously than ever. For many, sporting and fitness achievements act as greater ‘signifiers of success’ than traditional signifiers such as having a good job, big house and nice car."
Running and cycling in particular have boomed in Britain; 2.1 million people now run regularly, a figure that increased by 73% over 10 years. Around the same number cycle weekly, including 500,000 women.
A sporting mid-life crisis
This is a trend which defies age and In an era in which the triathlon has replaced the fast car as the mid-life crisis, segmentation by age has become less relevant. According to Elderfield: "For the Gen Xers and Boomers who are hitting the inevitable dip in happiness that comes with middle age, sports cars simply aren’t cutting it. Instead, the middle-aged middle-classes are taking up events such as Ironman challenges, signalling their retained ability to achieve remarkable feats of sporting endurance."
It is a shift which has impacted Oakley’s marketing segmentations. Goss explains: "Whether it’s golf, cycling, running or a triathlon, these are sports for life – that wasn’t true 20 years ago. This has certainly opened us up to a broader market. It also makes it even more important for us to stay true to who we are and not to chase trends, as consumers in these sports could be with us for 20-30 years. We need to be authentic to them and ourselves, at all times."
A new era of sports-inspired creativity
The research comes as Oakley launches the next stage of its "One obsession" campaign today, created by AKQA Paris, celebrating the real, not always glamorous, moments of pursuing sporting passions. The campaign will include social video and an original soundtrack which will be available on Spotify.
The activity will continue to roll out during the year across Oakley and athlete-ambassador social channels, encouraging fans to live out their obsession irrespective of the personal sacrifice that involves.
Goss says that, for Oakley, creativity means "showing up where our consumers are and speaking to them in engaging and interesting ways."
He explains: "Whether that is through specific tactics like our Strava partnership or our focus on creating robust relationships with influencers across all of the major sports we touch, we invest in as many channels as we can to make sure we are part of the conversation with our target audiences.
"The power of professional athletes is always critical to a brand like ours, not only in terms of awareness, but also product design. Global names like Mikaela Shiffrin, Bubba Watson and Mark Cavendish are at the heart of what we do, but we’ve extended way beyond that, working with athletes across the spectrum in every market and discipline we create products for."
As longer life spans and changing aspirations have altered what signifies status to the middle-aged middle-classes, even in the midst of uncertain economic times, the outlook for the Oakley brand is bright.
The Obsessed in numbers
They know what work-life balance is all about – 40% of employed athletes would rather excel at their sport than at their job.
The Obsessed are willing to make sacrifices – one-third (34%) of those who have made sacrifices have let go of romantic relationships for their dedication.
For the Committed athletes, their sport is always on their mind – over nine in 10 (91%) think about their sport at least once a day, and 21% say they would be ‘completely lost’ without their sport.