Beyond Peloton: the future of athletes and connected fitness.

Beyond Peloton: the future of athletes and connected fitness

Amid the strange turmoil of the early pandemic, few companies seemed to better demonstrate their potential than Peloton.

With millions of prospective users around the world confined to their homes by public health measures, interest soared in the New York-based company’s exercise bikes, treadmills and the dedicated online classes that came with them. The financial markets responded accordingly – Peloton’s valuation peaked at $47.01 billion in January 2021 as it came to embody the accelerating connected fitness sector.

A year on from that trading high, it is in a much more difficult position. $40 billion has been wiped from its market capitalisation in 12 months. In January, it brought in management consultancy giant McKinsey to assist with cost controls.

Midway through the month, CNBC reported that Peloton would temporarily suspend production of its home exercise equipment. Confidential documents seen by the business news outlet suggested that Peloton had overestimated the continued demand for its products, which slowed as people became more comfortable exercising in public spaces again.

All of that has prompted speculation about Peloton’s future, with some analysts predicting a cut-price acquisition by a tech giant like Apple. It is important, however, not to conflate the fate of Peloton with the prospects of connected fitness more widely, or that sector’s relationship with sport.

Not every model for delivering video fitness classes and performance is dependent on expensive home equipment. Rival services like Apple’s Fitness+ are available for smaller monthly subscriptions that serve as an accompaniment or cheaper alternative to traditional gym membership. Community-based apps like Strava, available on a free or paid basis, allow users to not just track their progress but compare it with peers.

This offers diverse opportunities for sports bodies, and particularly sports stars, to make an impact. Peloton’s partnerships in sport have so far included a co-branded apparel collection with Adidas and endorsement deals with athletes including Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix and multiple Grand Slam-winning tennis player Angelique Kerber.

Its more extensive collaborations have come in music, where it has signed dozens of high-profile acts to its Artist Series feature that lets users work out to curated playlists. Connected fitness is creating a specialist media space that athletes and teams could enter through licensing and specialist sessions. The real scale of that market may not, in the wake of Peloton’s retreat, be apparent for a short while.

For now, elite athletes are making a significant impression on fans’ digital exercise habits through data and wearables. Performance products from companies like StatSports are now publicly available, allowing consumers to compare their efforts to the professionals. Stars including the NBA’s Kevin Durant, Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes and golfer Rory McIlroy have joined heavyweights in finance and tech by investing in Whoop.

As well as offering consumer fitness and health trackers, Whoop has developed Whoop Live – software that generates on-screen visualisations of athletes’ physical data during sports broadcasts. A $200 million funding round in October 2021 gave it a $3.6 billion valuation.

The momentum of the connected fitness sector may be checked in the short term by a return to less restricted lives, but its full possibilities will take some time to explore.

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