Pickleball has exploded in popularity among all age groups — including a who’s-who of celebrities such as Bill Gates, Leonardo diCaprio, George Clooney, and legendary NFL quarterback Drew Brees.
Brees, who has long played the game and is now a part-owner of the Mad Drops Club of Major League Pickleball, described the sport as "a combination between tennis and ping-pong. It's a fast-paced game."
"It's really more of a game about patience than it is about power," Brees said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). "Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way. I thought initially I could just go on the court and overpower people because I was a tennis player growing up and that's how I used to beat people. But at the end of the day, I went out there with a couple of 75-year-olds and got my butt kicked because they could just outpatient me and then put me away."
While many assume pickleball is a game for older athletes, the statistics paint a different picture. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2022 Pickleball Report, one-third of all players are under the age of 25, while 17% of players are over the age of 65.
"It’s a game that’s so inclusive, you can take four people from any walk of life, any skill set, any athletic background and just combine them on a pickleball court, and they can have a fun time together," Brees said.
'More like 8 million players today'
Even though it's been around since the 1960s, Pickleball has quickly become one of the fastest-growing sports in America.
According to USA Pickleball, pickleball grew 39% to 4.8 million players in 2021.
Anne Worcester, strategic advisor for Major League Pickleball (MLP), said those numbers may be only a fraction of the real total.
“Experts who are closer to the ball sales and Google searches think it’s more like 8 million players today," Worcester said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above).
A 30% increase from there would mean 40 million players in the game by 2030. "We're calling it the '40 by 30' campaign," Worcester said. "Our chairman, Steve Kuhn has challenged us to get to 40 million pickleball players by 2030, and we’re well on our way."
The growth of the game is also translating to the MLP’s bottom line. According to Worcester, the league can "barely keep up" with interest in corporate sponsorship and additional investments.
Established in 2021, Major League Pickleball has expanded to 12 teams. Last weekend, the league held a tournament in Newport Beach, California, with a total purse of $300,000 — $100,000 going to the winning team.
Beyond the prize money, Brees said, another asset to MLP is that there are co-ed playing opportunities.
"Mixed doubles is one of the most popular aspects to the sport, and something husbands and wives can play together, and really just brings families together," he said.
Worcester echoed that sentiment, stressing that the league is "all about equality."
"Men and women are on the same court playing at the same time," she said. "Equal court time. Equal prize money. They play gender doubles, then they play mixed doubles, and if there's a tie and it goes to what we call a dream breaker, men and women play singles against each other. And because the co-ed teams are set up so equitably in our very innovative snake draft, 50% of matches go to this very exciting dream breaker, which winds up in chest bumping and fist pumping and all kinds of palpable energy for the fans."
Dave is an anchor for Yahoo Finance Live.