The Meteoric Rise of Pickleball
It seems like just yesterday we thought “How can Pickleball get any bigger than this?” But in the last year alone, pickleball has reached new heights that have thrust our sport into the national spotlight! As your local pickleball enthusiast will surely tell you within minutes of broaching the topic: Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the world!
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball, at its core, is a fun and exciting indoor/outdoor sport that combines elements of Tennis, Badminton, and Ping Pong. The game is played on a court the size of a Badminton court, with a low net similar to Tennis, and with what looks like an oversized ping pong paddle and a wiffle ball.
How much has pickleball grown?
- There were 4.8 million pickleball players last year (2021). Up 14.8% from 2020.
- Over $5 million in prize money is being paid out from the top two pro tours (PPA and APP) in 2022. Major League Pickleball is also paying out a record $100,000 to the first place team consisting of 4 players in all 3 of their team style tournaments this year. That’s $25k per person! The largest individual payout ever in the sport for a single tournament.
- Pickleball has been played across major tv networks including ESPN, FOX, CBS, and the Tennis Channel this year.
- There are over 45 Pro Stops (which also include amateur divisions) between the PPA and APP scheduled for 2022 including new venues such as the historic Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (home of the US Open Tennis tournament).
- International Pro Tour stops have been scheduled in England, France, Spain, and Mexico for 2022.
- The International Federation of Pickleball has over 70 member nations with the majority having joined in the last 3 years.
- According to Google Trends, Pickleball overtook Racquetball in popularity between 2014 and 2016 in the United States. Pickleball also recently overtook Table Tennis in early 2021:
Pickleball - Blue Line Racquetball - Red Line Table Tennis - Yellow Line
What’s caused this growth of pickleball?
Where to start…
Tennis players entering pickleball in record numbers
While certainly not a requirement to be successful in pickleball, there is no denying how the years of muscle memory developing proper swing mechanics in tennis can pay immediate dividends when starting pickleball. In fact, 18 of the top 20 men’s and women’s doubles players (90%) come from a high level tennis background.
Selkirk is proud to have over 100 sponsored players, including several with extensive tennis backgrounds:
- Tyson McGuffin (featured in photo) - current #1 ranked singles player in pickleball on the PPA Tour (PPA Standings). Tyson played two years of junior college tennis and served as a tennis instructor for 6 years before entering pickleball.
- Andrei Daescu - a former touring tennis pro (ATP), Daescu was ranked #126 in ATP Doubles Tennis before entering pickleball in 2017. Daescu is currently ranked #14 in men’s doubles pickleball (World Pickleball Rankings).
- Cammy Macgregor - former 75th ranked women’s tennis player in the world, Macgregor played professionally from the mid 80’s to 1995 playing in a number of grand slams including reaching the 4th round of the Australian Open in 1986. Macgregor is currently ranked #7 in Senior Women’s Doubles (World Pickleball Rankings).
- JoAnne Russell - Won Wimbledon doubles in 1977 and was ranked as high as #22 in the world prior to turning to pickleball. Joanne currently plays on the pro tour and teaches pickleball in her hometown of Naples, FL.
For tennis players, there can be a much shorter warm up time to become a high level pickleball player. In 2022, almost every tournament there is a “newcomer” who came from tennis and has only been playing pickleball for a year or so, but is on the podium by the end of the day!
Noticeable 2022 Newcomers include sisters, Mary and Maggie Brascia (featured in photo)! Mary (older sister) made a huge splash this summer winning back to back gold medals in Women’s Pro Singles in the first 2 tournaments she played this year! Mary was a college tennis standout at both Dayton and Biola University, and is currently traveling on the Pickleball Pro Tour full time. Maggie Brascia (younger sister) played high level tennis growing up but chose not to pursue collegiate tennis. Maggie recently partnered with her sister Mary and won Silver in Women’s Pro Doubles at the USA Pickleball Newport Beach 2022 Championships.
While yes, the sport is incredibly fun and most of us do it for free, many professionals now have the ability to pursue pickleball professionally because of the financial investments from both the pro tours and corporate sponsors.
Record Number of Prize Money Entering Pickleball
The two primary pro tours, the Pro Pickleball Association (PPA) and the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP), are giving out a total of over $5 million in payouts for 2022. An increase from about $2 million total in 2021.
Noticeable financial investments increasing 2022 prize money:
- The PPA tour was bought at the start of 2022 by billionaire investor Tom Dundon (Dundon Capital Partners), partial owner of TopGolf and Carvanna, and the sole owner of pro hockey team the Carolina Hurricanes. Dundon is also now the majority owner of the retailer, Pickleball Central.
- The APP announced in January of 2022 a partnership with Intersport, a global leader in sports marketing. Intersport will employ its full complement of expertise in property development, sponsorship sales and marketing, broadcast and livestream production, distribution and event management.
- Former hedge fund manager, Steve Kuhn, co-founded Major League Pickleball in 2021, the first of its kind team format pickleball tournament. The MLP is paying out over $1 million dollars total this year, and $100,000 to the winning team (comprised of 4 players) for each of its three 2022 tour stops. That’s $25k per person on the winning team! The highest individual payout ever in pickleball!
All of these investments have increased prize money for professional pickleball players and increased visibility of the sport.
Corporate Interest in Pickleball
It didn’t take long for corporate entities to take notice of this booming industry. Big name players such as adidas, Michelob Ultra, Fila, Hertz, and Hyundai are just a few of the companies investing in pickleball through sponsorship of tournaments and/or players.
5 years ago, it was not unheard of, but it was difficult to be a professional pickleball player full time, but now, many players are able to make a living simply through sponsorships! And we’re not talking free paddles or gear…some players reportedly are making over 6 figures from a single sponsorship! Professional players now have the freedom to devote themselves to their craft without having a “day job”.
Television broadcasting has taken notice including ESPN, FOX, CBS, and The Tennis Channel. All of whom have streamed professional pickleball tournaments this year.
Celebrities Playing Pickleball
It’s now commonplace to hear of a big time celebrity discovering the sport and falling in love!
- Leonardo Dicaprio plays “every day” according to Vanity Fair.
- George Clooney admitted his wife, Amal, smokes him in pickleball regularly.
- Survivor winner, Tyson Apostol, has become a pickleball influencer.
- The Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team was spotted playing pickleball in their bullpen.
- Steelers starting linebacker TJ Watt got “whooped” on the courts with two of his teammates by Meg, a grandmother from Pennsylvania.
- Ellen Degeneres opened her own line of pickleball gear.
- Drew Brees is an owner of a Major League Pickleball Team
Not to mention Jamie Foxx, the Kardashians, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon…we could go on and on…
Pickleball has entered a new stage of popularity! Celebrity involvement increases exposure and grows the sport we love!
How Pickleball Courts Boost Local Economies
Let’s take a look at the small town of Opelika, Alabama as an example of the economic impact pickleball can have on a town.
The City of Opelika built a covered pickleball facility in 2019 with 12 individually fenced in pickleball courts. The city hosted 3 tournaments a year from 2019 through 2021 and maxed out at about 400 participants on average each tournament. Based on the success of the facility, the city commissioned an additional 12 courts which opened summer of 2022 making 24 courts total. With the additional courts, the facility can comfortably accommodate over 1,000 participants in a tournament and are already slated for 5 tournaments for 2022.
The mayor of Opelika, Gary Fuller, stated,
“The total economic impact for this year alone is a conservative estimate of $2 million from the tournaments the Sportsplex will be able to host.”
There are pickleball courts and facilities popping up across the nation because of the popularity of the sport, and the economic impact is great for both large and small cities and towns across the United States.
How to get involved in Pickleball as a player
2. Find a paddle! Selkirk has developed over 50 paddle designs for all players, beginner to pro, in our Selkirk line made here in the USA! We also have entry level paddles in our SLK by Selkirk line.
3. Learn more about the game! Selkirk TV was launched to provide pickleball content to all! Find lessons, highlights, drills and more 100% free. Watch on Youtube, or Download the APP
The Great Pickleball Opportunity
Cities…Pro Shops…Instructors…Tournament Directors…Athletes…pickleball’s explosion brings new opportunities to all of these entities and more! At Selkirk, we take a great deal of pride in coming alongside our partners to help them succeed. We have improved our programs year after year to position you for success if you choose to partner with us.
Selkirk Resale Program
It’s not just cities getting involved with pickleball, but tennis stores, pro shops, and online stores (to name a few) are looking to add pickleball gear to their inventory. We have recently partnered with Costco to sell our paddles in their stores across the nation! You can learn more on our Resale Programs page and fill out the form to apply!
Pickleball Instructors and Coaches
Selkirk wants to support those growing the game through instructors around the globe! We recently restructured our advocates program to give our ambassadors additional benefits to be successful in their communities! We are looking to partner with players and instructors who want to represent Selkirk on and off the court.
Selkirk Advocate Program
- Get early access to the latest gear and paddles to demonstrate the latest tech to your Pickleball community.
- Earn store credit (and even cash) by referring customers to purchase on Selkirk.com
- Partner with our growth program to help Selkirk donate free paddles to schools, non-profits, and first responders.
- Receive a 30% discount on apparel and gear.
- Ability to apply to the AMPED Team.
- Opportunity to get spotlighted and featured on the Selkirk website and social media.
What’s next for pickleball?
The Olympics? Roger Federer joining the pickleball pro tour? Coca Cola sponsorships? Who knows! But Selkirk is committed to supporting and growing the sport in the years to come.