The Rise of Pickleball
It seems like every week now there’s a new sports league going viral on the Internet. Everything from professional slap fighting (I highly encourage everyone to watch highlights on YouTube) to the American Cornhole League, which ESPN News manages to televise when they can’t get a random program to run during the afternoon. There’s even grown adults playing childish games at a “professional level” like the professional tag league, called World Chase Tag.
For the most part though, these niche leagues are run like a neighborhood softball league and have no necessary backing for it to become a real, respectable league in any aspect at all in the sports world. That said, there are some actual up and coming sports/leagues making some noise in the industry as they gain relevance across sports fans. There’s been the success of Paul Rabil’s Premier Lacrosse League that just finished its 4th season with TV deals with ESPN and world-leading sponsors like Cash App, Ticketmaster, and Gatorade. Additionally, there’s been notable debuts of spinoff leagues of already established sports like the USFL and LIV Golf. But now there’s a new sports league emerging onto the scene. A sport that all ages can play due to its low physical-demanding qualities, its ability to be played on any flat surfaces at indoor or outdoor rec centers and facilities, and the fact that it can easily be picked up because of its easy rules to follow. Let the thoughts brine… that’s right… Major League Pickleball is the next upcoming professional sport.
Pickleball has seen a vast rise in recent years across all demographics. According to USA Pickelball, there are currently 4.8 million Americans playing pickleball, which is approximately the population of Louisiana for context. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 21.3% increase in casual pickleball players across the country and a 14.8% jump from 2020 to 2021. Plus, out of all the pickleball players in the U.S., 21.2% were from the ages of 6 to 17 and over 29% were over the age of 55. That means 50% of pickleball players in America come from either the youngest and oldest age groups which is incredible. Lastly, the split between players is 60% male and 40% female.
I challenge anyone to find another non-mainstream sport that’s putting up numbers like this. I really don’t think you can name one. Besides tennis, which pickleball is an alteration of, no other sport can range with competitive players from ages 6 all the way to 65. Basketball? Sure, a 65 year old can knock down a jumper from the elbow, but will senior citizens go full court press and try to draw a charge? I wouldn’t bet on it. Soccer? Sure, very fun for young kids playing on fold up nets, but again, I don’t see anyone over the age of 50 casually playing for fun. Baseball? Of course not. Baseball has unfortunately been on the decline for kids, ages 6 to 12, for the past decade according to Statista.com. The list goes on and on. Pickleball is truly meant to be played by all ages, at all skill levels, and pretty much anywhere with the few, inexpensive necessary equipment to play. For those reasons, Pickleball becomes a viable option for Americans to start playing.
With the clear popularity of pickleball rising, in comes Major League Pickleball (MLP). And to say the least, MLP has gotten that financial and supportive backing from world renowned individuals. With ONLY its second season coming up, the MLP has names like LeBron James, Gary Vaynerchuk, Marc Larsy (Milwaukee Bucks owner), Drew Brees, Draymond Green, and Kevin Love all taking part in buying ownership stakes in MLP teams. Pickleball and MLP is soon becoming a household name with these types of people finding value in the sport and promoting it on their own platforms.
These top profile investors is only the start for the sport in my eyes. 5 years from now the pickleball market is projected to be north of $250 million. Within the next few years, I envision more and more Americans playing the game as its popularity is not seeming to fade away anytime soon. When these young kids already playing pickleball grow up, I imagine the sport will follow them becoming a regular, mainstream high school sport across the country. In addition, I believe pickleball will become a regularly televised sport during the summer months as sports stations like ESPN and FS1 need action to fill up the time during the hay days of baseball season. And, who knows, maybe we will even see pickleball get added as an event in upcoming Olympic years. With events like 3x3 basketball and breakdancing (yes, breakdancing) becoming an Olympic event, why not throw pickleball in there? Ultimately, I just want to get the word out on pickleball if you haven’t heard about it already. If high profile athletes and billionaires are investing their own money and name into it, then I think pickleball has a pretty bright future.