As the coronavirus pandemic saw thousands take up fitness and physical activity, it’s not just activities like running and cycling that are seeing significant uptake.
Sport Industry Group chatted to Alistair Gosling, Founder and CEO, Extreme International, who sees an exciting future for extreme and adventure sports in a post-pandemic world.
Extreme, or adventure, sports have swelled in popularity recently, alongside a steep increase in interest for physical activity across the world. At the forefront of this movement have been Extreme International, who, having launched as a TV channel in 1999 at the height of the first wave of the internet boom, have promoted and grown the exposure of extreme sports passionately.
The TV channel’s orginal expansion took it to over 60 countries around the world, broadcast in multiple languages, but the world is a very different place to what it was then, and the business has moved on: with the wider status of linear TV in decline, Extreme’s digital outlets run up somewhere between 50 and 100milion video views a month.
On top of the digital pivot over the past decade, Extreme has also set up its own marketing, travel and event arms to add to its media output. The four pillars of the business broaden its scope, but also put it right at the heart of the adventure landscape, where it promotes extreme sports not just to its fans and the wider world, but within the sport industry as well.
But as with most sectors of the industry, the coronavirus pandemic has naturally had an impact.
There have been limits on travel and events in the far-flung parts of the world, and lockdown continues to limit what we can do with our leisure time - however studies suggest people are still looking for ways to stay active.
According to Alistair Gosling, Founder and CEO, Extreme International, it’s not just running and cycling that are experiencing a boom - extreme and adventure sports are too.
“What we’re seeing in the marketplace is that in extreme and adventure sports, manufacturers of equipment are having the best year they've ever had. All the equipment is sold out. Whether it's kite surfing, windsurfing, biking, skating, stand-up paddleboard… manufacturers are sold out. Because people have been at home, and wondering ‘what can I do that's local to me, and gets me out and active?’
“So I see significant growth for our industry coming down the line, like we've never seen before. Our area has also got all of those amazing health and fitness, or wellness and mental health benefits and that also cuts back to the government strategy (on health and physical activity).
“Do you want to invest in building a Formula 1 track? Or do you want to invest in this instead?”
Gosling also believes the coronavirus lockdown has whetted the public appetite for adventure. The springtime saw millions confined to their homes for all but an hour a day, and with wintertime approaching many could be looking to 2021 as a chance to embrace a more active lifestyle. Especially amongst younger people itching to get out of their homes or go on active holidays once it’s safe to do so.
“It’ll be one of the first to bounce back, this area, because of the demographic we’re dealing with.” said Gosling. “People are activating at home, but from our business perspective, whether you’re doing it at home or whether you're doing it internationally, it doesn't matter, we're still in the mix.”
The public’s desire to get active after the pandemic is something a growing number of organisations will look to leverage over the coming years, whether it’s the return of mass participation events or travel and tourism.
Gosling is heavily involved in international tourism and sits on the International Advisory Board of the Saudi Arabian Qiddiya project, which plans to turn the village of Qiddiya - which lies just south of Riyadh - into a world hub for sport, leisure, and entertainment. The project draws on Extreme International’s experience in adventure sports travel and will use the partnership to promote tourism to the new city which is set to be built as part of the Saudy government’s Vision 2030 project.
According to project organisers, the vision aims to grow economic diversification, foster a start-up culture, and drive female empowerment in the Kingdom. Crucially, it also aims to double Saudi household spending on domestic leisure and entertainment by 2030 in a bid to promote health and physical activity.
“Saudi is using adventure and extreme sports as one of their key pillars to drive tourism into it - that's really a key driver,” said Gosling. “So whether that's physical or digital experiences, we’re working with the Tourism Authority and a bunch of other sports organisations on the project.
“On an overall basis, it takes in all of the units of the business,” he said, referring to Extreme International’s media, destinations, and marketing arms.
Having diversified the business over almost 25 years in the industry, Gosling has rarely had to deal with anything as disruptive as the coronavirus pandemic - especially to the tourism and events sectors.
There are also other challenges for the business to solve in the upcoming months. A dispute with the Alejandro Agag-owned racing series Extreme E, for example, has seen legal proceedings initiated. Gosling alleges that electric motorsport series had infringed on the rights of Extreme International, and has also suggested that the similar names have caused confusion between the two brands.
Then, as the world comes out of the coronavirus pandemic, the emphasis on physical activity and wellbeing isn’t just something that Extreme International - like all businesses in sport - will have to think about. Other issues such as sustainability, also a key focus for the Extreme E motorsport series, was already at the forefront of people’s minds before the pandemic, and Gosling believes this will become even more urgent.
“We're doing a minimum of five to six posts a week now on sustainability,” said Gosling. “The areas we tend to play in are generally not environmentally impactful: the core of what we do sits in the natural space.”
“In terms of the destinations side of our business, we’re looking at tree houses and lodges, not building hotels. Amber Nuttall is our Head of Sustainability who is looking across those areas, and we’ve signed up to the UN Charter on Sustainability.
“One positive of Covid is we go around the world a lot and that’s been cut right back and now we’re able to do business without having to do nearly as many flights.
“The goal is to be totally neutral in a pretty short timeframe.”