Move over, pickleball– America’s new favorite sport already has a competitor in the sport of padel, and it is quickly attempting to gain a share of the U.S. market. At first glance, it is easy to mistake the sport of padel for pickleball, but the games’ rules and histories are much different. Padel was invented in Mexico in 1969 as a hybrid of tennis and squash, while pickleball gets its origin from badminton. Padel and pickleball are both playable in a doubles format with a net separating the court, but the padel court is surrounded by transparent glass walls that the ball can be played off of.
While U.S. pickleball has rapidly gained popularity, padel has yet to see the same results domestically. Part of the reason pickleball has experienced such success is the community that has developed around the game. The limited size court and doubles format make the game much less physically demanding and more accessible to players of all ages. While padel is a hit outside of the U.S. with 25 million players in over 90 countries, it requires a higher level of athleticism. Padel’s glass walls keep the ball in play much longer and call for more advanced strategy and speed of play. However, this could be the sport’s greatest strength: padel’s highly active nature renders a much more entertaining and competitive product for fans to watch, which leads many to believe it could take off as a spectator sport in America.
Pro Padel League
The pickleball competitor has now begun to infiltrate the United States with the introduction of North America’s first professional padel league, the Pro Padel League. The PPL is comprised of 7 teams from various North American cities competing in the inaugural season which began on May 13th and will conclude on June 11th. The teams will compete every Saturday and Sunday of the regular season which will lead up to the PPL Cup on June 11th.
The league recently announced a network deal with CBS Sports who will provide TV coverage for the PPL Cup in June. This announcement comes just weeks after the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) announced their media deal with ESPN. This is a huge win for a league in its inaugural season trying to catch up with the likes of the PPA, as PPL now has the backing of a nationally-televised network to introduce the sport to a broader audience.
PPL has also seen its share of investors prior to the kickoff of its first season. The most recent investor is Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee, who purchased the league’s eighth franchise based out of Orlando which will compete in the PPL next season. After the purchase became public, Daddy Yankee explained, “Padel reminds me of the early stages of Reggaeton in the ‘90s when it was just starting up. Pro Padel League has a big potential to grow the sport and get bigger. I want to be a part of it and leave a legacy.”
Other early investors include a padel-focused venture capital firm backed by NHL players Filip Forsberg, Jacob Markstrom, Mattias Ekholm, and Andres Nilsson who saw the early potential of a U.S. PPL. Vegas Golden Knights owner Gavin Maloof, MLS star Sebastian Giovinco, and former tennis pro Tommy Haas are also claiming a stake. League founder Marcos del Pilar has stated that franchises are now selling for at least seven figures and original team owners have already seen over a 5X increase in value from their original investment. The league also received support from Merrill and Chosen Foods, two founding sponsors whose partnerships have given the league credibility and a boost in funding.
The league hopes to use PPL as a catalyst for a similar explosion in popularity that pickleball has seen over the past couple of years. The first step is building more padel courts to increase its accessibility in the states, as there are currently only 240 courts in the country. To put that into perspective– countries like Spain have over 20,000. The league is off to a strong start with big name investors and national broadcasts, but it will have a long way to go to usurp pickleball’s hold on the U.S. market.