Investors see plethora of opportunities in America’s fastest growing sport: Pickleball
By: Joshua Strauss
Oct. 25, 2022
Photo Credit: Rachel Benavides
Since its invention in 1965, pickleball has had a small but devoted player base. Originally designed by three fathers in the suburbs of Washington as a means to keep their children entertained over the summer, the sport found its niche in their 55+ community, with the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) estimating that 52% of its core players are still in this demographic today.
However, with the pandemic serving as a catalyst, the sport saw tremendous growth over the previous two years. This rapid growth has brought with it a myriad of investors looking to capitalize on the newfound opportunity, including the likes of NBA superstar LeBron James.
This growth is not going unnoticed; pickleball was recently named the fastest-growing sport in America by the SFIA, which found that participation grew by 39.3% between 2019 and 2021, far outpacing its five year average of 11.5%. As a result of these impressive statistics, USA Pickleball, the governing body of the sport, believes the future of pickleball is bright, and it appears investors agree.
According to USA Pickleball, there are only 10,000 places to play the sport right now in the US, but this number is rising. This expansion can be seen nationwide, including right here in SBAJ’s hometown of Ann Arbor, where there are plans to build a $7 million, 37,000-square-foot facility, which will be among the estimated dozens of courts added each month nationally. The participatory sector of the sport isn’t the only place investors see value; the professional level is drawing in large sinvestments as well.
Major League Pickleball (MLP), the highest level of the sport, recently announced that a conglomerate of investors, headlined by NBA stars LeBron James, Draymond Green, and Kevin Love, will be purchasing a team. This announcement comes just as the 2022 pickleball season is coming to an end, with the 12 teams in the league competing over three days in Columbus, Ohio for the sport’s largest-ever purse of $319,000. Although impressive, this record is sure to be broken in the 2023 season, when the league expands to 16 teams that will be battling over six tournaments for a combined purse in excess of $2 million.
Future growth of pickleball appears imminent, and with its current player base of 4.8 million making up just 1.6% of the US population, Steve Kuhn, founder of Major League Pickleball, sees room to grow. Kuhn stated, “This investment [James & Co.] and the platform that this group provides will significantly help us with our goal to reach 40 million pickleball players by 2030.”
Luckily for Kuhn, the number of celebrity investors with hopes of owning an MLP team doesn’t end with James. The organization is expected to announce a new slate of owners that includes Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Bucks co-owner, Mark Lasry, among others.
With the massive amount of momentum on the business side of pickleball, it's exciting to see new opportunities for investments arising.