What Is Pickleball And Why Is Taking Over America

What Is Pickleball And Why Is Taking Over America

When you think of pickleball, you’re probably thinking of this affluent senior playing the game on tennis courts or in a country club. But that sentiment is changing. For one, the sport has a low barrier to entry. All you need is a paddle, a plastic ball, and a net.

It’s social, it’s fun, it’s accessible, and it’s affordable. It’s got everything that the consumer wants or needs. That’s a big reason why pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in America and is beloved by nearly 5 million Americans.

Introduction

In recent years, thousands of players have been flocking to tournaments all over the U.S., vying to make a name for themselves. Investors introduced the highest prize money per event in all of the pro pickleball this year. You know, more than $300,000 per event. Some estimate that by 2030 there will be close to 40 million players worldwide. And investors from everywhere are looking to seize on the opportunities.

But with anything growing as rapidly as pickleball has, there have been some growing pains as pro leagues compete for supremacy in hundreds of tournaments each year, with some players finding loopholes in the rules, not enough courts to meet demand, and a flood of TV deals, sponsors, equipment and apparel brands looking to get in early on pickleball.

Pickleball is kind of the wild, wild West right now. A lot of different tours kind of competing for control of the sport. So how exactly did pickleball evolve into the massive sport it is today and how will the game, its players, and its administrators navigate the growth at a time when everyone wants in on pickleball?

Player growth

Eva Welsher a senior professional pickleball player says, “I train in the morning for like 2 hours. I work with a trainer five days a week, and then I’ll play for a couple of hours. So, I mean, it’s probably 4 hours on the court a day plus in the gym. Plus, you know, I study film and, you know, just it’s just on your mind all the time”.

She was a D1 tennis player in college. However, it wasn’t until she became an empty nester that she started playing pickleball. She says that this is like her second opportunity to be really good at something on her terms.

This is where she wants to put her time. This is where she wants to put her money and these are the people she wants to be with. Pickleball has been around since 1965, but its story really begins during the pandemic.

pickleball game growth graph during the pandemic
Image: Screenshot/The Comprehensive Post

From 2016 to 2019, pickleball grew by 7%. During the years of the pandemic, the sport exploded by 21% and nearly 15% growth each year. Over the last five years, Pickleball’s average Annual growth is an estimated 11.5%. To put that into perspective, badminton and ping pong both lost players while tennis grew by 4.2%.

graph showing badminton and ping pong loose players as compared to pickleball
Image: Screenshot/The Comprehensive Post

Pickleball is also played by a wide spectrum of players from various ages, demographics, and income levels. 17-year-old Alex Tran got into pickleball during the pandemic and is now a sponsored top player. She’s homeschooling so she could spend more time honing her skills.

She told, she got into pickleball around two years ago. She played her first tournament in July of 2020 with her dad and in a local tournament. She ended up winning that tournament and she played a couple of others throughout the year with her dad.

They ended up being undefeated for the entire year and she thought she was pretty good at it. So ever since then, she was hooked. On a typical day in her life, she wakes up, drives her brother to school, goes to a café, studies for 2 or 3 hours, gets some work done, goes out, plays some pickleball, and drills a little bit. She comes home, has a lunch break, then goes back out, and plays some more pickleball. So she is playing every day, at least 3 hours a day.

Kyle Yates, who’s played since 2014, has turned pickleball into a full-time job. He runs his tournament here in Atlantic City, but Kyle is also a co-founder of the brand PB1965. In 2020., Covid hit. Everything stopped. So there went his income.

There were no tournaments, there are no clinics, no teaching, nothing. And he stopped playing. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life. And then once tournaments started coming back, a year and a half later, the sport had changed.

There were so many good players it was really hard to keep winning prize money, so he figured he’d start to diversify. He didn’t really want to do anything other than pickleball.

Most of the pros actually have to make a lot of money on the side running camps, clinics, and teaching. And that’s why he started his apparel brand to help make a little money on the side as more of a side income.

Investment opportunities

Pickleball has generated a lot of buzz as of late, and brands tailored around the sport saw a business boom in 2020. Pickleball Central, the largest pickleball retailer in the US, saw sales jump between 30 to 40% from 2020 to 2021.

Legacy brands like Nike and Adidas have jumped on the pickleball craze too. Nike launched its own official buyer’s guide, pointing customers to products best suited to play the game. Adidas launched its own paddles in 2021, with prices ranging from $60 to $130.

Many Players told to media, Back when they started, there was only one paddle manufacturer and now there are hundreds. So you’re seeing tons of people jump in the sport trying to take little slices of the pie. By the end of 2021, the global market size for pickleball paddles was estimated to be over $150 million. It’s now forecast to grow to over $250 million by 2028.

A million people picked up a paddle during the pandemic and the research says there are 5 million players today. But those that look at all sales and Google searches think it’s much closer to 8 million.

If you look at the numbers growing 30% every year, there will be 40 million pickleball players by 2030. And that will make pickleball not just the fastest-growing sport, but probably the sport with the greatest participation numbers by double. Pro leagues centered around pickleball have also formed, all of which are competing to become the Premier League for pickleball.

lots of pickleball courts side by side
Image: Screenshot/The Comprehensive Post

There’s the APP League, the PPA, and the MLP. The APP and the PPA are sort of the regular tours week in and week out and they have singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. They each have 20 or 25 events, so like 50 events for the year.

Major League pickleball is completely different. It’s like the Ryder Cup or the Davis Cup of pickleball. This, coed team format equals playing time for men and women, and equal prize money for men and women. And Major League Pickleball offers the highest prize money per event in all of the pro pickleball.

The winning team takes home $100,000, $25,000 per player, which is a huge payday in professional pickleball. Competition amongst these leagues is healthy for the overall growth of the sport and the business of pickleball.

Leagues like the PPA signed some of pickleball top players to exclusive contracts, essentially barring them from playing in other leagues like the MLP.

Definitely see Major League Pickleball stepping up, getting some big-time sponsors, and big-time companies coming in and putting serious money into it. And so it’s exciting. We’ll see where it ends up.

The value of a team has increased exponentially in just one year. We’re very lucky because we have all kinds of iconic owners like Gary Vaynerchuk, Marc Lasry, the co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, James Blake, former top ten ATP men’s tennis player.

And of course, they recently added Drew Brees, and LeBron James to buy an expansion team. Even though the MLP was launched in 2021, the league is already looking to become the sport’s crown jewel. The league’s partnerships with investors are unique and have made it clear that not everyone with a blank check can become an owner or investor.

They choose team owners as it relates to really looking for strategic partners. Media experience and resources, sponsorship, connections, and experience. Lebron’s group is already leaning in and working with them on three different projects.

It’s very important to them not just to have somebody who can write a check, but who buys into our goal of growing the sport from the top down with pro pickleball Major League Pickleball. As of right now, the MLP is looking to expand its league from 12 teams to 16 and shallow over $2 million in prize money, and the cost of investments has grown into the seven-figure range as the league continues to add celebrity investors like LeBron James and most recently Tom Brady.

They have had an avalanche of interest from prospective sponsors and media rights. Their media rights this year are with CBS Sports Network. They are having conversations with all the major linear and streaming broadcasters about 2023 and beyond.

MLP generates revenue from merchandising and licensing programs. When they were launched back in 2021, they only had five sponsors. After expanding its ownership to include the likes of LeBron James and Drew Brees, the league was flooded with new sponsors and potential media rights deals.

Celebrity ownership really helps, if we look at Drew Brees 100 million people saw that news. And just imagine if half of 1% of those viewers who saw that news picked up a paddle for the first time, that’s 500,000 new players to pickleball.

Pickleball’s future

As America establishes itself as the mecca of pickleball, there’s also a push to shore up growth internationally. The hope is to bring the games to the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Pickleball is also the fastest-growing sport in Canada, according to the International Federation of Pickleball.

Pickleball is played in 70 countries. 75 is needed for the sport to be played at the Olympics. However, the sport needs to overcome some of its growing pains. Just take tournaments as an example. They’ve exploded with the game’s popularity as thousands of players descend to events in hopes to win prize money or simply competing.

Yet there’s been a deluge of tournaments to keep up with demand and player safety is becoming a growing concern for players and event organizers like Kyle Yates. The sport’s evolved so much, but the tournaments are still relatively the same as they were 5 to 10 years ago. And the sport is changing.

It’s getting very physical, very grueling. And so there’s a lot of new players coming in that are training and playing a lot of tournaments. And physically it might be too much for them. The sport’s evolved quite a bit and right now some players are playing too many matches in a day. They’re not getting enough breaks in between. They’re not being supplied with enough water.

Even so, there are a lot of little growing pains that we have to fix and make sure that the next generation of players is taken care of. Another crucial pain point. There are just not enough courts to keep up with demand.

People playing pickleball on tennis court
Image: Screenshot/The Comprehensive Post

The lack of courts means some pickleball players are taking over existing tennis courts, which has caused friction between the tennis and pickleball communities.

There’s been vandalism, noise complaints, and confrontations in the courts. As of 2021, there were over 38,000 pickleball courts in the US, all of which struggled to meet the demand of almost 5 million players.

By 2030, there would be nearly 40 million players and there would need to be an estimated 280,000 courts to meet that massive demand. A few cities around the country have started making that investment.

Since its humble beginnings as a simple pickup game for families to enjoy. Two major investment opportunities with an estimated 40 million players by 2030. Pickleball is Goldrush doesn’t look to be ending any time soon. In fact, it’s just getting started.

Also Read:

How To Hit Perfect Pickleball Shots In 6 Simple Steps

This One Pickleball Tip Will Transform Your Game Completely

How to Play Against Hard-Hitting Bangers In Pickleball: Explained

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *