Pickled

From Lebron to Drew Brees, MVPs are investing in pickleball as it becomes an American phenom

Thursday, September 29, 2022 by Robinhood Snacks |

Hide your tennis courts… Pickleball — a mix of badminton, ping-pong, and tennis — has become the fastest-growing sport in the US with nearly 5M players. Now, MVPs want a swing at the pickle pie. Yesterday, the MLP (Major League Pickleball) announced that NBA legend Lebron James joined its investor ranks.

  • The backers: In July, Super Bowl champ Drew Brees became one of the first big sports figures to invest in MLP. Now, the league plans to grow from 12 to 16 teams across six US cities next year.
  • Match point: Next month, the league’s season-ending tournament will have a $319K purse — the largest in pickleball history.

Game, set, match… Pickleball gained popularity during the pandemic as people looked for socially distant group activities. Since it requires less stamina (and formal training) than tennis or b-ball, it’s easier to pick up. Now, pickleball has 10K designated courts in the US, with three new ones opening each day.

  • Sour pickle: Pickleball matches can draw large crowds and take over public tennis and basketball courts for hours, causing friction (and even lawsuits) between players and nearby residents.
  • Fit pickle: Gyms like Life Time Fitness have expanded their pickleball offerings to 120+ locations.
  • Camp pickle: Some investors are building out chains like pickleball-themed restaurants with indoor and outdoor courts.
THE TAKEAWAY

The pickle jar is far from full… Thanks to leagues like the MLP and investors like Lebron, pickleball is gaining corporate attention. Pickleball tourneys have attracted sponsorships from brands like DraftKings, Hertz, and Chase. MLP’s founder said MVP investments would help the league reach its goal of 40M players by 2030. If momentum sticks, we could see a pickle-conomy emerge (think: merch, sponsors).