ISPO Munich/01/23/2016

ISPO Director Tobias Gröber: “We have to get people off the sofa”

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As Director of ISPO Group, Tobias Gröber is responsible for ISPO MUNICH as the world’s largest sports business platform. It goes without saying that the world’s leading trade fair is all about the latest trends, technologies and products for Gröber and his team – but it’s much more than that: It’s about an entire industry’s mission to contribute to a healthier and more active world.

Tobias Gröber, Director of ISPO Group.
Tobias Gröber, Director of ISPO Group.

Let’s say you were to start over and take all the knowledge you’ve gathered as Director of ISPO Group and found a start up. What direction would you take, Mr. Gröber?
Tobias Gröber: Definitely something in the digital environment. Demand is extremely high, the entire value creation chain and channels of communication are fundamentally changing.

And in what sector?
It would certainly be something to do with health. Yes, the market is already there – but it will become a lot bigger.

“The mountain and I – that doesn’t appeal to couch potatoes”

Together with fitness and nutrition, health is already a major, popular issue where a lot of money is made, right?
That’s just the beginning. The sports industry is just starting to understand that it can offer new products and unlock new target groups in this segment. A lot of companies are now testing exactly how this works: Do I need to change my marketing strategy? If so, how? Should I use other images, different language, a different tone?

We’re moving away from “the mountain and I”. That doesn’t appeal to couch potatoes. But this shift is also occurring on an entirely different level.

What do you mean?
Governments in Europe, in North and South America and in Asia, especially China, have recognized that the sports industry is the ideal partner if they are to be able to solve completely fundamental problems of civilization: We are continuously aging. And that means we need to stay healthier longer. This will cause enormous problems for today’s healthcare systems because the costs of this will incalculably increase. 

And here’s where sports and exercise come into play: First, they are preventive measures, and second, studies have quite successfully proven that they can help people heal from serious illness. Let’s look particularly at China, this enormous market.



The government has already had to intervene because many Chinese people are considerably overweight.
The issues of having far too many older people combined with the one-child policy mean that there will be far too few children to support the system in future. Just picture it: a father, mother, two grandmas and two grandpas – six adults taking care of just one child.

With one big difference to how things used to be: money for consumer goods. Kids there are stuffed full of food and don’t get enough exercise.

Eating too much, exercising too little – that’s a problem worldwide, not just in China. Right?
One phrase sums it up perfectly: Sitting is the new smoking. And it’s true. Just think about how little exercise we get nowadays thanks to our sedentary work lives. But our bodies are designed for movement!

This development, primarily over the past hundred years, fundamentally flies in the face of what we are actually capable of doing with our bodies. I mean, look at how naturally a child moves as a matter of course – and how quickly their abilities then disappear and are forgotten.

“The initial hurdle to getting into sports in the first place is too high”

Are many people wholly unaware of what they are capable of?
Yes. But here’s a fundamental problem currently facing the sports industry: It’s communicating with images that are much too extreme for those who are sitting on the couch at home and might need help. Higher, faster, further – blood, sweat and tears.

The initial hurdle to getting back into sports or even getting into them in the first place is much too high with the current design of advertising. We need to find a more gentle approach to get people off the couch.

For example, starting with a brisk walk instead of thinking about running your first marathon.
You don’t have to run a marathon. If you just go out and run for three minutes, building up your endurance step by step, minute by minute, that’s enough.

But people also love extremes. Losing 65 lbs in 30 days is something a lot of people would want. Even if it’s not realistic. How do you market the gentler approach?
Let’s start by asking a fundamental question: Sports and exercise must be rooted in our lives completely differently. People need to go back to being receptive to this, which starts with and is incredibly strongly shaped by our schools.

Today’s curricula are still the same as they were 30 years ago. Wholly regardless of the fact that gym class is the first thing to be dropped, it is promulgating an image of sports that is more than antiquated: gymnastics interspersed with standing around.

Our children are not being taught about the joy of exercise at school. And there would be so many ways to do this: field trips to climbing centers and going bouldering. With one another, not against one another. Simply feeling the joy of exercise!

“We are in competition with other industries and enormous budgets”

However, changing that requires clear commitment from the political sector.
We now work very closely with Brussels and I’m noticing that they are really starting to realize that exercise is the only sensible and effective tool we have to get to grips with our society’s health problems.

Because of this, politicians are already approaching the sports industry. Our problem is that we’re seeing competition on the issue of health with other industries that are extremely good at lobbying and have enormous budgets: the pharmaceutical industry, beauty and cosmetics, food. And they’re all telling people out there, “If you’re having trouble, take these pills. They’ll make you healthy again.”

This has created a vicious cycle: The food industry makes people sick and the pharmaceutical industry supposedly makes them better.
Right. Until now, the political sector has had major issues with taking the sports industry seriously. The fact that there are jobs here, that value is generated, that innovations are created. But this understanding is growing.

We find it extremely exciting the way ISPO MUNICH has now developed as a stage for politicians and ideas as well. It’s building towards something. But it needs to keep going. The world’s population is increasingly becoming overweight.

“The entire sports industry must band together”

How might projects to promote more exercise look specifically?
In Mexico they’re testing a program where people who do ten squats get their subway ticket for free. That’s amazing! But it’s not enough of course.

That’s where we in the sports industry come in. Because we are still primarily serving those who are already active in sports. We need to reach out to everyone, not just those who already own three pairs of running shoes, compression socks and an activity tracker!

And what can the industry do now?
First we must understand that the first step is not about the products, but involves generating a new awareness of exercise together. We cannot afford to fight one another – the industry is too small for that.

The entire sports industry must come together – the small and the major brands. Together, we must speak up for exercise. We must convince politicians of the important role we play. To put it quite briefly: Why shouldn’t lower sales tax rates apply to sporting goods in future?

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Julian Galinski Author: Julian Galinski