Urban Culture // 10/05/2023

Pickleball’s Potential – from garden game fun to a billion dollar industry

Image credit: Lesli Whitecotton/unsplash
Louisa Smith
Louisa Smith

If you are in a pickle, take up a pickleball racket, and have a game, you’ll realize why the popularity of this racket sport is growing. It is officially the fastest-growing sport that is taking the world and the sports industry by storm. It is an inclusive approach to a racket game, not dependent on age or gender or a high level of agility and strength.

The pickleball phenomenon is down to inclusivity, fun, and accessibility and it is pulling in the crowds, the result of a great workout as you move around the court, inside or outside. So much so is the speed if picket ball growing, there is even a world pickleball day, so make a note in your diary for October 10.

Pickleball’s DNA

Invented in 1965 just outside Seattle on Bainbridge Island by three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, decided to create some summertime fun for their kids, using mismatched equipment they had to hand. The racket sport is inspired by a combination of tennis, badminton, and table tennis, requiring a rigid plastic perforated ball. The name pickleball is said to have originated later, derived from the sport of rowing. There, the boat in which those athletes end up who otherwise could not get a place is called a pickle boat.

Having more than 4.8 million participants in the US, and a growth of 39.3% over the last two years, pickleball was officially announced as the fastest-growing sport in America for the second year in a row, according to The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2022 Sports, Fitness, and Leisure Activites Topline Participation Report.

It isn’t just the US it is growing, but globally, a direct result of the COVID lockdown, as it was a sporting activity that you could socially distance with. Continuing to grow, with the UK and China fast becoming passionate about the game, clubs are springing up in over 60 countries.

Court Dimensions

pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court and measures 20×44 feet. In pickleball, the same court is used for both singles and doubles play. The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. The court is striped similar to a tennis court with right and left service courts and a 7-foot non-volley zone in front of the net. Courts can be constructed specifically for pickleball or they can be converted using existing tennis or badminton courts.

With low-level difficulty, the sound and feel of hitting the hard plastic ball is a feel-good stress-busting factor. It is inclusive, encouraging competition, movement, and stress release, but also friendship and social aspects as pickleball clubs are being invested in globally.

Verified Market Research has calculated the global pickleball equipment market size was valued at USD 518.98 Million (€485.18 million) in 2022 and is projected to reach USD 1.06 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 9.52% from 2024 to 2030.

Lightweight Performance Pickleball - a particularly lightweight racket

Athleisure’s new direction

Pickleball isn’t just a sport it is a lifestyle, and this is where we are seeing heritage sports brands, Adidas and Fila to name a few, that have delivered to the traditional racket market, including tennis, extend their collection. At the same time, a new breed of brands is emerging from the pickleball phenomenon. 

Whilst it is the fastest-growing sport in the US, it has now gathered speed in China, looking set to be a surefire hit for the future. Chinese-based brands have responded to the uptake of this racket sport, with LiNing and Anna Sui just two established sports brands to create collections.

So what is pickleball attire? Like the game, the apparel pulls from the tennis and racket sport sector, but with a twist. There is a stronger design impact in terms of colors and prints, pulling from the activewear/gym sector than the traditional tennis white.

Lightweight, moisture management, and anti-odor fabrics dominate. Prints are a must, adding a frisson of fun to this area, plus pushing a new direction for athleisure – these pieces are good to go in city street as they are on the court – just like the yoga legging that spawned the whole athleisure movement. It isn’t just the established sports brands delivering on kit, US-based fashion designer Norma Kamali launched a ‘pickleball dress’ that sold out, one that would take you from pickleball to a glass of post-play prosecco. 

Skorts (skirts with integrated shorts) feature, as does the ‘pickleball dress’, a term that is likely to come as synonymous as the ‘little black dress’ (LBD) in the fashion world. Crew neck T’s and shorts – again casual attire that crosses boundaries. Graphics and slogans feature, with brands purely pushing the pickleball mood.

Other than tennis white - exciting colors and prints are at the start of the pickleball

Pro league pickleball

Whilst it has enticed a massive following of players, as with all sports there is a pro league. What is interesting is the investors involved, giving a heads-up to the potential of pro play. 

Last year NBA stars including Kevin Durant and Draymond Green all invested in pickleball teams. Retired NFL stars like Tom Brady and Drew Brees also announced they had bought into their own squads. This investment will be instrumental in taking the pro-pickball league to a new level.

Pickleball court to feature at ISPO in November

As it is the fastest growing sport, and with no Olympic recognition as yet, at the pace it is going, maybe pickleball will hit 2030. But, don’t wait until then, check out the skills of pickleball at ISPO! Rackets at the ready, the pickleball court can be found at ISPO Munich 2023, in Hall B3 – but don’t get ‘pickled’, that is this sports term for the players scoring 0 points!

Share article
Louisa Smith
Louisa Smith
Topics in this article