Move Over, Tennis And Golf. Networks And Brands Are Cashing In On Pickleball
From pro-am tournaments to podcasts to themed-restaurants, to merchandise, to car sponsorships, the pickleball gold rush is in full swing. Move Over, Tennis And Golf. Networks And Brands Are Cashing In On Pickleball
During the pandemic, Tyson Apostol, a gregarious former contestant on multiple seasons of the hit CBS show “Survivor,” made a well-timed career pivot. He took a step back from reality TV and went all in on pickleball.
“I tried it, and I fell in love with it,” said Apostol.
First invented in the 1960s, pickleball — a paddle sport, often described as a hybrid of tennis, Ping Pong, and badminton — is soaring in popularity.
Across the U.S., new pickleball courts are popping up at parks, schools, homeowner associations, condominiums, Hollywood mansions, themed restaurants and sports clubs, as communities scramble to meet the surging demand.
In 2020, roughly 4.2 million people played pickleball, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, up 21 percent from the year before.
“We think that this sport can be every bit as big or bigger than tennis,” said pickleball booster Connor Pardoe. “We’ve seen this sport grow so much faster than we anticipated it would.”
Pardoe is the commissioner of the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA), a for-profit company based near Salt Lake City, which aims to be for pickleball what the PGA is for golf.
This year, the PPA hosted 16 pickleball tournaments around the country, up from 8 events in 2019, the first year of its tour. Its rival, the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) is also staging tour events across the country and even expanding into Europe.
The pickleball tournaments, or “festivals” as Pardoe likes to calls them, feature a mix of gung-ho amateurs, who pay entrance fees to play against their peers, and professionals, who compete for cash prizes and tour points that determine their national rankings.
Annual prize money on the PPA has grown from $500,000 in 2019 to more than $2.5 million next year.
All of this has touched off a kind of pickleball gold rush, as media companies, corporate sponsors, apparel brands, equipment makers and restaurateurs crowd into the growing industry hoping to cash in on the pickleball craze.
Apostol has quickly emerged as a leading pickleball influencer. He has paying partnerships with Fila, Gamma Sports and PicklePlay, an app that helps users find pickleball matches, and sells pickleball merchandise, organizes pickleball meet-ups, co-hosts a popular pickleball podcast and recently headlined a “Survivor” watch-party at a pickleball venue in Utah.
“There’s a big crossover: ‘Survivor’ is a middle-America, older demographic,” said Apostol. “And like ‘Survivor,’ pickleball is really trying to reach a younger audience.”
For decades after its invention in Washington State in the 1960s, pickleball remained a fringe activity. Supporters tend to credit retired baby boomers in the Sun Belt for touching off the current explosion in popularity. Players say it’s much easier to master the basics of pickleball than, say, golf or tennis.
A pickleball court is approximately a third the size of a tennis court, so players can get a good workout without quite as much risk of injury.
“Pickleball is my life,” said Kathy Demetri, 59, an engineer from the Pittsburgh area, who travelled and played in roughly 20 pickleball tournaments over the past year. “Coming from tennis, where you have to be pretty prim and proper, there’s more of a social aspect with pickleball. You can cheer way more.”
TV networks have taken notice. Recently, Fox Sports signed a deal with the PPA under which the national broadcaster will air pickleball events across its cable channels and web sites. Fans can also now watch pickleball competitions on the CBS Sports Network, the Tennis Channel and ESPN3.
Meanwhile, the tournaments are increasingly packed with brand endorsements, ranging from hotels to beverages to apparel companies. In November, the PPA landed its first car deal, signing Hyundai as an official tour partner.
Guaranteed Rate, the giant mortgage company — which already works with the National Hockey League, NASCAR and Major League Baseball — recently joined the PPA’s growing ranks of corporate sponsors.
“It’s a sport that has taken the country by storm,” said Steve Moffat, the chief marketing officer of Guaranteed Rate. “This felt like a really good addition to our portfolio.”
The emerging, pickleball media landscape is teeming with new entrants. There are pickleball podcasts, pickleball YouTube channels and a growing library of pickleball books. In September, InPickleball magazine, a new monthly publication, backed by private investors in Southern California, launched its first issue.
InPickleball’s president Richard Porter said that while the sport is getting younger, the core demographic remains 50-years-old and up — a group, he said, that happens to still love print magazines.
Longtime sporting-goods makers are also cashing in. Adam Franklin, the president of Franklin Sports, a global equipment brand with deep ties in baseball, calls pickleball “a bit of a unicorn business.” In 2018, Franklin Sports introduced its first pickleball product, a proprietary ball, now known as the X-40.
Franklin said the company is currently selling hundreds of thousands of the balls every week, and its paddles are also moving briskly. Based on data from in-store and web sales, Franklin believes the sport is actually expanding faster than the SFIA’s frequently cited statistic of 21 percent year-over-year growth.
Skeptics point to other trendy competitions that once promised to swallow the American sporting landscape only to slink back into obscurity over time (remember paintball?) But denizens of the pickleverse tend to see a bright future.
“I see no reason why it’ll slow down anytime soon,” said Franklin. “I think we are still in the very onset of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if by 2030 we saw 20 to 30 million active players.”
A Red-Hot Sport Leaves Some Folks With A Sour Taste
Pickleball Is a Craze in the Over-55 Set, But Foes Are Raising a Racket.
But two years ago, a trio of “pickleball” courts were opened about 100 feet from the Dillards’ property. Their peaceful lives were disrupted, as was the harmony in SaddleBrooke.
The sport’s wood and graphite rackets and plastic balls meant “there was a constant banging” when the courts were in use, often from morning until evening, says Mr. Dillard, a former insurance executive. “We had to take action.”
Forget shrinking nest eggs or threats to Social Security. The hot topic in retirement communities today is pickleball.
A fast-growing sport, pickleball is taking so-called active-adult enclaves by storm.
Part badminton, part ping-pong and part tennis, pickleball doesn’t put a lot of strain on aging joints, fans say. And with courts about a quarter the size of those used in tennis, it doesn’t require players to cover much ground.
It’s “the most addictive sport I’ve ever played,” says Jeff Shank, a 56-year-old retired businessman who logs about two hours a day with fellow pickleballers in The Villages, a large retirement community in central Florida. “It’s like a drug.”
The appeal is lost on other retirees. They think the sport’s noise (many describe a “ping” or “pop”) and towel-snapping ethos (players “whoop it up” and “do a little trash talking,” says David McCallum, son of one of the sport’s inventors) have no place in their backyards.
Tennis players, in particular, are up in arms. That’s because as pickleball moves into communities with tight budgets or a dearth of vacant land, participants often make a grab for tennis courts.
In some communities, the divisions have prompted heated meetings among property owners, calls for noise studies and even claims that pickleball is destroying property values.
In SaddleBrooke, pickleball foes, citing a local noise ordinance, succeeded in stopping play on the three courts opened in 2008, after pickleball players raised about $22,000 to help defray the cost of building them.
Another neighborhood in the community has since blocked plans to relocate the courts to its neck of the woods.
Jim Morris, 68, that neighborhood’s representative to the homeowners’ association, says, “We didn’t want [pickleball] within 400 feet of the nearest home.”
Pickleball itself is no spring chicken. Invented in 1965 by three men including Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington, the sport was named after the Pritchards’ cocker spaniel, Pickles. For decades, the game was little known outside the Pacific Northwest.
Today, the sport boasts an estimated 100,000 adult players, more than triple the number in 2003, and there are about 2,500 public courts, versus just 150 that year, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Del Webb, the country’s largest builder of active-adult communities, had pickleball courts in fewer than one in five of its developments in 2006.
Now, says Jacque Petroulakis, spokeswoman for parent company PulteGroup Inc., the figure is above 50%, and Del Webb incorporates pickleball into almost everything it builds.
“It’s the hottest craze sweeping our communities,” she says.
Hot also describes the tempers in some neighborhoods.
Last spring, the homeowners’ association in Beacon Woods—a 2,700-home community in Bayonet Point, Fla.—approved a request: adding pickleball lines to one of four tennis courts.
The change “does not obstruct” tennis players from using the court, says Ann Bunting, president of the association.
But that’s not how tennis players see it.
“They took the court without our consent,” says Ignacio Rodriguez, 68, a Beacon Woods tennis player. Some two dozen tennis players, Ms. Bunting adds, signed a petition in protest.
In Mission Royale, a 55-plus community in Casa Grande, Ariz., the local pickleball club is trying to secure courts of its own.
Partly in response to noise complaints, the community’s developer, Meritage Homes Corp., recently said it would be willing to spend “significant dollars” to relocate pickleball from a converted tennis court, says Jeff Grobstein, desert region president for Meritage.
Ron Heymann, 65, whose home is about 100 feet from the existing courts, says he won’t be sorry to see pickleball go. The noise from games—that of a “hard plastic ball thunk-thunking repetitively on a hard wooden paddle”—is “akin to a toothache that won’t go away.”
Pickleball players in Mission Royale dispute such claims—for the most part. “There is a constant ‘ping, ping,’” concedes John Grasso, 61, president of the local pickleball club.
In March, Mr. Grasso says the club purchased a decibel meter from RadioShack. The findings: Tennis reached about 58 decibels while pickleball hit about 60. “There really was no difference. It’s just a different sound.”
The difference was enough to evict the sport from its home in SaddleBrooke. Residents there, in 2008, first asked pickleball players to switch to a rubber ball to cut back on noise. Pickleball players passed.
“Ask golfers to use a different kind of ball, and see what they say,” says John Benter, 69, local pickleball president.
A $4,500 noise study found that sounds from pickleball play were spiking above the county’s 60-decibel limit, which applies to ongoing noise. As a result, the homeowners’ association banned use of standard pickleball paddles and balls on the courts, effectively shutting down play.
This spring, a proposal to relocate the community’s pickleball courts near a softball field was abandoned after residents protested.
“Nobody was throwing themselves in front of bulldozers—this is a retirement community,” says Mr. Morris, the homeowners’ association representative. “But we rallied our troops.”
The SaddleBrooke developer has since offered the pickleball club yet another piece of land. But players say the two-year battle has left them wondering if they will ever get a fair shake.
Says Mr. Benter, the pickleball president, “Anyone who does not play pickleball now has anxiety about pickleball sounds.”
Since When Do Millennials Love Pickleball?
When played with the right attitude, the tennis-badminton-ping-pong hybrid might offer a salve for everything that ails.
I NEVER MEANT to become a pickleball player. It started off as a joke: my dad, my sister and I on an outdoor court built by some Eagle Scouts in Fish Creek, Wis., nestled against the parking lot of the local YMCA.
It was summer 2020, and the three of us were filled with pent-up anxiety about the pandemic, especially the threat it presented to the 76-year-old among us. Whacking a perforated plastic ball back and forth helped.
My Summer of Anxious Pickleball turned out to be a data point for a much larger trend. The sport—a tennis-badminton-ping-pong hybrid popular among retirees—saw a participation growth rate of nearly 40% between 2019 and 2021, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
And a significant chunk of that growth was made up of players much younger than the sport’s usual crowd. Josh Lardinois, a member-services director at the Fish Creek YMCA, spotted the change himself the same summer I started playing.
“There has been a generational shift,” he said. “[I’ve] noticed a lot more families, more 20-somethings, even high-school students.”
Mackenzie Thomas, 31, a senior product and marketing inclusion manager for a tech company, played pickleball in high-school gym classes. But when she looked for pickup games in Oakland, Calif., around five years ago, the only groups she found were for ages 55 and up.
“I put it on the back burner, called it a day and found some other activities to get involved in,” she said. But once the pandemic limited her activity options, she asked her 61-year-old landlord whether she’d be interested in playing a couple rounds. Soon, they were at the net multiple times a week. “It was this beautiful little early pandemic [story],” said Ms. Thomas.
Since its invention in the mid-20th century, the sport has been the domain of what Mr. Lardinois calls an “active older adult demographic of 60 to 65-plus.” Many people in this age group also play tennis, but the setup of pickleball makes it more accessible.
You play with a slower-moving ball over a smaller area (20 feet by 44 feet, basically the space between the service lines of your standard tennis court), so you don’t have to run as fast or as far to return someone’s serve.
Now, new 20- and 30-something devotees are picking up paddles too. Karim Kerawala, a 33-year-old customer-success manager at a tech company, has become a five-day-a-week regular at the courts near his home in Brooklyn. Part of the reason pickleball has taken off, he said, is the game’s simplicity.
Once you learn the basic rules—serve underhand only, no hitting the ball before it bounces from the area closest to the net (“the kitchen”)—you can become a decent player without too much work. “It’s a sport you can easily become intermediate at right away.”
Convincing my friends to play was only as hard as finding an enticing description of the game—‘It’s like tennis, but easy. And free!’
Mr. Kerawala learned the rules in preparation for a friend’s destination wedding in Hawaii last year. The venue came with a court, so the bride and groom taught their guests how to play ahead of time.
After only one session, Mr. Kerawala “absolutely fell in love with the game,” he said.
But when the newly converted guests arrived at the venue, they found the promised court replaced with a dance floor. Undeterred, Mr. Kerawala found a net at a nearby church, set it up on the dance floor and taped down some lines.
This sort of MacGyver mentality speaks to the character of pickleball. With paddles and a ball in hand, you can theoretically play anywhere, as long as you have something to use as a net, some rudimentary boundary-setting methods and a hard surface underfoot.
Folks improvise in parking lots, tennis courts and driveways with blue painter’s tape, gaffer tape and sidewalk chalk. “It is innately a bit more community-centric than many other sports,” said Ms. Thomas, who now lives in Washington, D.C., where she plays on Fridays with a pickleball group for queer players.
Two years after my YMCA initiation, I started playing in Brooklyn, on a swath of blacktop in Squibb Park where kids practice bike-riding, Rollerblading and the like—that is, until the pickleballers showed up and took over. Court boundaries are marked onto the blacktop, and nets are BYO.
Convincing my friends to play was only as hard as finding an enticing description of the game—“It’s like tennis, but easy. And free!”—and within a few weeks, I’d indoctrinated a shocking number of them, considering their average athletic prowess.
I’m no professional. In order to function, my broken net must be propped up on a yoga block and whatever book I happen to have in my bag—and a gust of strong wind can knock the setup askew. I’m no good at volleys.
After a game, I often offer my opponent the paddle’s face for a high five instead of sharing the preferred handle tap (both versions look equally dorky), and I only figured out a couple of weeks ago which side I’m supposed to be serving on.
My laissez-faire attitude is increasingly rare in the pickleball world. As big names like Leonardo DiCaprio, the Kardashians and Bill Gates emerge as fans, and as networks like CBS and Fox add pickleball tournaments to their televised programming, the rest of the world has taken note.
Cool-kid Canadian retailer Ssense now offers pickleball paddles, while golf-inspired clothing brand Devereux touts a 13-piece pickleball capsule collection.
Magazines run articles with headlines like “Can Pickleball Save America?” and “Pickleball Is Booming. Not Everyone Is Happy About That.” Debate about the sport’s merits flow.
Tune out the noise—or let the “thwack” of the ball do it for you. Sure, you can buy specialized shoes, enter a tournament and study a glossary to parse the meaning of terms like “dink shot” and “dillball.”
As the sport has boomed, all of that has become more readily available than ever. But the blessing of pickleball is you don’t need to take it too seriously.
In fact, it is most fun when you don’t.
Your Pickleball Starter Pack
An essential kit for beginners, as recommended by Eric Ho and Ray Xiong, who run the pickleball-community website NYC Pickleball
The Perfect Paddle
“Selkirk is a pretty prominent company in the pickleball space, and they have paddles all the way from beginner to professional line,” Mr. Ho said.
He recommends the SLK Neo Graphite, which, at 7.5 ounces, is lightweight enough to be wielded by any player, regardless of size or strength.
Avoid aluminum-core paddles, he advised, which have a low-quality feel in-hand, as well as the wooden paddles that were popular in the 1980s. $50, SLKPickleball.com
Many paddle kits come with a couple balls thrown in, but Mr. Ho recommends buying a few Franklin X-40 Pickleballs separately. “The balls that come in most intro packs will typically be cast aside after a few sessions,” he said.
The X-40s “are a little less bouncy, a little faster.” That speed makes things a bit more fun, especially after you’ve started to find your groove. $17 for six balls, PickleballCentral.com
If you’re lucky, you live near an already set-up pickleball court. But otherwise, it’s worth buying your own net. Mr. Ho and Ms. Xiong recommend the Rally Portable Pickleball Net from Pickleball Central, which meets three crucial requirements:
It’s easy to put together; its feet are a bit wider than similar models, which makes it sturdier for playing in the wind; and the center post is the required 2 inches shorter than the sides. $200, PickleballCentral.com
LeBron James Is Buying A Professional Pickleball Team
He joins NBA players Draymond Green, Kevin Love and other investors in the purchase of a Major League Pickleball expansion team.
Even LeBron James is getting caught up in the pickleball craze.
Mr. James and his business partner Maverick Carter have joined a group of investors that includes NBA players Draymond Green and Kevin Love to purchase a Major League Pickleball expansion team, the league said Wednesday.
Other investors include investment firm SC Holdings; Paul Rivera, chief marketing officer for the SpringHill Company; and Relevent Sports Group co-owner and Chief Executive Daniel Sillman.
Each member of the new ownership group plays pickleball, the league said.
Anne Worcester, MLP’s strategic adviser, said the team, which has yet to be named, is valued in the seven figures.
“This new ownership group brings extensive experience across sports, media, branding, entertainment,” Ms. Worcester said. “We are excited to work with them to expand and to bring pickleball to new audiences.”
A spokeswoman for LRMR Ventures, the family office of Mr. James and Mr. Carter, said both were unavailable to comment.
The new pickleball team marks the latest expansion into sports ownership for Mr. James and Mr. Carter. Both are partners with Fenway Sports Group, the owners of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C., the English Premier League soccer team.
Mr. James, a newly minted billionaire, also co-founded SpringHill with Mr. Carter, who is a childhood friend of the basketball star. The company helped produce “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” which starred Mr. James and was released in 2021, and the 2019 HBO documentary “What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali.”
Pickleball, a hybrid of tennis, ping pong and badminton that dates back to 1960s, has taken off in the U.S. in recent years. There were about 4.8 million players in the U.S., in 2021, a 39% increase from 2019, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Pickleball was officially announced as the fastest-growing sport in America for the second year in a row, the group said.
The MLP, founded in 2021, is expanding its ranks and plans to increase its number of teams from 12 to 16. Pickleball players in 2023 will play in six tournaments in six different U.S. cities for more than $2 million in cash prizes, the league said.
The league aims to increase the number of grassroots pickleball players from about five million players today to about 40 million by 2030, Ms. Worcester said.
Other pickleball team owners include former professional football player Drew Brees, Marc Lasry, co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, and former professional tennis player James Blake.
The league is in the process of choosing new ownership groups for the final three expansion teams. The league is currently weighing about 20 bids for teams from over 60 groups, Ms. Worcester said. MLP expects to choose the final three ownership groups in the next month, she said.
“We are reviewing the rest of the bids internally,” Ms. Worcester said. “It’s looking at the resources each group would bring to Major League Pickleball to help us grow the sport at the pro level as well as the grassroots level.”
Why A Hedge Fund Manager Is Betting On Pickleball With Tom Brady
Knighthead Capital Management co-founder Tom Wagner sees increased viewership and participation catapulting the sport’s value.
Hedge fund manager Tom Wagner used to joke with friends about buying a pickleball team. Then, the opportunity came along — and he called up his old buddy, Tom Brady.
Knighthead Capital Management, the firm co-founded by Wagner that manages about $9 billion of assets, led an ownership group that includes the NFL superstar and former world No. 1 tennis player Kim Clijsters that purchased a team for the 2023 Major League Pickleball season.
It’s an unusual move for a hedge fund known for specializing in event-driven distressed credit opportunities. Yet Wagner believes the team’s value could significantly increase as the sport becomes more popular.
“This is a fun investment because the sport itself is fun, but we’re approaching it very seriously as a business,” said Wagner, who declined to say how much the group paid. “This isn’t a deployment of capital because we happen to like the sport — it’s because we see a significant opportunity.”
Pickleball, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong into a sport that’s accessible to both young and old athletes, was created in the 1960s but has soared in popularity in recent years.
Major League Pickleball is expanding as well with plans to boost the number of teams to 16 from 12 and double the number of events to six.
Wagner is betting that bringing in high-profile names like Brady, a five-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, will boost the sport’s TV viewership.
“Tom has a pretty gigantic media reach, and I think his involvement should draw substantial interest to the league,” Wagner said. “As the league does better and draws more fans to its events, I think we’ll see an increased value of the league, increased revenues and increased participation.”
In an Instagram video posted Wednesday, Brady said: “I’ve been trying to find a way to extend my professional sports career beyond my 40s, even into my 50s, 60s, 70s. As long as I can, right? And I think I got the answer. Seems like everyone else has the answer too. Pickleball.”
Other celebrities involved with pickleball teams include NBA stars LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love, along with Super Bowl champion Drew Brees. On the Wall Street side, Avenue Capital Group founder Marc Lasry bought a squad.
There are several pickleball leagues in addition to the MLP — including the Professional Pickleball Association and the Association of Pickleball Professionals — and Wagner sees the possibility for them to combine.
“It would be healthy for the sport to have a dominant league, and I think a dominant league will naturally emerge with increased success and increased following,” he said. “We voted with our investment here on which one we think will drive that outcome.”
The investment group led by Knighthead also includes Callie Simpkins, director in leveraged finance sales at RBC Capital Markets, Kaitlyn Kerr, a financial adviser at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and producer Matt Alvarez.
Wagner said that he and Brady often play pickleball together and “have a couple mutual friends that we try to beat up on,” but has yet to take on Clijsters.
“I’m not sure I would want to,” Wagner said. “That could be a very embarrassing experience. I think she would dominate me if we played.”
Nine WSJ readers from across the country share why the tennis-badminton-ping-pong hybrid has proven so popular.
From TikTok dances to sourdough bread to DIY home decor, many pandemic hobbies were abandoned as quickly as they spread.
But that’s not the case with pickleball, a favorite that has not only endured but become the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. The game serves as a source of community for many, including WSJ readers of all locations and ages.
When we asked them to comment on their love of the sport, the feedback was notable. Below, a lightly edited version of nine readers’ responses.
Anna Garwood, Brooklyn, N.Y., 43
“I’ve lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for almost 6 years. In late summer 2021, I noticed spray-painted lines on the side of the giant asphalt surface next to the tennis courts in McCarren Park. Turns out, someone had drawn a pickleball court during the pandemic and had only played on it a handful of times. As a former tennis player, I’ve found it very frustrating to get court time in the city, so I decided to buy a pickleball net and started gathering friends to play. Every time I set up the net, people would stop and ask about the sport. After a few weeks, I had collected a couple dozen phone numbers of locals who were interested in playing. There are a lot of people in my phone with the last name ‘Pickleball.’ It seemed like half of Williamsburg was interested in playing! I started an Instagram account @williamsburgpickleball in Spring 2022 and began hosting open plays. By the summer, more courts were drawn, and by October, the IG account now has almost 1k followers. Every open play has turned into a social event, with 4-6 courts going. It’s been a blast!”
Steve Coleman, Bellevue, Wash., 68
“I’m a tennis player who lost his wheels from years of hard-court play. My wife and I have started playing pickleball at the Bellevue Community Center three times a week, and it more than covers the competitive and social aspects we were getting from our tennis.”
Robin Sandberg, Boca Raton, Fla., 60
“A Wednesday-morning pickleball group was formed when we all met at a clinic in Boca Raton, Fla., this past January. We are all such good friends now and would never have met if it hadn’t been for pickleball.”
Anthony Nunziata, Nashville, Tenn., 38
“I’m a professional singer-songwriter and now a part-time tournament pro/5.0 pickleballer. It’s the perfect game to play for fun or more competitively. It’s a game of camaraderie. It’s become a passion for me and has brought forever friends into my life. I’m so happy to see how quickly this sport continues to grow. During my concert tour, I’m beginning to actually play pickleball on the stage (no net, just hitting back and forth)—bridging my passions for music and the game. It’s a crazy idea, but that’s who I am!”
Kathleen Heise, Walnut Creek, Calif., 62
“A friend of mine kept asking me to come out and play pickleball. I turned her down for about six months. I had never played any ball sports before. When I finally accepted the invitation, I enjoyed it so much that I bought a paddle after the second time playing. I’ve been playing for about 18 months now, and I’m hooked! I play with a group of gals at least two times a week. Our text thread is called ‘PBcrew.’ I love the outdoors, social connection, friendships and exercise. I’ve gotten a few of my siblings to play, and now I’m working on my grown children.”
Jason Martuscello, East Hampton, N.Y., 34
“I hadn’t played pickle ball until this summer. My wife’s relatives are extremely passionate about the sport and built a court in their yard for the locals to share stories, get competitive and have a good time.”
Carly Bellis, Delray Beach, Fla., 43
“One day during the pandemic, the tennis courts were too wet from rain, so my husband and I and another couple friend of ours traded our tennis rackets for pickleball paddles that we rented from the front desk at the tennis center. We googled the rules on our way to the court and immediately became addicted. Fast forward two years later and that friend Courtney Campbell [left] and I now own Swinton, a pickleball brand. Once we were hooked and ready to buy gear, we found that none of the gear out there spoke to us the same way the game did. We wanted gear that was as fun and fresh as the game itself, something for a younger demographic. So she and I started Swinton. Our tagline is ‘Kitchen’s Closed’ and we have a line of Apres Pickleball products. It sure is fun!”
Pennie Fox, Galion, Ohio, 62
“Our YMCA had a group of men players. My friend and I thought it looked fun. We joined in and now, two years later, I have my own court! My family loves the game, everyone from ages 3 to 65. We love making memories and getting a good workout.”
Dylan Lund, Crandon, Wis., 28
“I recently moved to a small town with my spouse, and we did not know anyone here. I saw a flier for a pickleball group and decided to join. Just about all of the other players are 55+, but there are a few young people like me. They were very excited for me to play with them and have been very open to new players. Pickleball has also helped me to build social connections in a place where I knew nobody. I typically play Monday through Friday. The sport was easy to pick up and affordable to start playing. I talk about the game to my family and they have shown an interest in starting to play, too.”
‘It’s Been Awkward.’ Pickleball Is Pitting Neighbor Against Neighbor In Noise-Conscious Communities
It was fun and games at first. But when pickleballers took over the tennis court at River Canyon Estates in Bend, Ore., for hours on end, bringing boom boxes, hurling profanities and letting dogs run loose—not to mention the constant pok-pok-pok of balls hitting paddles—the neighbors said enough is enough.
Fearing a lawsuit, the board of the homeowners association enlisted a professional mediator. It commissioned a sound study and considered ways to reduce pickleball noise—to no avail. In February, the board banned pickleball from the community’s tennis court.
“We had to make a really tough decision,” said David Finkel, a former HOA president at River Canyon. “But the bottom line is, you can’t believe the noise pickleball makes. The people who are pickleball advocates just choose to believe it’s not that friggin’ noisy.”
A mashup of tennis, ping pong and badminton, pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., with legions of fans and a growing list of celebrity backers, including NFL quarterback Tom Brady and basketball superstar LeBron James.
It has also become a lightning rod for controversy within some residential communities, where exuberant shouting, competition for court time and the telltale sound of players whacking Wiffle-like balls with paddles has pit neighbors against each other, leading to name-calling and yelling, even lawsuits.
Pickleball dates to the 1960s, but its popularity skyrocketed during Covid as more people discovered the easy-to-learn sport, which is often played outdoors.
There were about 4.8 million players in the U.S. in 2021, up 39% from 2019, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Residential communities rushed to build courts or to retrofit tennis courts to accommodate the influx of players. (Four pickleball courts can fit on a single tennis court by adding lines and nets.)
“Tennis was the rage, now it’s pickleball,” said Robert Ducharme, an attorney in New Hampshire who advises condominium and HOA boards. He said more communities are adding pickleball to keep residents engaged.
Pickleball evangelists say the sport is a fun way for players of all ages to exercise safely, socialize and get their competitive juices flowing. Some call it addictive, and pickleball rivalries have been known to escalate on and off the court.
At Cinco Ranch, a master-planned community in Katy, Texas, where homes cost $350,000 to more than $1 million, tennis and pickleball players have faced off over court time and etiquette.
Things came to a head recently over plans to paint pickleball lines on an existing tennis court. A group of tennis players argued in a petition that pickleball causes overcrowding, especially during tournament-style games, leading to excessive wear-and-tear on the courts.
“Families [playing tennis] don’t like to play beside these large groups,” while competitive players “cannot focus with pickle balls coming on and off their court constantly,” the petition said.
Lilah Poltz, 41, a pickleball player at Cinco Ranch who advocated for the court re-striping, said it has all become “quite political.” At a recent HOA board meeting, Ms. Poltz, who works in marketing, said about 10 people came to oppose pickleball, including one woman who kept referring to pickleball players as “pests.”
“It’s been awkward. And it’s been uncomfortable because these are your neighbors. You want to get along,” Ms. Poltz said.
There are about 10,600 registered pickleball venues in the U.S., including more than 1,000 new venues added in 2021 and more than 900 added in 2020, according to USA Pickleball, the sport’s governing body. Many residential communities are leaning into the sport, and courts are seen as a valuable asset.
The portion of for-sale listings that mention pickleball rose 86% in October 2022 from October 2021, according to Zillow.
At River Canyon Estates, where homes sold for nearly $400,000 to about $1.4 million over the past two years, the tipping point in the pickleball brouhaha came last year, when a group of pickleball players proposed re-striping a single tennis court to create four pickleball courts.
Adrian Bennett III, who sold a townhouse facing the court last year for $599,000, said large groups of pickleball players converged on the once-sleepy court, some bringing thermoses he suspected weren’t filled with water.
“Things got pretty much out of control,” said Mr. Bennett, 81, who added that he didn’t sell his home because of the noise, although he certainly wasn’t a fan of it. “It was rather obnoxious to have them playing there.”
A study commissioned by the HOA found the sound level from the pickleball court topped 65 decibels at several nearby homes. By comparison, a normal conversation is about 60 decibels and a hairdryer is roughly 90 decibels.
Tennis hits are typically about 14 decibels lower than pickleball and make a lower-pitch sound, said Bob Unetich, a referee who has a consulting business focused on noise mitigation. Pickleball’s higher-pitch sound is more annoying to the human ear, he added.
Part of the problem was that several homes were within 65 feet of the court, said Terry Smith, another former HOA president who lives a few houses down from the court and said he could hear pickleball “quite easily” upstairs in his home.
To be effective, a sound barrier around the court would have to be 16 to 20 feet high, he said. Even then, he added, the board could be sued—and would likely lose.
In Naples, Fla., earlier this year, residents sued the homeowners association at Village Walk, an 850-home community where prices range from $535,000 to about $900,000, over expenses tied to three new pickleball courts.
In the suit, plaintiff Meredith Carr alleged the HOA spent more than $100,000 in restricted reserve funds for new recreational facilities—including the courts—without residents’ approval.
Ms. Carr is part of a group of mostly anonymous residents called VW Stop Spending, which opposed an HOA fee increase last year and has published blog posts critical of the HOA board’s leadership.
“It’s not that I’m against pickleball by any means, it’s the principle,” said Ms. Carr, 53, who owns a two-bedroom villa at Village Walk. “The president thinks she’s above the law.”
Diane Green-Kelly, the HOA board president, rebutted the characterization. The HOA fee increase was in line with inflation, she said, and that money went toward operating expenses. (Money for the courts, she added, came from another fund.)
Also, the board held several town hall meetings about pickleball. Based on resident feedback, it conducted a sound study and installed Acoustiblok panels to minimize noise. Ms. Green-Kelly said the courts have been full, and she hasn’t received any noise complaints.
“I can’t tell you it just rolls off my back. They’re very personal about it,” Ms. Green-Kelly, a trial lawyer by trade, said of the criticism. “We’ve had to just learn to try to ignore it.” She said the courts are valuable to the community as a whole.
Without them, she added, “we might be dying on the vine because we weren’t keeping up with what people wanted.”
Pelican Preserve in Fort Myers, Fla., walked the same fine line last year as it tried to meet pickleball demand while satisfying residents concerned about the noise.
The 2,500-home community had six pickleball courts that were constantly packed, said Frank Robers, president of the HOA board. A proposed location of six additional courts, however, was rejected by homeowners.
Romeo and Susan DeMarco, who paid $407,000 for their four-bedroom home in 2019, were among those objecting. Their house, which is adjacent to a nature preserve, is about 400 feet from the proposed courts.
“We kind of thought of it as a dripping faucet,” said Mr. DeMarco, 75, of pickleball’s constant noise.
After several impassioned discussions, he said, the board ultimately identified another location. Mr. Robers said the HOA spent about $100,000 to relocate a softball field and build the new pickleball courts in its place.
“At the end of the day, honestly, we decided for the good of the community and these residents,” he said. “It was worth doing.”
Roy Seaverson, 65, a retired dentist who lives at Sun City Grand in Surprise, Ariz., said he and his wife, Julie Seaverson, 64, did their research before buying a $735,000 house close to their community’s pickleball courts in 2014.
He said they walked around the neighborhood to gauge the sound level, which they deemed a nonissue. Mr. Seaverson, who plays pickleball five or six times a week, said the house is on a golf course, and although the couple was drawn to the home for its views, the proximity to pickleball is a bonus.
“We definitely talk about how we feel fortunate being close enough that you can walk down and you’re right there,” he said.
Troy Konz, 62, president of Sun City Grand’s pickleball club, said the sport is a top draw for the 9,800-home community, which has 11 tennis courts and 22 pickleball courts that are packed from about 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The pickleball club has nearly 1,800 members, up from around 900 in 2016, said Mr. Konz, a former high-school athlete who called pickleball easy to play, great exercise and incredibly social.
Mr. Konz said Sun City Grand has refined its noise-mitigation efforts over the years, including regular sound studies and wind screens. It allows only certain paddles to be used on its courts.
And he admitted that for years, the community’s pickleball and tennis clubs clashed over court time. Only recently did they make peace with each other, he said.
“We got together and said, enough is enough, why are we fighting?” Mr. Konz said. They also have united over a common enemy: a faction of homeowners who would like to see the tennis court converted for basketball.
The 12 Best Gifts For Pickleball Fans, According To Pros And Coaches
From an extra-stylish paddle to a grip trainer, these expert-approved gifts are great for people new to the sport or practically a pro.
In case you’ve somehow missed the memo, pickleball is everywhere these days. Although the sport (a combination of tennis, ping pong, badminton and racquetball) was founded back in the 1960s, its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.
This suggests you may have a few pickleball fans in your life—so why not celebrate their passion with a pickleball-themed gift?
As a pickleball enthusiast myself, and after researching and writing a book on the subject, I’ve consulted eight experts, including professional players and coaches, for their recommendations for the best pickleball gifts around.
Laura Gainor, founder of Pickleball in the Sun, recommends this paddle from Rokne. It comes in seven colors, but the vibrant tropical design (a special edition colorway) is her “favorite go-to paddle to take on vacation.”
Gainor adds that it’s a good pick for “both the casual player who wants to pack their bag to travel to a beachfront resort and the competitive player earning their way to become a professional,” thanks to features like its contoured cushion handle (for a strong yet comfortable grip) and friction-creating fiberglass surface, so you can increase your spin rate and hit more powerful shots.
If your pickleball-loving friend is also a history buff, they’ll enjoy a chance to delve into the origins of the sport. This insightful book by Jennifer Lucore, a Pickleball Hall of Fame inductee, and Beverly Youngren, Lucore’s mother and a fellow pickleball player, tracks the sport’s growth over the past several decades and includes stories of players from around the world.
“As we celebrate the excitement of the growth of our sport and watch many brands come into the game, I also like to pay tribute to those that first started playing the game” by reading about the sport’s origin and its early players, says Gainor.
“Pickleball players can always use more apparel,” notes Tony Roig, who, along with CJ Johnson, is a pickleball instructor behind the online training platform Better Pickleball. Roig particularly loves the line of colorful skirts made by Pickleball Bella, such as this vibrant option that features pickleballs in the pattern, as well as compression shorts and pockets on each side. The polyester and spandex material is stretchy, breathable and moisture-wicking for hot days on the court.
Many pickleball players love nothing more than spending a whole day on the court, but that can take a toll on their feet. These socks from OS1st recommended by Gainor are designed to protect players’ feet during long, active sessions, thanks to their soft feel and blister-preventing, moisture-wicking design. Your giftee “will like the extra cushion to prevent blisters and arch band support for your quick movements on the court,” she says of the no-show socks, which come in eight colors.
Lightweight Court Sneakers
A pair of high-quality tennis shoes that a player can happily rock for hours on the court (and off) can be a generous and practical gift. Pickleball coach Matt Manasse recommends “lightweight, durable and stylish” options like these kicks from Adidas, which feature a heel clip strap designed to help wearers sprint faster around the court while keeping their feet stable and supported.
Professional pickleball player and CoachMePickleball founder Morgan Evans has used this set of grip trainers, which teaches users’ hands how to properly hold onto paddles, with hundreds of students, he says. “I firmly believe that it can help anyone master a new grip,” he explains, adding that the grips are especially beneficial for people who used to play tennis or other racquet sports and may have brought some “bad habits” into their new game.
According to Manisse, “the new craze in paddle technology is carbon fiber,” since the material helps add spin and harness a player’s power during hits. For a quality carbon fiber paddle at a reasonable price, consider this Hanisna model, which features a strong core, lightweight feel, comfortable padded grip and even a zippered, waterproof cover for easy transport.
Durable Court Sneakers
For another shoe option, consider this pair of sneakers from Skechers, which features durable rubber outsoles for much-needed traction on indoor and outdoor court play. They come recommended by Danea Bass, the pickleball coach behind the site All Things Pickleball, for both their comfort and style. They come in four colors, have plenty of arch support and cushioning and won’t “wear down as fast as something like running shoes or basketball shoes would,” thanks to those rubber soles, Bass adds.
Colorful Tennis Tank
I love the simple yet thoughtfully designed style of this racerback tank from Nike, which is made with moisture-wicking technology that’ll keep you dry and comfortable as you play. The vented, lightweight top comes in six colors, so you’ll have plenty of options when choosing which one will best fit your gift recipient’s personal style. I’m planning to pick one up for myself to wear not just on the pickleball court, but during all my upcoming workouts, and am considering it as a gift for my pickleball-playing friends as well.
Charming Children’s Book
Lucore suggests gifting this adorable, illustrated children’s book geared for the wee pickleball set. It’s authored by a recreational pickleball player, and part of a larger series about Ollie the Otter and his pickleball adventures with “stories of critters who discover love, acceptance” and how pickleball can bring people who are different together.
As a pickleball expert myself (I wrote the book “Pickleball for All: Everything but the ‘Kitchen’ Sink,” and have covered the sport extensively), I recommend this pickleball-themed hat. It’s a soft, adjustable, embroidered cotton cap that’ll keep you protected from the sun while out on the court. Plus, it has an inner sweat band lining to help you stay dry while you get your workout in. I’m planning to gift it to one of the many pickleball fans in my life who love repping their passion for the game.
Fresh Set Of Pickleballs
Any pickleball player will be glad to receive a reliable, top-quality set of pickleballs, like this set from Franklin Sports, which is the official pickleball of USA Pickleball and the US Open Pickleball Championships. “It has always been the go-to gift from my husband for all occasions and something that players of every level appreciate,” says Gainor. The set (designed specifically for outdoor use) comes with 12 balls and is available in four bright colors: pink, orange, red, or a classic yellow/green. Plus, these balls are known for their flight and consistency, due to their precise holes, making them strong choices for players at all skill levels looking to up their game.
‘Pickleball Tourism’ Takes Off Across The U.S.—Enough With Museum And Beach Trips
Fans of America’s fastest-growing sport hate to take time off from play on vacation, and are going to great lengths to incorporate the game into every holiday.
Pick a piece of paradise and pack a paddle to play pickleball.
This isn’t only a tongue twister but now a mantra of a surge of Americans who are vacationing where they can also enjoy the wildly popular sport.
Tour companies catering to “picklers” have sprung up and are organizing pickleball-focused trips to other countries. Resorts and hotels are serving up amenities around the sport— “pickleball and pinot” anyone? And a number of pickleball-crazed travelers are making decisions about where to stay and where to visit based on court availability.
Michele Dowty’s 10-year-old son, Jett Barber, is the household’s primary pickleballer. He’s serious enough about the sport that the family’s days of traveling to Costa Rica are done for now.
“We’re now looking for pickleball courts, instead of monkeys and beaches,” she says.
Pickleball, a hybrid of tennis, ping pong and badminton, is America’s fastest-growing sport, with about 8.9 million players in the U.S. in 2022, an 86% increase from the year prior, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Hotels and resorts make up a small but fast-growing percentage of the more than 11,000 venues registered with USA Pickleball, a spokesman says.
Margaritaville, which operates resorts, is the title sponsor for Major League Pickleball, and plans to have at least one court at each of its properties.
The cruise company Holland America Line sponsors the Professional Pickleball Association, and has at least one outdoor court on each of its ships.
The Doubletree by Hilton Sonoma in California’s wine country for years featured tennis and basketball courts. In 2022, a corporate travel agent asked if staff could temporarily convert tennis courts into pickleball courts for a group, says general manager Brian Marchi.
The hotel agreed, and found itself fielding similar requests later in the year. Hotel managers saw an opportunity to make pickleball part of the resort experience, and scrapped the tennis and basketball courts and instead created eight pickleball courts that opened last month.
Locals can reserve courts for $10 to $12 for a two-hour period, and the hotel hosted a “pickleball and pinot” event for a private group a few weeks ago.
“We know that it’ll bring dollar amounts; what we don’t know is exactly how much it could be,” Marchi says of the pickleball pursuits.
In West Hollywood, Calif., the Kimpton La Peer opened a disco-themed pickleball court on its rooftop this month. During the week, the hotel charges $150 for two people for 90 minutes, which includes lunch and a bottle of wine or cocktails.
During “Disco Court Hours” on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, there are no reservations or court fees and a DJ plays under a disco ball.
The tennis facility at the Phoenician, a resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., is five years old. Had the directors anticipated the pickleball craze brought on by the pandemic, they would have included more pickleball courts from the get-go, they say.
Pickleball requests by corporate groups have increased exponentially over the past couple of years, says Andrew Seidenberg, the resort’s head pickleball pro.
It has two pickleball courts and plans to add two more this year. Younger players are now requesting lessons. Previously, the average age for lessons was 60, but it is now 45, Seidenberg says.
Dowty’s 10-year-old son has gone all-in on pickleball since he started playing less than a year ago. She drives him more than 90 miles from Bullhead City, Ariz., to Las Vegas every weekend for lessons with a pickleball pro.
The pair don’t plan to take any time off from pickleball when they go on vacation.
They took a Royal Caribbean cruise and played pickleball on the ship, and will travel to Hot Springs, Ark., this summer. They have never been, but chose the spot partly because of the many pickleball courts there.
For years, Franklin Paisley thought pickleball was “a stupid game with a stupid name.” The 42-year-old criminal-defense lawyer from Lexington, Ky., teased his mom about her pickleball habit, but eventually joined her for a game when his gym shut down during the pandemic.
Now, Paisley works pickleball into every trip he takes. He will visit Ennis, Mont., this summer for a fishing trip, and plans to stop by local courts between 8 and 9 a.m.
Incorporating pickleball into vacation beats the hotel gym, and even his local gym. “They don’t see me very often,” he says.
Dekel Bar is a professional pickleball player and co-owns Pickleball Getaways, which offers all-inclusive vacations with pickleball instruction.
Mexico is the most popular trip, which costs about $2,000 for the week and includes morning clinics arranged by skill level and afternoon open-play sessions.
Cruise lines including Carnival and Royal Caribbean have pickleball tournaments on board. Holland America offers beginner classes on all its ships and allows guests to reserve courts for matches with players of similar skills, says Dario Tehrani, a sports director. Pickleball is the most popular sport on the ship, followed by Tai Chi, he says.
Having a private court makes a difference for new players, says Shannon Bishop, a 51-year-old court reporter who began her pickleball career about a year and a half ago. At public courts, some locals can be too competitive or impatient as newbies learn the rules.
Bishop, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., books RV campsites based on whether they have pickleball courts nearby.
She recently booked a short-term rental in Kingsburg, Calif., specifically for its pickleball court. Although she and her husband were the only players, she was determined to get family members, including her father and his wife, on the court. Before they arrived, the area flooded and water came up against the property’s retention wall.
When Bishop learned of this, she says she asked one critical question of the property owner: Is the pickleball court OK?
Pickleball Injuries May Cost Americans Nearly $400 Million This Year, According To UBS
More Physical Activity Is A Good Thing Right?
Earlier this month, shares of big health insurance companies fell after UnitedHealth Group Inc. warned that healthcare utilization rates were up. At a conference the company had said that it was seeing a higher-than-expected pace of hip replacements, knee surgeries and other elective procedures.
In a new note out Monday, UBS Group AG analysts led by Andrew Mok offer a surprising theory about one factor that could be driving a higher pace of injuries: pickleball.
As everyone knows, the racket game has become a booming (and sometimes controversial) sport and business. And per UBS, not only are “Picklers” competing with the public for use of park and court space, they’re also driving up healthcare capacity utilization and costs.
The firm estimates between $250-500 million in costs attributable to pickle injuries in 2023.
So How Does It Arrive At This Number?
First, it establishes that growth has been absolutely mammoth, with huge and accelerating numbers of participants. This year is expected to see a 150% jump in players, to 22.3 million.
Of this 22.3 million, UBS estimates that seniors make about a third of “core players” or those who play it at least eight times a year. Pickleball players also have incomes that tend to skew high (with almost half having income of over $100K per year.)
So how do they get to a cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars?
The analysts cite a 2021 study titled Non-fatal senior pickleball and tennis-related injuries treated in United States emergency departments, 2010-2019 by Harold Weiss, Jacob Dougherty and Charles DiMaggio.
They also looked at a 2020 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine titled Pickleball-Related Injuries Treated in Emergency Departments by Mathias B. Forrester.
They arrive at the conclusion that pickleball players go to emergency departments at a rate of about 0.27%, with the majority of injuries occurring among those 60 years or older. Not surprisingly, the most common injuries are strains, sprains, and fractures, with the wrest and lower leg the areas most likely to be injured.
As can be seen in the 2021 study, injuries across age groups were already exploding even before the surge of the last two years.
As For The Ultimate Math UBS Writes:
First, we forecast 150% growth in pickleball players for 2023 or about 22 mn players. On volumes, we estimate the following: 1) total ED visits and hospitalizations informed by Weiss’ findings; 2) total outpatient visits and outpatient surgeries based on ED to outpatient care ratios from the American Hospital Association; and 3) post-acute episodes based on 1.5 30-day episodes per outpatient surgery and hospitalization.
In total, we estimate 67k ED visits, 366k outpatient visits, 8.8k outpatient surgeries, 4.7k hospitalizations, and 20k post-acute episodes. We then use the nature of pickleball injuries and care setting to inform our estimates of unit pricing.
All said, we estimate $377 mn of medical costs related to pickleball of which $302 mn (80%) is attributable to the outpatient setting and $75 mn (20%) is attributable to the inpatient setting.
While more activity is generally seen as good and healthy, the analysts offer a somewhat depressing conclusion: “While we generally think of exercise as positively impacting health outcomes, the “can-do” attitude of today’s seniors can pose greater risk in other areas such as sports injuries, leading to a greater number of orthopedic procedures.”