Creating engaging Active World experiences

Understanding the Active World

At Limelight Sports we passionately believe in promoting the Active World – in the positive impact exercise can have on people’s lives and in helping brands engage with those people effectively through their active experiences. In this article we show the importance of insight for any organisation seeking to engage people in the Active World – from creating great new ideas and superb customer journeys, experiences and campaigns that deliver upon their various objectives.

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand the Active World in its broadest sense – the trends and insights that help us to understand the whole landscape, the drivers and changing behaviours that help us spot new opportunities and create experiences that respond to people’s real needs. In their recent strategy document, ‘Towards An Active Nation’, Sport England put this very clearly:

“If we are to help different audiences change their behaviour, we need not just to understand their sporting habits and preferences, but their wider lives, needs and wishes.”

While there is no single source of global sports participation data, and significant differences between national and regional research in how they measure participation, comparison of comprehensive studies from several key territories can provide us with a good understanding of the Active World globally, and some of the emerging trends.

1.    Inactivity is a growing local issue
The majority of people in the world are active, taking part in sport or exercise. But there are significant regional and national disparities. In Europe, the Scandinavian countries have the highest proportion of their populations doing exercise or playing sport (Sweden 91%, Denmark 86%) compared to just 22% in Bulgaria. In many parts of the world inactivity is a persistent and steadily growing problem, as the chart below showing activity levels in the US from 2010-2015 shows.

At the other end of the spectrum fewer and fewer people are also being active regularly. This is evidenced in Europe where from 2009 to 2013 the proportion of people taking regular exercise fell from 9% to 8% but those doing so with moderate frequency increased from 31% to 33%.

2.    Attention is shifting to a broader definition of activity and its benefits
Allied to these changes in behaviours there has been a growing appreciation of the importance of activity for its associated benefits – physical health, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development and economic development – and not just sport for its own sake. This in turn has led many public and government bodies to shift the focus of their activities and the way they measure activity. In the UK for example Sport England have recently released the findings of their first Active Lives survey which crucially now includes activities not previously thought of within the narrow definitions of sport, like walking and cycle commuting.


3.    The Active World is becoming more inclusive
Historically there have been significant demographic variations when it comes to people taking part in sport and other active pursuits – most consistently by socio-economic group, gender and age. While some of these differences persist – the below table shows the difference in adult participation in sport and other activities by age in Australia, a pattern mirrored in many other countries – in many countries these differences are being narrowed. In the UK Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign has succeeded in narrowing the marked gender gap – the first iteration of the campaign in 2015 got 1.6 million women and girls (aged 14-40) to start, or restart, a sporting activity.

4.    Flexibility and ease are critical factors in an activity’s popularity
While there are some large differences by country, across the developed world the activities that are most popular are those with the lowest barriers to participation. These include walking, cycling and running (for leisure and travel) but also swimming, fitness classes and gym sessions. This last category of activity has seen tremendous innovation and is particularly popular in Australia with 32% of people taking part year, second only to walking. In the UK running and cycling are more popular, as the below table shows.

What unites these popular activities is their inclusiveness, flexibility and sociability – few require much kit (or facilities), can be done when it suits the individual or fitted around busy lives, and can be done with friends or family. These activities will be the most critical in helping more people become active and sustain active habits.

5.    Improving health is the main reason people take part in physical activity
Across multiple national studies there are strong, common motivations for and barriers to people being active. In Europe 62% of people cited health and 40% fitness improvement as the reason they engage, which is comparable with the top motivations claimed by Australians (see below). These were followed by a range of other factors relating to sociability and fun, significantly ahead of any performance reason. There is a marked difference in the motivations between people taking part in sport and other activities however, with the latter far more influenced by the health benefits. This is influenced by the nature of their activity which is more likely to be non-club based or solo. Likewise, lack of time is the single greatest barrier to participation, cited by almost half of people in multiple studies, especially amongst younger (time-poor) people.


6.    Less formal activities are growing and are key to increased activity levels
The increased focus on positive health outcomes and emphasis on activity as a fun and sociable (and less competitive) activity, is also evidenced in the ways and places people become involved. Given the most popular sports involve the outdoors – walking, running, cycling – it’s no surprise that in Europe 40% of activity takes place in parks or outdoors, and 25% on a journey, often commuting. Increasingly people are participating in activities away from traditional clubs and associations, who have struggled to keep pace with changing behaviours and the requirement for superior experiences. The below graph clearly shows how in Australia self-organised activities are more common than clubs amongst all but the youngest age groups.

Spurred on by improved experiences and the desire to remain fit and healthy, greater numbers of people are engaging with the Active World. A wider range of people are experiencing the benefits of activity, motivated in part by campaigns seeking to address the barriers that previously hindered participation. And the range of opportunities to engage in activities continues to increase, offering more people to chance to become active. We work with brands to apply this insight to developing campaign ideas which deliver their objectives and help engage more people with the Active World. Our understanding of this world, the local and demographic differences, and the key drivers and barriers to participation allows us to provide great experiences for brands and their audiences, in a positive setting.

For more information about our work and insight into the Active World contact Rick Jenner. Limelight Sports works with leading brands to engage their audiences through active experiences. We provide a platform for meaningful real-life connections, creating and delivering campaigns with guaranteed results.

  • Sport England – Active Lives Survey 2015-2016.
  • Australian Sports Commission – AusPlay 2015/2016.
  • Physical Activity Council – 2016 Participation Report (US).
  • EC Eurobarometer – Sport and Physical Activity 2014
Rick Jenner // Director of Strategy and Insight