Fun fact: There are over 4.8 million pickleball players in the U.S with a growth rate of 39.3% over the past two years. It is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. for a second straight year, as noted by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
For many people, this sport is appearing more and more throughout their everyday life; on social media, in the news, and on television. Just recently, NBA stars made headline news for their newest business venture. LeBron James, Draymond Green, and Kevin Love are part of a group buying a Major League Pickleball team. These players are making the bet that pickleball will continue to become a household name for everyone in the future as the sport gains popularity across America. The Major League Pickleball, MLP, aims to grow pickleball to 40 million players by 2030 and recently announced that the league is expanding from 12 to 16 teams. This shows why the sport is growing so rapidly on a competitive level, as well. These NBA stars join a list of notable members who already own MLP teams like NFL champion Drew Brees, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, and Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry.
Pickleball is a court sport played on a badminton-size court with the net set to a height of 34 inches at the center. It is played with a perforated plastic ball and composite or wooden paddles. It can be played indoors or outdoors and is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players. In addition, the game has developed a passionate following due to its friendly, social nature, and its multi-generational appeal.
Major League Pickleball is the elite pickleball league showcasing the world’s best professional pickleball players in a unique mixed-gender team format. The league plans to have all its players compete in six tournaments across the country with a prize purse of more than 2 million dollars in 2023. Currently, the world’s best players earn around $200,000 annually through prize money, sponsorships, and other revenue streams. Pickleball has evolved from a niche sport to a national sensation and the sport continues to receive national attention from both professional and recreational leagues.
As the sport continues to grow as a whole and the MLP gains more fans, there will be more opportunities for brands and companies to get involved and find ways to sponsor the athletes and events. The first season of the MLP began in November of 2021 and the list of sponsors from the first season is impressive, it includes DUPR, Ranch Rider, Richards’ Rainwater (Official Water and Sparkling Water of MLP), Michelob ULTRA (Official Beer of MLP), Paddletek, Franklin (Official Ball of MLP), ProXR, Recess Pickleball, Medicileaf (Official CBD of MLP), CLEAN CAUSE, Varsity Pickle, Vuori (Official Apparel of MLP), StretchLab, Kendra Scott, and Civile Apparel. These sponsors all contribute to growing the sport in different ways by investing their time, money, and effort. As time goes on, more companies will find ways to create mutually beneficial partnerships for themselves and the pickleball world. The final tournament of this year's pickleball season is coming up on October 14th in Columbus, Ohio. For this year, $100,000 will be awarded to the winning team, the largest prize money in pickleball history. These 3-day events are broadcasted on the CBS Sports Network as well as MLP’s own YouTube and Facebook channels.
One of MLP’s newest sponsors is Skechers. Skechers signed two of pickleball’s top players as brand ambassadors ahead of the 2022 championship tournament. USA Pickleball and MLP have also entered into multi-year partnerships that make Skechers the official footwear company of each organization. Skechers created an all-new sneaker called the Viper Court pickleball shoe which was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. People are clearly excited to play in Skechers' new signature shoes and that is one of the reasons they are fully committed to this fun and exciting sport. Skechers President, Michael Greenberg, stated ”We look forward to helping promote and grow the sport together, and along with it, this new pillar in our business.” It will be interesting to see how the MLP grows from season to season as more companies, brands, and investors put their money into the game.
If you are looking to join in on the sensation sweeping the world and try playing pickleball, the U.S. currently has about 10,000 places to play. USA Pickleball compiles the most up-to-date list of places to play on a new dedicated website: places2play.org. This list continues to grow by several dozen every month so I’m sure very soon a court will be popping up at a park near you.