Mother Nature read the blog on Hurricane Fiona last week and said “Wait until you meet my guy Ian”. Florida just got rocked by Hurricane Ian, which has been classified as the fifth worst hurricane to make landfall on the United States and completely decimated the Fort Meyers area. Ian will be touring more of the US after it picks up some more water from the Atlantic.
But enough about hurricanes, lets get into the real news.
Lebron James, Maverick Carter, and other famous NBA players are buying a Major League Pickleball (MLP) team. They are joining many other celebrities who have not only picked up playing the sport, but are now investing loads of cash into its growth.
The financial details of the deal have not been disclosed, but James is among many other notables like Super Bowl champion Drew Brees, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, former World No.4 tennis player James Blake and Ryan Serhant of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing.” (CNBC, 2022)
So how did Pickleball get so big? Well, pickleball has always been popular among the older crowd. It’s almost as if once you lose the mobility and agility to play tennis you downgrade to pickleball (I remember playing pickleball with seniors at the local YMCA as a kid). This older (60+) population has enabled the sport to stay alive outside of the spotlight.
That is, until recently. This most recent surge in popularity is being attributed to its spike in popularity among its younger generation. Which I personally would also attribute to celebrity attention. I mean odds are that if Lebron, Kim Kardashian, and Drew Brees all document themselves playing pickleball, that it’s going to gain some followers.
And that it has. The number of players has increased from 3.4 million to 4.8 million in 2 years (this number is probably a vast undershoot) and the MPL, which started in 2021 already has 16 teams.
But how does this compare to the other “fad” sports we’ve seen in the past? You know, SpikeBall, KanJam, Slam Ball, and Footvolley. Turns out, very different.
Below you can see the strong individual growth of the SpikeBall, KanJam, and pickleball; however, when placed together pickleball is really in a league of its own.
Where it looks like SpikeBall and KanJam have plateaued in growth and become more seasonal, pickleball is still showing strong, exponential growth drawing national attention.
And it’s difficult to see it failing. As they always say: follow the people and the money – both of which are flowing into pickleball. Plus, with the awareness/following each of these celebrity investors bring, there’s no way they won’t at least break even.
Business Do Be Boomin’
Accompanying this rapid growth come numerous businesses selling paddles, balls, merch, and other necessities to the millions that are flocking to play. Recess, Disco Country Club (this name is awesome) and Nettie are a few of the pickleball startups aiming to ride the wave.
And riding the wave is a good thing, ever heard of these guys?
Levi’s rode the wave too, only their wave was the Gold Rush, where selling shovels and jeans to the miners turned out to be more lucrative than mining for gold itself. (Medium, 2022)
While this is no Gold Rush, it is clearly a significant wave. Just like selling jeans and shovels, there’s more money to be made producing the auxiliary items like paddles and balls than there is trying to make money by being a pro pickleball player
All These New Sports
Even though pickleball is different, new games are popping up everywhere and making them is easier than it seems. Just think of a current sport and make a few adjustments.
Think about it. Pickleball is a relative of tennis and ping pong, Spikeball is like volleyball on the ground, Footvolley is a mixture of soccer and volleyball, KanJam is just disc golf and cornhole, and Slam Ball is literally just basketball with trampolines.
One thing that does seem to be consistent is that each iteration seems to be catered towards fewer players. It’s hard to get 10+ people for a neighborhood game of football or wiffleball, but it’s much easier to muster up 2-4 people for some pickleball.
These new sports aren’t difficult to come up with and are tailored towards the smaller audience. Pickleball is just the newest member that seems to have reached critical mass. We’ll see if it stands the test of time.
Lebron is betting it will.
Let’s have ourselves a weekend.