Courtside Chatter

There is certainly no shortage of pickleball in the news recently — and that bodes well for business. We round up the latest pickleball happenings.

Grammy Award winning rapper Drake and “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan are among the new investors in Major League Pickleball’s Brooklyn Aces. Drake, Jordan and Translation CEO Steve Stoute are among the new backers for the franchise, which is owned by Phoenix Suns star Kevin Durant and his business manager, Rich Kleiman. The musician and actor join a growing roster of high-profile pickleball investors from sports and entertainment that includes none other than LeBron James, Heidi Klum, Tom Brady, Eva Longoria, Michael Phelps, Patrick Mahomes, Kate Upton and Mark Cuban.

To celebrate National Pickleball Day last August 8, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled the first pickleball bobbleheads. One bobblehead features Kitchen the Pickleball Mascot, and the other is a Pickleball Bobble, the newest addition to the Sports Ball Bobble Series. The two limited-edition models, slated to ship in November, will each be individually numbered to 2023 and will only be available through the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum’s online store.

Indoor pickleball facility operator Ace Pickleball Club plans to expand with more than 50 U.S. franchises, including Albany, NY; Detroit/Ann Arbor, MI; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Fort Wayne, IN (opening Winter 2023); Harrisburg, PA; Jacksonville, Orlando and Palm Beach, FL; Orange County, CA; Phoenix, AZ; and Voorhees, NJ. The company, which claims to be the fastest-growing pickleball franchise, launched its franchising operations this past February with one location open in Roswell, GA, another under construction in Fort Wayne, IN, and more than a dozen others in development. The business anticipates opening at least five new clubs by the end of 2023 and 40-plus locations by the end of 2024. The facilities host clinics, leagues, camps and tournaments and offer free Pickleball 101 clinics.

Franklin Sports recently signed a three-year deal with Pickleball Australia, becoming the official ball sponsor of the organization. As part of the agreement, Franklin’s signature X-40 and X-26 balls have become the Official Balls of Pickleball Australia and the two will focus on growth initiatives for the sport.

Meanwhile, in the Northern Hemisphere, Franklin Sports also inked a five-year deal with Pickleball Canada in which Franklin’s signature X-40 and X-36 balls, as well as a wide assortment of paddles, become the Official Balls and Paddle of the organization. The crux of the partnership will feature an organic approach with onsite Franklin branding and activations at Pickleball Canada’s Regional and National Championships.

K-Swiss has partnered with professional pickleball player, commentator and coach Matt Manasse. The multi-year apparel and footwear deal is part of the brand’s strategy to further invest in pickleball. Manasse also serves as chief ambassador and investor at Crush Yard, a national pickleball “eat-ertainment” venue slated to launch in Charleston, SC, this fall. K-Swiss will be the official shoe partner of Crush Yard.

Pickleball has become a popular new amenity in community associations. A recent Snap survey conducted by the Community Associations Institute Foundation for Community Association Research found that 77 percent of respondents said that pickleball courts in their communities were in “Moderate” or “High” demand. Out of nearly 700 respondents representing at least 10,000 associations in 38 states and five countries, 36 percent described the usage rate of their local pickleball courts as “High,” 40 percent as “Moderate,” and 24 percent as “Very Low” or “Low.” Thirty-one percent reported their communities have dedicated pickleball courts, 37 percent use tennis courts for pickleball, 26 percent had no pickleball courts, eight percent are in the process of building or approving new courts and seven percent are in discussions about adding courts. About 36 percent see a high demand for courts all the time and nearly 40 percent see spikes on weekends and evenings.

Skechers, in partnership with Pickleball England, has been named the Official Footwear Sponsor of the 2023 English Open and English Nationals Pickleball Tournaments. Last year, Skechers signed its first two elite pickleball athletes in the U.S. and Canada – Tyson McGuffin and Catherine Parenteau – who compete wearing Skechers pickleball footwear and branded apparel.

A new app called PickleMyPhone gives pickleball enthusiasts Rally Ringtones with different music beds and dozens of pickleball-papers to experience the fun of the game off the court. The app, designed for Android and iPhone, is available on Google Play and the App Store.  

The Association of Pickleball Players (APP) agreed to make Universal Tennis, the creator behind the UTR Rating for tennis, its official ratings partner. Universal Tennis recently adapted its rating algorithm and event management software for pickleball and launched the UTR Pickleball Rating (UTRP) to rate players on a scale of P1 (beginner), P2 (intermediate), P3 (advanced) or P4 (expert/professional).

Pickleball injuries could cost Americans from $250 million to $500 million in medical expenses in 2023 tied to higher injury rates, especially among seniors, according to a report from investment bank UBS. The financial services firm estimated that $377 million of medical expenses this year will stem from playing pickleball, with roughly 80 percent, or $302 million, of the total relating to outpatient treatment in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. UBS cited a 2021 study published by the National Library of Medicine that focused on pickleball players ages 60 and older. The research found that 21.5 percent of players experienced “non-injuries” such as cardiovascular events. Injuries such as sprains were suffered by 33.2 percent of picklers, followed by fractures (28.1 percent) and contusions (10.6 percent), with wrists and lower legs at the most risk of being hurt. USB also explored a 2020 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine which found that picklers ages 50 and older accounted for 90.9 percent of patients treated for pickleball-induced injuries.