Pickleball is not new in the world of celebrity. Bill Gates noted in a recent video that he has been playing for 50 years with his family, the Bush family (including former President Bush) has been playing for years, and the sport was featured on a reality TV show in 2016 (E!’s Just Jillian) and on Keeping Up with the Kardashians in 2019. However, like the rest of the pickleball-playing population, the number of celebrities playing pickleball has grown… substantially.
In the last month alone (since the beginning of September 2022):
- NBA superstar LeBron James, along with fellow NBA stars Draymond Green and Kevin Love, purchased ownership in a Major League Pickleball expansion team.
- 7-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady joined 4-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters, in purchasing another Major League Pickleball expansion team together. This new expansion team has equal male-to-female ownership, which speaks to the equality of the sport of pickleball. In response to this new ownership group, original Major League Pickleball team owner, James Blake (owner of the Lions), noted that he “started as the best athlete of the owners. Then, [Drew Brees (who is a Mad Drops Pickleball Club owner)] came along. But at least I stayed the best tennis player. Now I’ve got nothing.”
- From ownership to getting on the court to play, five sport celebrities—(1) 7-foot tall NBA champion Dirk Nowitzki, (2) tennis star John Isner, (3) current #1 PGA Tour men’s golfer Scottie Scheffler, (4) 3-time Major winner and former #1 PGA Tour golfer Jordan Spieth, and (5) former NFL quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo—jumped on the pickleball court to put on a celebrity event for the PPA Tour. This was the second PPA Tour celebrity event, as they previously held an event featuring NFL player Larry Fitzgerald and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. However, this event was slightly different, as it pitted the all-star athletes against each other before pairing any with the pro pickleball players themselves. This fueled some fun on-court banter (for instance, Isner asking the PGA golfers if they were more nervous playing pickleball against him and Nowitzki than “putting for the green jacket”), which is relatable to any recreational pickleball player.
- Country pop star Maren Morris declared that “Pickleball is life” on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
- CBS announced that it will debut “Pickled” on Thursday, November 17th at 9:00 pm ET, which is a two-hour pickleball tournament hosted by Stephen Colbert that features 16 celebrities competing for the Colbert Cup. The 16 celebrities on “Pickled” include: Jimmie Allen, Murray Bartlett, Dierks Bentley, Jaime Camil, Will Ferrell, Max Greenfield, Luis Guzman, Phil Keoghan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tig Notaro, June Diane Raphael, Kelly Rowland, Paul Scheer, Aisha Tyler, and Emma Watson.
“PICKLED” premieres November 17th on @CBS. It’s the biggest celebrity pickleball tournament ever. Also, the only celebrity pickleball tournament ever. pic.twitter.com/iBx1CQjTdh— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) October 12, 2022
Why Are Celebrities Investing and Coming into Pickleball?
What is driving the massive influx of celebrity into the sport of pickleball? Maybe there are bigger forces at work—like what Gawker called “Big Pickleball” in early 2022. However, more likely, it is celebrities are picking up on the what many across the nation already know, which is that pickleball is a highly accessible, highly addictive sport that is just plain fun. Pickleball is the great equalizer as it allows players of all ages, demographics, sizes, backgrounds, etc. to get on a pickleball court to play together.
Plus, from a celebrity athlete standpoint (which many of the recent news revolves around current and former celebrity athletes), it furthers their love of and passion for sports in general and gives the sporting celebrities another chance at competition (as either a player on the court or as an owner of a team).
And, as an investor (like LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kim Clijsters, and others), these celebrities are keyed in the high growth potential of pickleball. These investors have a chance to get in on what could be the ground floor of a high-growth venture in Major League Pickleball. This is particularly true in light of Major League Pickleball’s goal to reach 40 million pickleball players by 2030, which would be about 8 times the latest numbers from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (which noted that there are 4.8 million players as of 2021).
Bottom line – Celebrities believe in the sport of pickleball, know how fun it is to play, see the growth potential, and maybe even believe that the answer to The New Yorker’s posed question, “Can Pickleball Save America?” is a resounding yes.
How Will Celebrities Affect Pickleball?
The power of celebrity is no secret. Celebrities have massive followings that enable them to (1) bring light to certain issues, and (2) influence decisions (e.g., market products and services). This same power and influence are now being used in connection with the sport of pickleball. These celebrities are bringing eyeballs, exposure, and interest to pickleball. In fact, with all of the news in the last month alone, the eyeballs and reach likely hit the billions.
Commissioner of the PPA Tour Connor Pardoe recently noted that, “We’re going to see way more growth in the next 3 years than what we’ve seen in the previous 3 years.” With all of this celebrity, Pardoe’s claim will likely be a massive understatement, particularly because more and more individuals and entities will want to be a part of pickleball and its exciting growth (especially because of all of the names that are already involved).
With high growth, though, will come unique challenges that hopefully these celebrities can also help tackle, which include (i) retaining the culture that is so unique to pickleball as it continues to grow on what could be an accelerated timeline; and (ii) finding new court space or creating new pickleball courts in order to meet the new demand to play.