Pickleball is the ultimate crossover sport. Athletes from all backgrounds—whether it is tennis, golf, basketball, baseball, softball, football, etc.—can re-energize their competitive spirit on the pickleball court. Even folks with no athletic background can find success (and a great workout) through pickleball. This may be why a flurry of celebrity athletes are getting involved in pickleball. For instance:
- Celebrity athletes are buying ownership stakes in Major League Pickleball teams. These include:
- Basketball Stars: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Devin Booker, Jeremy Lin, and Dirk Nowitzki
- Tennis Stars: Kim Clijsters, Naomi Osaka, Nick Kyrgios, James Blake, Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport, and John Isner
- Football Stars: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Patrick Mahomes
- Celebrity athletes are getting out on the pickleball court and competing with the top pickleball pros at various PPA Tour and Major League Pickleball events, as:
- Scottie Sheffield, Jordan Speith, John Isner, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tony Romo participated in a celebrity pickleball exhibition on the PPA Tour.
- Four top tennis talents in Sam Querrey, John Isner, Donald Young, and Jack Sock captained teams of pickleball players at the PPA Team Championships (with Sam Querrey winning it all). Further, Sam Querrey was drafted as the #1 draft pick in the second-tiered Challenger Level of Major League Pickleball, so Querrey will be competing in the league for the 2023 season.
- Other celebrity athletes, like Rob Gronkowski, Michael Phelps, Larry Fitzgerald, and Sergio Garcia, also participated in various pickleball exhibitions across the tours and leagues.
- Celebrity athletes—from professional golfers like Phil Mickelson and Amy Olson, to Pittsburgh Steelers footballer TJ Watt, to F1 racing driver Carlos Sainz—have taken up recreational pickleball play. Even Serena Williams has confessed that she loves pickleball during an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
This trend of pickleball being a crossover sport bodes well for pickleball’s goal of having 40 million players by the year 2030. But, it is not just for celebrity athletes, it is for all active (or aspiring active) people. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), in 2021 (which is the latest data to date), the total number of people that participated in sports and/or fitness in the United States reached 232.6 million. These are all potential crossover athletes for the sport of pickleball.
Further, one interesting trend amongst the celebrity athletes jumping into pickleball is that there is a heavy theme of three sports:
This is hopefully a leading indicator of recreational players from those three sports to follow these celebrity athletes into pickleball. This is because these three sports have the highest participatory rate of any other sport. As of 2021, tennis had 22.6 million players, golf had 25.1 million players, and basketball had 27.1 million players. While, as of 2021, pickleball had 4.8 million players (although many think that the current number is substantially higher and one study by YouGov concluded that pickleball was played by 36.5 million people between August 2021 and August 2022). See the charts by the SFIA below for a visual representation:
Due to the ease of crossover into pickleball, pickleball has immense potential to increase participants from just these three sports of tennis, golf, and basketball. And, this may be exactly what the pickleball playmakers (e.g., Major League Pickleball and DUPR founder Steve Kuhn) is hoping for. This push for tennis, golf, and basketball crossover could be an intentional decision to grow the sport of pickleball to 40 million players by 2030—which would be quite the feat, as 40 million is about double the individual participation of those sports (according to the SFIA).