In the last two years, pickleball has surged from a relatively unknown game to one of the most popular sports in the U.S.—and 2022 was its biggest growth year yet
- From 2021 to 2022, more than 36.5 million people picked up pickleball as their new hobby, according to estimates from the Association of Pickleball Professionals, CNBC reports.
- In 2021, the sport had around 5 million active players.
- Of the group that tried pickleball last year, around 8.5 million played more than eight times.
- “When you look at participation rates alongside golf, and basketball and tennis. … I don’t think anybody would have thought a year ago that pickleball would be right up there with those more traditional sports,” Association of Pickleball Professionals CMO Tom Webb says.
- The sport has gained more traction as it gained big-name investors like LeBron James and Tom Brady.
Why it’s news
Big investors have drawn attention to the tennis-like sport. At first, investors were looking to get in to the game early—now its explosive popularity is turning the sport into a hot investment.
As the sport gains more followers, larger sponsors want to get involved. Popular brands like Sketchers, Carvana, and Anheuser-Busch have all signed agreements with pickleball teams.
“When you look at the number of people that are now picking up a paddle and playing for the first time, it is inevitable that the investment market is going to look at that and say, this is something worth us investing in,” said Webb.
As more potential players look for a place to try the sport, developers are removing tennis courts and replacing them with smaller pickleball courts. In California and Florida, some developers are investing thousands into facilities dedicated to pickleball.
Other business opportunities are popping up around the sport. A maximum of four players can play a game at a time, leading to players waiting in line while other teams finish a match. The restaurant industry is moving to take advantage of the lines by opening food services near the pickleball courts. Chicken N Pickle and Camp Pickle are just two restaurant-entertainment models growing in popularity.
Backing up a bit
While Major League Pickleball has not disclosed the details of various deals made with investors, The Wall Street Journal has reported that several pickleball teams are valued in the seven-figure range—millions of dollars.
Professional athletes looking to expand their portfolios have been among the first investors in the sport. Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently invested.
Basketball star LeBron James bought a team in September along with current basketball player Draymond Green. Super Bowl champ Tom Brady and tennis star Kim Clijsters have also invested in a team together.
Even outside of the sports world, investors are beginning to take a look at pickleball. Hedge fund manager Marc Lasry recently invested in a pickleball team alongside tennis player James Blake.
Anheuser-Busch, brewer of Budweiser, stood out with its investment as the first Fortune 500 company to buy a pickleball team.