Two men playing pickle ball.
Seth McConnell | Denver Post | Getty Images
About eight years ago, when brothers Rob Barnes, then 19, and Mike Barnes, then 21, founded a pickle ball racket maker, they encountered many skeptical looks.
“We mentioned the word ‘pickle ball’ – people were saying, ‘What is this? “No one knew about the sport at the time, but now when we talk about pickle ball, almost everyone has heard about it and wants to try it out,” said Mike Barnes..
Eccentric and nondescript, the name of this sport might recall the image of a slow-motion game played by Florida retirees. But racquet sports – a mixture of tennis, badminton and table tennis – is now the fastest growing sport in America and is attracting huge interest and financial investment.
“It’s really easy to learn,” said Rob Barnes. “With pickle ball, you can go in there with your grandparents, your parents, be on different levels, and still really enjoy the game. So we think that contributes to this huge growth and this addiction that people have with this sport.”
Today, the two brothers from Idaho serve as co-CEOs of Selkirk, a manufacturer of new sports equipment. They recently signed a deal with a high-volume retailer costco To sell their equipment all over the country.
“It’s really exciting to see them invest in the sport,” said Rob Barnes.
Pickleball boasted 4.8 million players last year in the United States, with an participation rate of 39.3% since 2019, according to the Association of the Sports and Fitness Industry. 2022 Topline Participation Report. From 2020 to 2021, the fastest growth was among young players; Participation among 6- to 17-year-olds and 18-24-year-olds each increased by 21%.
It’s hard to miss this new madness. Tennis courts across the country are being converted into pickle ball courts. The “pop” sound that a pickle ball makes when it hits a paddle is division of cities And driving non-players crazy. Major broadcast networks such as CBS, Fox Sports, and Tennis Channel are now broadcasting pickleball matches. Retailers like Skechers They also sign baseball athletes to represent their brands.
Financially, professional baseball has expanded across the country and is attracting big names. Co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks Mark Lasry and a businessman Gary Vaynerchuk Both have made investments in the Pickle Ball League. Also buys private equity at: Carolina Hurricanes owner and private equity investor Tom Dondon It recently bought the Pro Pickleball Association and Pickleball Central.
Talking about his investment in sports in 2021, Lasry In an interview with the Sports Business Journal,: “I think you’ll be shocked [by] Where it is five years from now.”
Then there are the players – former athletes from other sports like tennis Andre Agassibillionaires like Melinda Gates And celebrities like Ellen DeGeneresLeonardo DiCaprio and Kardashians They all call themselves pickle ball players.
For many, playing pickle ball during a pandemic offers a way to get some fresh air and meet people in a new community at a time when it was difficult to do so. Sports attract people of all ages and sports backgrounds. (In fact, the champion of the club I play for is 75 years old and he reminds me daily how much work I still have to do.)
According to statistics provided by SFIA and USA Pickleball, about 60% of pickleball participants are men, but female players are accessing the sport at a faster rate. The average age of players continues to drop, to 38.1 years last year from 41 years in 2020.
Tyson McGuffin, one of the best basketball players in the world, sponsored by Selkirk
Its sudden popularity led to a surge in sales in Picklepool Center, the largest pickle retailer in the United States, which reports a 30%-40% increase in unit sales year-to-date. Barnes-owned Selkirk is on track to sell more than 1 million rackets by the end of 2023. Co-CEOs said the company has tripled in size since 2020.
“The epidemic was too good for the pickle water,” Mike Barnes said. “Across the industry, nets sold out, and paddles, especially new ones, moved on very quickly and we’ve seen continued growth since then.”
A pickle ball wave also drifted on foreign shores.
Terri Graham, co-founder of Mento Team US Open 2022In the early days of the sport, he saw a job opportunity. In 2015, she and her business partner, Chris Yvonne, quit their jobs at Wilson Sporting Goods, where they had been working for nearly two decades.
“I realized it was going to be this huge explosion [with pickleball]”So we just decided to go in,” she said.
Together, they branded the “US Open Pickleball” and started what they call “the world’s largest pickle ball tournament and party” in Naples, Florida. In the process, they helped convert East Naples Community Park into the 64 playground of Mecca.
This year’s tournament kicks off on Friday, with competition scheduled to start on Sunday and run for nearly an entire week. Nearly 3,000 players – amateur and professional, ages 8 to 87 – will compete for $100,000 in prize money.
The tournament will be broadcast on CBS Sports in front of an estimated 25,000 spectators. Graham says the tournament now has more than 40 sponsors and contributes more than $9 million to the local economy in Naples, with people traveling to the event from all over the world.
“Getting into the blackball was the best professional step we’ve taken in our lives so far,” Graham said.
Life Time’s cutting edge health club suite, with over 160 locations in 41 markets, adds playgrounds and also goes into the ground floor of play.
life times Founder and CEO Bahram Akradi said that since October the company has added 84 permanent courts in 30 clubs. Last month, he said, 7,000 players chose the sport in Life Time clubs, an increase of 1,100% year over year.
Akrady says he plays pickle ball daily (adding that he’s lost 10 to 15 pounds in the process) and that he’s planning big investments in the sport for the company he founded nearly 30 years ago.
“I love this sport because it’s the first sport I’ve seen that brings all of America together. It’s very accessible and easy to learn,” he said.
Health clubs have a partnership with Professional Pickle Ball Association to hold tournaments. In February, Life Time hosted more than 700 players at its Minnesota facility.
But Akrady says he’s only just getting started.
“By the end of next year, our plan is to offer 600 to 700 doggie playgrounds across the country. So a Life Time member can participate in events even if they are traveling,” he said, adding that the company will invest $50 million in $75 million and create additional courts. by the end of the year.
“In my 40 years of fitness, I’ve seen all kinds of things come and go — get the momentum and then lose it,” he said. “This sport, do not see [that happening]. It is easier and more spacious. It brings people together, and there’s really no reason why people shouldn’t do that.”
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