From niche game to America’s fastest-growing, pickleball is ready for the prime time.
Need to know: Invented in the ’60s, pickleball is a mash-up between tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Moving into the mainstream, it’s leading a recreation renaissance.
A social, easy-to-learn activity, pickleball’s fun factor appeals to players of all ages, from Gen Z to the baby boomers.
By the numbers:
- The game’s adoption rate is up 39.3% over the past two years.
- 4.8M Americans played pickleball in 2021, up from 3.46M in 2019.
- The market for paddles alone will grow 7.8% YoY over the next six years, hitting $254M.
Why it matters: Nearly 25% of US adults are completely inactive. An alternative to expensive or exclusive fitness options, pickleball is building community, getting people outside, and helping them move more.
What to watch for: As participation skyrockets, the race to cash in is heating up, attracting big-name brands, celebs, and investors.
Outfitting the lifestyle, apparel and equipment brands are going all-in on pickleball.
- In February, Skechers launched performance pickleball shoes called Viper Court.
- Tennis giant Wilson offers an in-store pickleball court and paddles rentals at its NYC location.
- Sporting goods brand Franklin said pickleball is its fastest-growing segment, selling “hundreds of thousands” of balls per week.
Scaling up, lifestyle pickleball brands are making a splash. Targeting Gen Z and millennials, pickleball company Recess has launched collabs with retailers Outdoor Voices and Free People, while ultra-trendy Two Two is serving pickleball’s European cousin padel.
According to USA Pickleball, 90 new pickleball courts are being built per month across the country. Taking notice, developers are breaking new ground.
- Luxury real estate group Discovery Land Company added pickleball courts to all 25+ of its properties.
- Fitness operator Life Time says it’ll be “the largest indoor pickleball provider in North America,” after seeing in-club play tick up 1,100% YoY.
- Chains like Chicken N Pickle, Rally, and Smash Park are applying the Topgolf playbook to pickleball.
While the sport has a low cost to entry—paddles range from $15 to $150+—developers are banking on services like court fees/membership dues, gear rentals, and lessons to drive revenue.
Sensing a gold-rush moment, multiple organizers and governing bodies have assumed power.
In the US, three competitive tours—Major League Pickleball (MLP), the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA), and the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP)—are butting heads.
PPA founder Connor Pardoe affirms as much, saying: “Some days you wake up, and it all feels like a land grab.”
Internationally, the World Pickleball Federation (WPF) and the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) want to see the sport in the Olympics but disagree on how to get there.
High-profile investors are betting on the sport’s future.
Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, author Brené Brown, tennis great James Blake, and billionaire hedge fund manager Marc Lasry own teams in the MLP.
Meanwhile, in early 2022, Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon bought the PPA and tournament platform Pickleball Central.
TV networks want a piece of pickleball’s popularity.
- Networks like CBS Sports, the Tennis Channel, and ESPN+ have individual broadcast rights deals with all three leagues.
- Life Time hosted a PPA-sponsored event at its San Clemente facility with $130K in prize money, airing on the Tennis Channel.
- Later this year, CBS and Paramount+ will broadcast Pickled, a celebrity pickleball tournament hosted by Stephen Colbert.
Growing pains: Seeing dollar signs, business minds are pushing pickleball from backyards into the spotlight. Meanwhile, purists and newcomers are in it for the sweat, socializing, and love of the game.
Punchline: Increasing access to physical activity beyond the traditional fitness scene, pickleball could usher in a new era of play that our sedentary population desperately needs.