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Spotlight: Pickleball’s Franchise Evolution Reflects Shifting Demographics and Surging Popularity

July 9th, 2024 by Christina Niu

America’s fastest growing sport – Pickleball!

Pickleball is taking America by storm, earning its title as the country’s fastest-growing sport. This dynamic game, a blend of tennis, badminton,Pickleball Paddle and Ball Against Wall and table tennis, offers something for everyone. It’s played with a paddle and a perforated plastic ball on a court like badminton but with a modified tennis net, suitable for both indoor and outdoor play.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), more than 13.6 million people played pickleball across the United States in 2023. This marks a significant leap from 2022, when 8.9 million players engaged in the sport, reflecting an 85.7% year-over-year increase and a staggering 263.5% rise since 2014.

The COVID-19 pandemic played a pivotal role in accelerating pickleball’s popularity. As a socially distanced activity, it allowed people to stay active and socialize safely. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of players grew by 39%, prompting many cities to convert tennis and basketball courts into part-time or full-time pickleball venues.

The participation rate of pickleball increased by 159% from 2019 to 2022, the highest for any other sports in the US.
In 2021, players aged 55 and above constituted the largest age group among pickleball participants, accounting for 19.8% of the total player base. Following closely behind, players aged 18 to 34 represented the second-largest demographic, comprising 18.5% of total participants.
During the same year, the average age of pickleball players stood at 38.1 years, marking a notable decrease from the 2020 average of 41.0 years, reflecting a decline of 2.9 years. This decline of 2.9 years in just a single year underscores the rapid transformation taking place within the pickleball community.

The Pickleball Franchising Landscape

The pickleball industry is in its early stages, with most brands established recently. Franchisors at this stage focus on gaining market share and establishing their presence, resulting in varied business models and diverse growth strategies. The continuous entry of new brands further intensifies competition.

While aggressive market capture strategies are appealing, they carry significant risks. Successful franchises depend on well-established systems and processes, which require time and refinement. Ignoring this in favor of rapid expansion can lead to franchisee failures.
As the industry matures, one business model may prove superior, shaping the industry’s future. A balanced approach that emphasizes both growth and the continual improvement of franchise operations is essential for long-term success and stability in the pickleball market.

Considering the industry’s dynamics, court-focused pickleball clubs are expected to evolve like gyms, attracting a wide range of members. These clubs will draw in casual players seeking fitness and recreation, as well as serious and professional players, demonstrating the broad appeal of a dedicated playing environment. As a result, many will be willing to pay membership fees for access to these facilities.

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