Is pickleball becoming the new national pastime? The sport, often described as a combination of tennis and ping-pong, has been surging in popularity. Nearly 4.2 million Americans played the game in 2020, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reports, which was an increase of 21.3% over the prior year alone. But recent events suggest there’s still room for considerably more growth.
Consider this: NBA greats LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love just joined an ownership group buying an expansion team in Major League Pickleball (yes, there’s a professional pickleball league, founded in 2021). A pair of pickleball enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are also planning to open a major pickleball facility in New York City next year, replete with dining and drinking options (they say tacos and margaritas might be on the menu). There’s now even talk of making pickleball an Olympic sport.
LeBron James is part of the ownership group behind a new team in Major League Pickleball.
Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
“The potential market for pickleball is enormous,” said Erica Desai, one of the co-founders of CityPickle, the company that plans to open the New York City facility, featuring four indoor courts and a full bar and restaurant, in early 2023. And that’s just the start: Desai and her co-founder Mary Cannon have plans to open as many as four more New York City facilities within the next two years, and are considering locations elsewhere in the Northeast. In the meanwhile, they are setting up a temporary playing facility at New York’s $25 billion Hudson Yards megadevelopment during October. Meanwhile, Major League Pickleball has what it calls “an aggressive growth plan” in place that includes the new team that is owned in part by James’ LRMR Ventures firm. The plan calls for expanding from 12 to 16 teams, and offering tournaments across six U.S. cities in 2023. In a statement, Major League Pickleball founder called the addition of James and his partners “a watershed moment for pickleball in general.” Jason Stein, managing partner of SC Holdings, an investment firm that is joining James as part of the team ownership, summed up the pickleball phenomenon thusly: “People are obsessed with the game.” (Major League Pickleball executives and James didn’t immediately respond to MarketWatch requests for additional comment.)