Pickleball continues to spread into the US mainstream. Last month, the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) announced a deal with CBS to broadcast over 30 hours of its 2023 season across the network’s properties. The sport’s growth trajectory remains unwavering: According to Forrester’s April 2023 Consumer Pulse Survey, 13% of US online adults currently play pickleball (5% started playing prior to 2022, 4% more in 2022, and another 4% joined the sport in 2023). Additionally, a whopping 17% more indicated that they want to try pickleball for the first time this year. And, yes, it’s that latter number that has investors, media companies, and brands front-footed.

Pickleball’s Accessibility Gives It Universal Appeal

Ben Johns, the top-ranked pickleball player in the world, says that pickleball is “very easy to pick up and have fun on the first day.” The sport’s accessibility transcends demographics. While pickleball players (across all US online adults) currently skew male (17%) versus female (9%), intent to try it out this year gets closer to parity (18% versus 16%, respectively). And in a rare moment of unity amid our culture wars, exactly the same percentage of conservatives and liberals already play (15%) or want to play (16%) pickleball in 2023.

Gen Z “Dinks” More Than Any Other Generation

While public perception stereotypes pickleball as a retirement community activity, the opposite is true. The sport is most popular among Gen Z, thanks in part to organizations such as Major League Pickleball entering the market — backed by high-profile athletes, celebrities, and influencers. In fact, 19% of US Gen Z online adults and 15% of Millennials are already playing pickleball compared to 12% of Gen X and 7% of Boomers. And there’s lots of runway left to onboard Gen Z as the future of the sport: An additional 15% want to start playing this year, and 45% have never heard of pickleball — far more than any other generation. This means that increasing awareness of the sport is key.

Mainstream Brands Eye Sponsorships And Partnerships

Marketing opportunities are helping to fuel pickleball’s growth by creating more awareness and pumping money into the sport. Brands getting in on the ground floor have a first-mover advantage. For example, Skechers is the official footwear of the Carvana PPA Tour, inking endorsement deals with top pros Tyson McGuffin and Catherine Parenteau. Anheuser-Busch bought a Major League Pickleball team for the 2023 season, and Walmart partnered with Break the Love on a program that includes comped court reservations for its customers.

Research Kickoff: B2C Marketing Meets Pickleball
This blog post kicks off a research project in which I’ll dive deep into the opportunities, watch-outs, and best practices for B2C brands looking to align themselves with America’s fastest-growing sport. I’ll be interviewing brands, leagues, platforms, properties, creators, and pros. This report will help B2C marketing executives get the most return from their pickleball (and broader sports) marketing sponsorships. It’ll publish in Q4.