Issue No. 199: Sports & Rec

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Offering an alternative to digital and performance-based fitness, recreational sports are trending up.

Mass Movement

It’s no secret Americans are alarmingly unfit.

And, despite the fitness industry’s continued rise, rates of obesity and inactivity have reached record highs.

While the pandemic-era home exercise boom made headlines, it hasn’t made much headway toward curbing those numbers.

Less flashy, but showing promise, outdoor activities and recreational sports are gaining ground.

  • The global participatory sports sector is expected to surpass $435B by 2026.
  • Encompassing sports and active recreation, the physical activity economy is worth more than $820B worldwide.

Now, as the pendulum swings from digital workouts to real-life communities, there’s an opportunity to reimagine movement for the masses.

Game On

Beyond the typical fitness regimen, sports are an excellent way to stay active.

But, few adults—even those who participated as children—continue playing sports as they age.

  • According to a Harvard survey, 73% of adults played sports in their youth, but only 25% still play.
  • Participation declines sharply after 25 years old; just 20% of adults 50 and over remain engaged.

While respondents cited lack of time and accessibility as barriers to play, the vast majority acknowledge the benefits for overall well-being.

Mulling the results, Harvard professor and the report’s lead author Robert Blendon said more can be done to leverage the power of sports for health — especially among adults.

The latest: By removing friction and increasing access, tech-enabled sports startups like Street FC, Crosscourt, and Break the Love want to do exactly that.

Soccer. Aiming to build the planet’s biggest football club, Street FC hosts flashmob-like pick-up soccer games.

Bringing a street basketball format to soccer, the company organizes 5v5 games on underutilized concrete spaces. Then, gamifying participation beyond the court, player profiles track streaks and peer ratings while members connect on Discord.

With $2M in new funding, Street FC is scaling from five to 20 cities by 2023.

Basketball. Applying the SoulCycle experience to team sports, Crosscourt is a basketball-focused lifestyle club. (Street FC also cites SoulCycle as inspiration.)

A highly curated tech-enabled platform, the company hosts pick-up games at its LA gym — complete with locker rooms, jerseys, and officials. Expanding its footprint, club format, and sports offering, Crosscourt is eyeing expansion.

A different approach, Swish House offers basketball-based fitness classes and pick-up games at locations in NYC, Chicago, and Michigan.

Tennis. After closing a $2.5M investment in January, Break the Love is making tennis more approachable.

Coordinating logistics like venue, instruction, and organized games, the startup brings a more inclusive, Outdoor Voices-like vibe to a sport often labeled elitist. Targeting racket sports more broadly, Break the Love recently partnered with Equinox for access to tennis and pickleball courts.

Elsewhere, Madrid-based Playtomic has raised more than $75M to make booking tennis, padel, or pickleball courts easier. Meanwhile, Universal Tennis taps player ratings, local clubs, and competitive events to expand the sport.

The framework. Unlike many digital communities that gained traction over the last few years, these emerging platforms use the internet to unite people offline.

In many ways, this effort mirrors trends in hiking and camping, where companies like AllTrails and Hipcamp use software to enable adventure — while also unlocking consumer demand and attracting investor interest.

Borrowing from boutique fitness studios, they’re creating bookable “classes,” sleek branding, and highly engaged communities.

Worth noting, there are plenty of apps for discovering games or booking courts. But these startups go a step further. Using tech to build a fully integrated sports league, including a locker room-like community that spans digital x IRL, the network effects create an impactful flywheel.

Perhaps most importantly, by eliminating pain points like securing courts, purchasing equipment, and organizing a team, the entire experience is seamless — athletes just show up and play.

Bigger Than Sports

Health benefits aside, sports are a unifying force.

Combating social isolation and polarization, bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to play could help restore a shared human experience that’s severely lacking.

Similarly, whether it’s a local run or cycling group, shooting hoops at the YMCA, or meetups like GORUCK, November Project, or F3 Nation, sweating and socializing enhance our collective well-being.

Punchline: Lowering the bar to physical activity and appealing to a broader audience than the typical gym-goer, sports leagues and community-based workouts promote holistic wellness, active aging, and real connections.

Shoutout to friend of the newsletter Danny Shapiro for suggesting this topic.