Whew! So much has changed in the sport of pickleball during the last year – professional player contracts, exclusivity agreements, escalating prize pools, and rule changes (of course!) to name just a few.
And yet, the popularity and growth of the sport continue to explode as evidenced by an increase in participation numbers and club memberships. Heck, even “Google Trends” can confirm the steady growth in the sport we all love!
So as we embark on a new year, allow me just a moment to present a “State of the Union,” if you will, for the sport of pickleball.
Professional Pickleball Tours
While the professional tours goings-on doesn’t directly affect the average rec player, it does nevertheless affect those who are trying to earn a living playing pickleball. And as a viewer of the professional tournament live streams, it is (the drama) certainly interesting.
News out of the professional pickleball tours in 2021 and the beginning of 2022 was plentiful:
- Both the APP and the PPA completed their first full tournament season in 2021. 2022 looks to be equally busy with approximately 32 tour stops scheduled for the APP and 19 tour stops scheduled for the PPA.
- Both tours experimented with a “Championship Sunday” concept – with the PPA opting to play gold medal matches on Sunday and the APP experimenting with all (both bronze and gold) medal matches being played on Sunday.
- In January 2022, it was announced that Tom Dundon, majority owner of NHL’s, The Carolina Hurricanes, purchased the PPA Tour, Pickleball Central, and tournament software, PickleballTournaments.com.
- With new ownership, the PPA Tour has presented its top players with new (3-year) contracts which include strict exclusivity agreements that would prohibit signed players – unless granted written consent from the PPA – from playing non-PPA events.
- In January 2022, the APP announced a partnership with Intersport, a global leader in sports marketing. This partnership will result in an effort for larger prize pools, appearance fees, and “an enhanced tour structure that elevates the prestige and stature of the APP.”
- MLP (Major League Pickleball) launched in September 2021. This team event (which included a drafting of players by various teams) was widely recognized as a favorite event for the pros.
- In January 2022, the APP and MLP entered into a strategic partnership.
Rule Changes in 2022
As is the case in any year, there were several rule changes that took effect on January 1. The biggest rule changes for 2022 included an elimination (it is now illegal) of the “chainsaw” serve and removing the “provisional” status of the drop serve. Click here to see some of the other rule changes that were considered – and if they made the final cut.
Pickleball Continues to Grow!
It likely doesn’t require a study of averages and standard deviations to realize that pickleball is growing – sometimes in spite of the drama from the professional tours and the controversy of rule changes implemented. My guess is, like ours, your local club is rapidly growing in numbers.
Participation numbers tell the unbiased story of pickleball’s growth curve. According to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Participant Report, the sport of pickleball is comprised of approximately 4.8 million players in the United States. That represented a 39.3% increase in pickleball participants over the past 2 years!
New Venues – More Places to Play!
More courts and exciting venues are sprouting up all across the pickleball landscape. Chicken N Pickle now boasts 6 locations with two additional locations planned for 2022. Bell Bank Park, powered by Legacy Sports USA, just opened in January 2022 and has 41 courts, including a stadium court that seats 2,000.
In my neck of the woods – Cincinnati, OH – a friend, in October 2022, will be opening an $8 million private pickleball facility that will have 6 indoor and 5 outdoor courts. It will be a similar food & entertainment concept to that of Chicken N Pickle.
Also in Cincinnati – at Sawyer Point – plans are in place to invest $500,000 from the Cincinnati Park’s infrastructure fund and build 12 dedicated courts (as well as 8 courts superimposed on the four existing tennis courts). Anticipated completion date for this project is summer, 2022.
These are just some of the venues sprouting up. What about near you?
Google Trends for the Term, “Pickleball”
If one wants information about a certain topic, the majority of people will navigate to their favorite search engine (predominantly Google, no doubt) and execute a search. Google Trends allows one to determine the relative popularity of a search term over a given period of time.
Populating Google Trends with the word, “pickleball,” resulted in the following 5-year graph. You will notice that “pickleball” is definitely trending upwards.
(A note about Google Trends: “Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. “)
Even with seemingly never-ending drama coming from the professional tour scene, the controversy over various rule changes, and other things that may drive you crazy on the court, it is still a great time to be involved in this great sport. Ladies and Gentlemen, The “State of the Union” in pickleball is strong!!!