When ITV revived its hit TV show Cold Feet (a comedy series following the lives of three 30-something couples in the 1990s), it was no surprise that the show now set 15 years on had its three lead men (all approaching 50) squeezed into green and black Lycra, sweating, struggling for breath, racing each other before hitting the pub for a few pints – the very definition of a MAMIL.
Almost seven years ago market researchers, Mintel found middle-aged men were spending more on bikes than any other age group, and they coined the phrase that’s now become mainstream. The media quickly grabbed the acronym and the 2012 Olympics accelerated the cycling boom, particularly amongst men in mid-life - in Lycra.
At the same time, traditional sports such as golf witnessed a decline in participation, with 18 holes being replaced by a four-hour Sunday morning bike ride. Back in 2014, reports were showing that in the US, often a barometer for changes in habits, the popularity of golf had declined between 2000 and 2013 from around 25 million players to 19 million.
At the same time the number of cycling enthusiasts grew from 3.5 million in 2012 to 3.8 million in 2013. In England almost 200,000 golfers left the game in a decade, and in 2013 researchers found that 20 per cent of British golfers had stated the reason they had given up the club was to go cycling.
Life begins at 40
Mark Kleanthous, also known as ‘Ironmate Mark’ (www. ironmatecoaching.co.uk) is an advanced performance coach, author and triathlete who has himself competed in 500 plus triathlons, including double ‘Ironman’. At age 55 he’s still able to compete at a high level. In September 2016 he came second in the British championships for his age with a time of 5.05 in a half ironman, which he followed up the weekend after with a competitive performance in one of Britain’s toughest triathlons, The Ben Nevis Braveheart Triathlon.
“Most of my clients are middle aged, successful business people who run companies but now want to do an individual event, something where they are the only resource to rely on,” he said.
“Athletic life now seems to start at 40, with lots of people choosing to celebrate their benchmark birthdays with an endurance event. Seventy-five per cent of the people I see have not done anything competitively in the last 15 years,” he added.
Pushing the boundaries
Over recent years, MAMILs are not just taking to the road.
They are pushing the boundaries and stretching their Lycra to the limits.
An article in Telegraph Men, from February 2016, entitled ‘The Rise of the Muddy MAMIL’ highlighted a significant growth in mountain biking as a pursuit for MAMILs.
It fits the bill: expensive equipment, adrenaline-fueled, technical and an escape from our sanitized lives.
Off-road and ultra-running, adventure racing and tough triathlons, also on the up, offer the same buzz for those realizing time might be running out.
“Most of my ironman athletes have either not competed in a triathlon and do so within a time-frame of around five years,” says Mark Kleanthous.
“And it’s not just ironman. I train athletes for events such as the Marathon des Sables, (250km of running in six days). Ninety per cent have never even run a marathon.”
Splash the cash
Disposable income, empty nests and a desire to live a healthy, longer life mean the MAMIL is a retailer’s dream. As well as bikes, Mintel has reported spending on accessories has increased. And it’s claimed that cyclists are now spending more on the accessories than bikes themselves.
‘PACs’ (which Mintel defines as including bicycle parts, accessories and clothing) was valued at £1.25 billion in 2014, whilst ‘just’ £956 million was spent on bikes.
Sport England researchers have created profiles of typical participants in all sports.
Phillip is typical of their MAMIL, a middle aged, high earning professional with a penchant for bikes.
The Triathlon Industry Association have also conducted research which has consistently found that the Type A, middle aged man was most likely to take part in the sport where you can spend upwards of 5K on a bike.
Their latest research, published in June 2016, found the typical triathlete is aged 42 with an average salary of £48,900. Digital market And although not quite digital natives like their millennial counterparts, most MAMILs are familiar with on-the-go technology and are demanding instant feedback.
New launch business Ampify are creating a digital solution for recreational athletes with a clever platform that will turn data from wearables into something useful, as well as providing nutrition tailored for best performance.
“Middle-aged, professional recreational athletes who are time poor and cash rich, enjoy endurance sports, such as cycling and running, are also likely to own wearable devices.
These extend from the wrist to the tennis racket, the golf club, the ski which will track, measure and report back on progress as they train,” says Damian Milkins, director of Amplify. “Professional people expect intelligent feedback and quick responses, and many of them are working with data all day so are able to interpret and make use of digital feedback. We’re providing them a platform which will enable them to quickly process information, analyze and measure progress,” he adds.
Gordon Lott, from Forever Media (an umbrella company for the Running Bug, Cycling Bug and Forever Sports), says that the boom in busy, middle aged professionals participating in sports such as running and cycling has been helped by: “the mass consumption of bitesized content on the move via mobile; availability of wearable tech and smartphone apps that track and give instant feedback on everything we do, and,” he adds, another key driver is “an awareness of major health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and mental health”.
The health factor
Clearly health, stress management and a need to be fit for work are also strong motivators for the mid-lifers who also want to challenge themselves, spend their cash and do something with their leisure time. And despite some of the recent warnings about the dangers of taking up endurance sport in middle age, the benefits still outweigh any risks.
A Danish study published in the journal PLOS Medicine reported that taking up cycling in middle and late life helps to cut the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20 per cent.
And if you want to halt the middle aged spread, taking up endurance sport is a no-brainer. A study published in The British Journal of Sport Medicine found that men who keep fit are seven times more likely to have a healthy old age.
The importance of nutrition
Managing nutrition and taking on supplements does become more important as we age, and this opens up opportunities for retailers.
“Protein supplements are close to becoming mainstream – well over a third of runners use them, simply because they’re a healthy option for getting energy while not putting weight on,” says Gordon Lott.
Damian Milkins agrees: “There is already a large market for selling vitamins and supplements on-line, however there is an information gap whereby people rely on anecdotal information for what products they should be taking to supplement their health, training regimes or before, during and after events. Middle-aged athletes also understand the importance of tailored supplements and so we’ve devised tailored packs including nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, B vitamins – all important in midlife.”