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Behind the Term Sheet: How Colizey is Reinventing Online Sports Retail for the Post-Pandemic World

By: Jean-François Cochy, Marion Grégoire

We all know that exercise and sports are hugely beneficial to the health of all people. It can help us feel more fit, both physically and mentally, with everything from getting better sleep to a stronger heart and reducing stress levels. But today, 18 months into the COVID era where so many facilities were forced to either close or heavily limit capacities, we’ve seen a rapid evolution in sports and consumer habits.

While reopenings have certainly provided a sense of relief, many aspects of sports have been transformed for good:

  1. The emergence of digital apps and tools is democratizing access to coaching, live or recorded, as well as to personal training.
  2. Lockdowns have impacted how people exercise with individual sports (e.g., cycling, running) and home fitness (e.g., crossfit, yoga, pilates) gaining massive adoption. Just think about the success stories of fast growing businesses like Peloton in the US or China’s FITURE, a company in our portfolio that offers a smart work-out mirror with real-time visual feedback.
  3. COVID -19 has also impacted how people consume. With most physical retail shops closed, sports lovers moved to shopping online for the apparel and equipment they need, resulting in online penetration jumping from 12% to 30% and now stabilizing around 25%.
Source: McKinsey & Company, Sporting Goods 2021: The Next Normal for an Industry in Flux

In order to adapt to the post-COVID world, sporting goods brands and specialty stores must digitize to reach modern day customers and sports enthusiasts.

That’s what led us to invest in Colizey, the first French digital marketplace that is 100% dedicated to sports. We’re thrilled to have led its €8M Series A, with participation from investors such as Aglaé Ventures, Cassius Family and top athletes such as Tony Parker (4x NBA champion and President of the largest French basketball club) and Teddy Riner (3x Olympic champion and 10x World champion of judo). We believe that Colizey has the potential to build the next leading digital platform for sporting goods distribution — a key component of the larger role sports plays in the wellbeing of people everywhere. Here’s why.

Sporting Goods Distribution, A Fragmented Market.

Sports enthusiasts are increasingly looking to up their performance to break records, win races or simply improve their own statistics, as underlined by the growth of race participants by 19% from 2018–2019 or the success of tracking apps such as Strava (with 86M users worldwide and valued at $1.5B).

As part of this trend, consumers are looking for the best equipment available with tailored expertise. But technical sports goods and niche sporting brands are typically sold in specialized shops — often small chains or single outlet entities focused on a specific vertical. These specialist stores tend to lack online distribution, creating a gap in the market between beginners who need the basics which are widely available (via generalist ecommerce platforms or traditional sports retail websites) and an athlete looking for higher quality products which can only be found offline. Additionally, specialist outlets are usually located in large cities and are not easily accessible to the vast majority of people.

Looking at today’s online sport retailers, it’s clear that the needs of the majority of athletes are not properly being addressed:

  • Generalist Marketplaces: (e.g. Amazon or Zalando) do not provide technical products and come with a poor UX.
  • Multisport Offline Retailers: accounting for two-thirds of the market — these are specialists with large catalogues and private labels that mainly focus on entry level products at affordable prices. While they have a heavy retail footprint, they are limited by range of technical products and low digital capabilities.
  • Vertical Online-only Retailers: provides best-in class experience but have low notoriety and scale due to focus on a single sport — thus insufficient for those searching for technical products in several categories.
  • D2C Brands: have solid legitimacy, robust brand recognition, high quality advice but limited catalogue mainly focused on highly technical items at higher price points.

And finally — the increasing fragmentation of the landscape makes it difficult for emerging and smaller sports brands to break into major physical and online stores.

Enter Colizey, Reinventing the Online Shopping Experience & Distribution of Sporting Goods.

Colizey is reinventing the online sports shopping experience by connecting partner stores (brands, stores and e-tailers) with consumers on a single platform. Its marketplace digitizes inventories across all of the best retailers and brands — creating the largest online selection of sporting goods. With 110 partners and listing more than 1,000 brands across 27 different sports, Colizey provides athletes and enthusiasts a broad choice of quality technical products at the best prices with enriched product descriptions and recommendations as well as insights from sports experts.

Similar to what Farfetch created in the luxury industry and ManoMano in the DIY category, Colizey is taking the experience of purchasing sporting goods to the next level. It also makes merchant lives easier by automatically bringing inventory online, handling all orders and providing efficient logistic partners that support direct shipping from their stores or warehouses. Merchants also hugely benefit from Colizey’s best-in-class software integration which enables easy onboarding within minutes thanks to its robust, internally developed platform.

Importantly, we believe that Colizey can leverage a major trend we’re seeing spread throughout the industry today — brands narrowing their distribution channels.

In the past two years, we’ve seen more brands take back control of distribution as a means of protecting brand image — doubling down on D2C and becoming more selective when it comes to external distribution channels. A key event was Nike delisting its products from Amazon in 2019, now applying the same strategy with other generalist retailers, and focusing on select partners that provide a higher sense of brand safety with top-notch user experience, highly technical environments, ideal product displays etc. This creates a big opportunity for Colizey to become a select, preferred partner for brands thanks to its sole focus on sports, best-in-class UX and targeted audience. We’re already seeing this come to life as Colizey recently announced its partnership with Adidas.

Looking forward, Colizey is entering a period of rapid growth. By the end of 2022, the company aims to list more than 1M products from 500 partners on its platform to better meet the needs of a wider range of consumers. Additionally, it plans to improve customer support throughout the purchase process with advanced search filters, dedicated technical data sheets and the development of its community of sports experts who advise consumers on purchases.

Parting Thoughts: Supporting the Team From the Starting Line

At Cathay Innovation, we’re incredibly excited about the market opportunity in an industry with massive transformation potential that can have a significant impact on lives — as sports not only plays a key role in health, but is a deep passion for millions of people around the world.

At the end of the day, it comes down to a simple question: can Colizey become a leader in online sports equipment distribution in Europe and beyond? After spending time with the team, we collectively came to the conclusion that they have the level of ambition needed: being humble with success while staying hungry to achieve more. With a team of 10 at the time of our investment, Colizey is still in its very early days and we’re thrilled to join its journey from the start — supporting its growth and fueling the larger transformation of the sports industry.

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