Uberising sports participation

02 Oct 2018

By: Sport Industry Group

England Athletics has become the latest sports governing body to join a pioneering open data initiative seeking to revolutionise access to sports training in the UK.

The OpenActive initiative, supported by Sport England and delivered by the Open Data Institute (ODI), is aiming to help the sports sector open up its data on the times and locations of public classes and activities.

It comes at a time when many national governing bodies (NGBs) are developing new fitness-oriented properties, targeting new revenue streams in the fast-growing fitness market.

The OpenActive project is designed to support start-ups in building Uber-style applications and services that make it easier for people to find gyms, clubs and classes near them.

England Athletics joins other major NGBs, including British Triathlon, in signing up to the initiative, which now offers more than 100,000 activities, covering 46 different sport disciplines. 

The open data provided by the organisations involved, which also include major leisure operators, can be used to power digital services, with OpenActive claiming it will encourage the sort of technological innovation seen in the Citymapper app and Lastminute.com for the transport and travel sectors.

The ODI is working with a number of tech-based initiatives through its OpenActive Accelerator, which provides training, mentorship and perks from the likes of programme partners AWS, BPE, Experience Haus, Played, Google, Huckletree, imin, SeedLegals, Seedrs, SendGrid and Sheridans.

OpenActive says its aim is to “make booking a group run as easy as booking a hotel.”

The community-led OpenActive initiative is delivered by the ODI, a non-profit founded in 2012 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt which offers training, research and strategic advice for organisations looking to explore the possibilities of data. The body is working in partnership with Sport England and other sector partners including ukactive and London Sport on the OpenActive project.

OpenActive programme manager Richard Norris welcomed the addition of England Athletics data to the project, saying: “This is a significant milestone for the OpenActive initiative, and is the result of many different organisations working together collaboratively. The involvement of organisations like England Athletics as well as other new sign ups including Everyone Active, Gladstone and British Triathlon, means that we have broadened the range and choice of data about sport and fitness sessions available nationally. 

“This will make it easier for start ups to build scalable services and products that we know people want to help them get active. It also demonstrates that the initiative is moving beyond London, making it easier for people to find physical activity opportunities right across the country.”

Everyone Active is the second largest leisure provider in the UK with over 150 centres across the UK - many of them run by local authority providers. It is working with OpenActive to encourage the 18 million peoplewho struggle to stay active across England to get more involved in exercise. The group has now made public data on more than 15,000 sports and fitness sessions per month - the largest ‘live’ physical activity data set to be published anywhere in the world.

British Triathlon, the governing body responsible for Triathlon activities in the UK, has also collaborated with OpenActive to open up their GO TRI events data, which is a new initiative that helps people thinking about trying Triathlon to build up to one in a way that suits them. This data made public by British Triathlon can be used by third parties such as ‘Find a Race', a start-up business on the OpenActive accelerator, to encourage more people to get active by challenging themselves in a variety of races, including obstacle courses, running events and triathlons.

Jenny Vincent, GO TRI lead at British Triathlon’ said: "We were introduced to the concept of open data by Sport England, and the OpenActive team helped us make it happen. We really wanted to be part of OpenActive because we see the benefits of more people seeing our opportunities in a wide variety of digital services, helping to boost the numbers of people who are regularly active. 

“We also aspire to promote beginner swim, bike and run sessions from other providers on our website, and open data is what provides us with the means for this to happen."