Pickleball 101

Five things team dealers should know about the sport that might help them find some new business.

There’s an oddly named new sport in town and while today it is still mostly the realm of older folks looking for a lower impact version of tennis for a good workout, it is increasingly being played in clubs and schools across America. Yes, pickleball has arrived and team dealers just might want to make sure they know a little bit about it. Here’s are answers to five burning questions about pickleball.

1. What is it?

The sport of pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong on courts that are 22 by 44 feet. Four pickleball courts fit on the average tennis court. The scoring in pickleball starts at one and finishes at 11. The sport was actually invented in the mid-1960s as a sport for children played in the backyard.

2. What’s with the name?

The game is named after Pickles, the dog of one of the sport’s founders.

3. Participation is growing fast.

According to the SFIA, participation in pickleball has increased every year since 2014, the first year that participation was tracked. In 2014, there were 2.5 million pickleball players in the U.S. By 2018, that number had risen to 3.3 million. Participation in the sport is expected to rise in 2019, as well. The endeavor is a favorite among the senior set and is now expanding rapidly into younger age groups as well. Given that 70- to 84-year olds will represent the nation’s largest demographic group by 2028 due to the aging of Baby Boomers, the number of players should continue rising in the U.S. The Sunbelt states of Florida, Arizona, California and Texas are hotbeds for the activity, but there are also major pickleball pods in communities in Michigan and Wisconsin. Once upon a time, idle tennis courts in communities were converted to skate parks. But more often today they are becoming pickleball playgrounds.

Pickleball has arrived and team dealers just might want to make sure they know a little bit about it.

4. Equipment 101:

Paddle, ball, footwear and apparel. A pickleball paddle is smaller than a tennis racquet but larger than a table-tennis paddle. Today’s paddles are made from several materials, including wood, graphite and aluminum. Wood paddles in the $20 range are at the low-end, with lightweight graphite paddles at $100-plus are on the premium end. The ball is similar to a whiffle ball — pickleballs are lightweight with holes. As far as shoes and clothing, it is similar to tennis, with no real dress code for most pickleball matches. Fila is betting on the sport with a new footwear collection targeted to pickleball players. In general, comfortable tennis shoes are the go-to shoes for pickleball players.

5. It’s a retail opportunity.

Beyond the pickleball retail specialists such as Pickleball, Inc. and Pickleball Central, sporting goods retail big dogs such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy Sports + Outdoors and Play It Again Sports have all embraced the pickleball category. With equipment prices at affordable and wide price ranges (under $10 ball packages to $100-plus paddles) and an expanding player demographic, the pickleball retail opportunity has plenty of green grass ahead of it.

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