Pickleball has been one of the fastest-growing sports in the world for the past several years. However, some experts have questioned if pickleball can maintain its growth over the long term. Recent pickleball trends suggest that the popularity of the sport is still going strong.
2023 Pickleball Trends
The global pickleball market was worth over $1.3 billion in 2022. Market reports based on recent pickleball statistics project the market to reach a value of over $2.3 billion by 2028. A variety of factors are driving this sustained growth.
About 14% of American adults played pickleball at least one time in 2022 and about 8.5 million people played eight times or more. Of the approximately 36.5 million people who played pickleball in 2022, 45% said they expect to play more frequently in the next six months than they did in the previous six months, demonstrating that pickleball popularity is still growing.
USA Pickleball reported its membership, which reached 70,000 players in February of 2023, increased by 30% in 2022. This sustained growth prompted the Sports & Fitness Industry Association to name pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America for the third straight year in its 2023 Topline Participation Report.
One of the most promising pickleball trends for the future of the professional sport is the increase in prize money. In 2022, the Professional Pickleball Association, Association of Pickleball Professionals, and Major League Pickleball paid out a total of about $5 million in prize money across the three leagues’ various tournaments.
In 2023, the Carvana PPA Tour is offering $5.5 million in prize money across its 25 events, which is an 83% increase compared to 2022. The tour also plans to offer additional payouts throughout the season.
While the PPA is offering the largest single-season payout in the history of the sport, its rival leagues are not resting on their laurels. MLP will hand out $5 million in prize money across its six events in 2023. The APP has not released its 2023 numbers yet, but it will likely need to keep pace with the other top leagues to continue to attract high-level players.
Higher player earnings are another of the most promising pickleball trends for 2023. Professional pickleball players earn their income through a combination of sponsorship deals and prize money and by teaching people to play pickleball. The PPA says that its pros earned about $96,000 on average in 2022 with some of the top players earning over $200,000.
The PPA estimates that players could earn about 63.9% more in 2023. In addition to the bigger potential for prize money, as the sport becomes more popular and athletes become more valuable as influencers, players should see a bump in their sponsorship income, particularly at the highest levels. The growing size of both the amateur and professional pickleball ranks should also create more income opportunities through coaching and clinics.
For player earnings to continue to increase and the sport to enjoy consistent growth, the tournaments also have to get bigger. Expansion from year-to-year has been another of the positive pickleball trends.
The PPA Tour added a new Grand Slam, Masters, three 500-level events, and four Invitationals in 2022. The 2023 tour includes 25 professional events, 15 PPA Tour events, four Majors, four World Pickleball Championship Invitational events, and two special events. This schedule represents a 25% increase in tournament offerings compared to 2022.
The 2023 APP Tour features 20 stops, including the Tour’s first-ever event in Canada. The revamped format will include four Major tournaments and two Championship events.
While the MLP tour is still the smallest of the three major tours, it has rapidly grown since it debuted in 2021 with eight teams and one event. The 2023 tour features 24 teams competing in six events.
Another of the pickleball trends driving growth in the sport is the increase in national television coverage. In 2022, CBS broadcast the PPA Tour’s Sketcher’s Invitational, marking the first time a national broadcaster aired a professional pickleball match.
In 2023, ABC, FOX, CBS, Tennis Channel, ESPN, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Fanduel TV have contracts to broadcast PPA Tour events. CBS Sports Network, ESPN2, and ESPN+ have committed to at least 20 hours of pickleball coverage and over 200 hours of live-stream coverage.
According to the PPA, there will be 25 live tournaments in 2023 and over 4,500 on-demand matches. The various platforms will make more than 1,500 hours of pickleball content available to viewers. Additionally, the APP Tour has broadcast contracts with CBS and ESPN, and the Tennis Channel announced plans to televise events from the MLP Tour.
Celebrity Players and Owners
Most pickleball trends got their start with everyday players and professional athletes. However, celebrities are also increasingly a factor. Many high-profile celebrities regularly play the sport, including Leonardo Dicaprio, George Clooney, and Survivor winner, Tyson Apostol. Celebrity Pro-Am events have featured stars such as Michael Phelps, Quinn Ewers, Tony Romo, John Isner, Emma Watson, and Kelly Rowland.
Tennis legends have also gotten in on the act. The 2022 Bubly Team Championships featured John Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, and Donald Young. In April 2023, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick bested John McEnroe and Michael Chang to win the $1 million purse at the Pickleball Slam.
Tennis stars are not the only athletes taking up pickleball. Fans spotted members of the Chicago Cubs MLB team playing pickleball in the bullpen, and Steelers starting linebacker, TJ Watt, infamously got owned on the Pickleball court by a Pennsylvania grandmother.
In addition to playing the sport, celebrities are becoming investors in its future. Ellen DeGeneres now has a line of pickleball gear. MLP boasts many high-profile team owners, including Kevin Durant, Eva Longoria, Heidi Klum, Michael Phelps, Drew Brees, Tom Ricketts, Justin Verlander, Chris Evert, and Lebron James.
Competition between the three major leagues and the various smaller leagues in the sport has been one of the less positive pickleball trends in recent years. While the PPA has loosened its exclusivity requirements, the Tour still boasts 65 touring pros who play exclusively on the Carvana PPA Tour, including some of the top players in the sport.
MLP and PPA
MLP has carved out a niche with its team format tournaments. However, in 2022, the PPA appeared poised to challenge MLP with its VIBE Pickleball League. Citing a desire to unify the sport, the PPA agreed to merge the VIBE league with MLP in November 2022.
MLP and the PPA further cemented their partnership in 2023 by announcing a collaboration with USA Pickleball to establish equipment compliance testing standards for professional pickleball. Together, the three organizations hope to showcase the power, speed, and skill of players while also maintaining player safety by setting standards and rules for game equipment used in PPA and MLP events.
PPA and USA Pickleball
USA Pickleball and the Carvana PPA Tour have announced plans for the PPA Tour to host the 2023 USA Pickleball National Championships at Invited’s Brookhaven Country Club in Dallas, Texas, in November. The 2023 National Championships will be the world’s largest-ever pickleball tournament, featuring a field of up to 4,000 amateur and professional players, which is 50% larger than the 2022 event.
Organizers expect the tournament to draw more than 7,500 fans. As part of this partnership, the PPA is adding three new Golden Ticket events to provide top amateur players with more chances to qualify for the National Championships.
In recognition of pickleball trends that are expanding the sport into more mainstream entertainment, the PPA plans to shut down the street outside the country club and turn it into an entertainment zone dubbed “Pickleball Boulevard.” Pickleball Boulevard will feature live music, a stage, interactive activities, sponsors, and local businesses.
Fans will get to sample food and drinks from vendors across the state of Texas as part of the “Taste of Pickle” exhibit. Additionally, USAP and the PPA are working together to create an unforgettable fan experience by adding various events to surround the tournament.
While MLP and the PPA seem to have made their peace, friction remains between the APP and the other leagues. In response to rumors that the APP Tour may fold or merge with one of the other leagues, the APP issued a press release to the pickleball community, announcing it is “here to stay.”
Two of the most notable changes for the 2023 professional pickleball season include the renaming of the PPA and MLP tours to reflect their new corporate sponsorships. The PPA Tour is now the Carvana PPA Tour, while MLP’s tour is now called “MLP by Margaritaville.”
The Carvana PPA Tour inked exclusive deals with big-name brands, such as Molson Coors’ Vizzy Hard Seltzer, OGIO, FILA, Holland America, and Baird. The APP Tour reports a nearly 50% increase in sponsorship revenue with its sponsors including Skechers, Vlasic, Discount Tire, Selkirk, and Fat Tire. Other big players in the pickleball sponsorship market include Adidas, K-Swiss, Nike, Wilson, New Balance, and Under Armour.
Top Professional Pickleball Players
While pickleball trends involving celebrity investors and endorsers make headlines, the leagues rely on talented athletes to keep fans coming back for more. A mix of innovative young players and talented veterans is helping to carry the sport forward in 2023.
Even though he is only 23 years old, many people think Ben Johns is the best pickleball player of all time. He has been the #1 player in all three divisions of the PPA Tour for the past three years and once owned a 108-match winning streak in singles. He is also one of the top stars on the MLP Tour.
Johns has won more than 80 PPA titles and more Triple Crowns than any male professional pickleball player in the history of the sport. Ben plays with the signature Joola Hyperion CFS 16MM paddle that he helped develop.
Jay Devilliers, affectionately known as “the Flying Frenchman,” is a top five player and is currently ranked #1 in men’s singles on the APP Tour. He competes as a doubles player on the MLP Tour. His fire, excitement, French charm, and rugged good looks have made him a fan favorite. Devilliers consistently places on the podium in all three events he competes in and claimed his first mixed doubles title in 2021 with partner Jessie Irvine.
A well-rounded athlete, Devilliers chose pickleball over pursuing a professional career in tennis or soccer. In addition to competing full-time, he is working to grow the sport in his home country of France.
Matt Wright is the #2 ranked pro player in men’s doubles and mixed doubles and one of the stars of the MLP tour. At 45, Matt is one of the elder statesmen of the sport and has enjoyed adapting to new players and changing pickleball trends.
Federico Staksrud transitioned from tennis to pickleball after playing the sport with a friend who used to come to his tennis clinics. The 27-year-old is the #2 ranked PPA player for men’s singles and is also a top doubles player on the PPA and MLP Tours. He recently won his first PPA gold medal at the Arizona Grand Slam.
Tyson McGuffin is one of the most recognizable and accomplished pickleball players in the world. The former tennis star is a five-time Grand Slam Champion and four-time National Champion. He currently competes on the PPA and MLP Tours.
McGuffin began his sports career as a wrestler but went on to play tennis in college. He coached tennis for six years before discovering pickleball and turning pro just six months after he started playing.
James Ignatowich played Division I tennis at Vanderbilt before transitioning to pickleball. He ranked in the top 10 in the world and won the 2022 MLP event at Newport Beach. Ignatowich won two PPA gold medals at the Vulcan Indoor National Championship in singles and mixed doubles along with his partner Catherine Parenteau in 2023.
JW Johnson is another example of how pickleball trends have converted tennis players into pickleball stars. He has been playing pickleball since 2011 and has a reputation for his powerful and consistent shots.
Johnson is a passionate advocate for the sport, at just 20 years old, and recently won his first PPA gold medal in men’s doubles with partner Dylan Frazier. JW is also one of the top competitors on the APP and MLP Tours.
Anna Leigh Waters
Anna Leigh Waters became the youngest professional pickleball player and champion in history at the age of 12. At only 16 years old, she is already top 5 in the world in all three divisions and competes on both the PPA and MLP Tours. She and her mother, Leigh Waters, pioneered an aggressive play-style as doubles partners that favors power and reflex volleys, along with solid defense and resets, over more strategic, slower-paced play.
Lea Jansen is currently the #1 ranked women’s singles player on the APP Tour and also competes for a team on the MLP Tour. Like many professional pickleball players, she got her start playing tennis. She competed at the collegiate level at Washington State University.
Even though at 30 years old Jansen is not as young as some of the other top women, her competitiveness and fiery personality have made her one of the most exciting prospects on the PPA Tour.
Pickleball trends have also invaded Canada. Catherine Parenteau is a former top 5 Canadian tennis player and is one of the best-known players in women’s professional pickleball.
Skilled in both singles and doubles play, Parenteau won the US Open Pro Women’s Doubles title with partner Callie Smith in 2021. In addition to her play on the PPA Tour, Parenteau competes in the MLP’s team format tournament and serves as an IPTPA-certified instructor at Collier’s Reserve in Naples, Florida.
Jackie Kawamoto discovered pickleball at her local rec center and used her tennis background to advance quickly in the sport. In addition to competing on the PPA and MLP Tours, Kawamoto works full-time for the NCAA. She hosts pickleball tournaments in her community and wants to pursue teaching the sport.
Salome Devidze grew up on the tennis courts in Georgia and continued to play after her family immigrated to the United States. She began playing on the APP Tour in 2021 and won her first gold medal in just her third tournament.
As a veteran of the sport, Irina Tereschenko has been coaching and playing racquet sports for over 20 years. She is one of the top-ranked women’s professional pickleball players in the world in all three divisions and competes on the PPA, APP, and MLP Tours.
Tereschenko is a five-time Major Champion and was a former #1 singles and doubles player for the Texas Tech Red Raiders before she turned pro. At the age of 39, Tereschenko is still going strong and hopes to continue to dominate even as pickleball trends toward younger players.
Michelle Esquivel is a former collegiate tennis coach and physical educator who has become a star on all three major pickleball tours after her friend Ian Liang introduced her to the sport in 2014. Esquivel created Ultimate Pickleball Academy in 2020 and travels around the country to teach at facilities that lack pickleball training and development. She also promotes the sport by teaching at various pickleball getaways and camps and managing The Hub in San Diego, California.
Impact of Pickleball on Local Economies
Pickleball is a big business, but the sport does not just make money for investors, players, merchandisers, and tour operators. The thousands of players, fans, friends, family, and support staff that tours bring to town add millions of dollars to local economies.
Unique pickleball destinations can become tourist attractions that bring in visitors from around the country. Cities, such as Opelika, Alabama, whose 24 city-built courts draw more than 1,200 players per month, have seen revenues of as high as $2 million from tournament and recreational play. According to the APP, its tour brings more than $3 million in positive economic impact to the local communities that host its events, thanks to high participation rates and national television coverage.
Future of Pickleball
Professional pickleball has a long way to go to catch up with sports giants, such as the NFL or NBA. However, recent pickleball trends indicate that kind of growth could be possible.
In the early days of professional pickleball, most athletes played the sport part-time and paid the bills by doing some other type of full-time work. However, with incomes for the top athletes on the rise, more players are quitting their day jobs and taking up the sport full-time.
The ability to make a solid living playing professional pickleball has begun to attract top athletes from other sports, such as former tennis prodigies Rafa Hewett and Zane Navratil. As the athletic ability of players increases, the value of pickleball as a spectator sport should also go up. The influx of cash and national attention from the various television deals the pro tours signed for 2023 should help attract top athletes to the sport.
More spending by investors should allow equipment manufacturers and leagues to explore new technology trends that could take the sport to the next level and improve the fan experience. Global economic expansion, rapid urbanization, and increases in the spending capacity of consumers should continue to fuel growth.
By 2030, more than 65% of the world’s population is forecast to be part of the middle class, and forecasters expect the global GDP per capita to be 35% higher in 2025 than the decade prior. While the possibility of recession creates significant uncertainty in the pickleball market, overall economic trends indicate the sport is likely to continue growing for the foreseeable future.