Could Pro Pickleball Become Profitable?

August 23, 2023

Stroll by the tennis courts in your local park on a sunny day and you’re bound to see plenty of people swinging racquets, but some of them won’t be playing tennis. They’re taking part in the nation’s fastest growing sport: pickleball, a paddle game where players hit a hollow plastic ball back and forth over a net. Unlike tennis, pickleball requires little prior skill or innate athletic ability to enjoy, allowing it to amass an enormous following in a short span of time. The sport really took off during the pandemic, with participation in pickleball growing by more than 158 percent over the last three years. 

Investors are hoping that this enthusiasm for pickup pickleball will translate into dedicated fandoms for professional teams. The game currently has two pro leagues, with Major League Pickleball (MLP) boasting big-name backers like Tom Brady, Drake, and Michael B. Jordan. Founded in 2021 by billionaire Steve Kuhn, MLP consists of 24 teams who face off in six annual events that are broadcast on networks like ESPN and the Tennis Channel. For the game’s early investors, the hope is that pickleball will continue to increase in popularity alongside the league’s franchises. Teams in the MLP range in valuation from $1 million to $10 million and have been steadily increasing in value every year. 

Still, some experts fear that people’s passion for pickleball might hit a limit soon. “We may be getting close to a point where it’s almost too late to get in to expect a realistic return on investment,” said Patrick Rishe, who heads the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis. The big question is whether or not people will watch pickleball on television. After all, esports and ping pong have both enjoyed widespread popularity in recent years, but that has not translated into television viewership. “We don’t know whether pickleball is going to be a television event — if it’s not, there probably won’t be a lot of revenue attached to it,” said former media executive David Levy. “Sponsors want what? Reach and branding.”


  1. Why are some big-name investors backing professional pickleball?
  2. Do you think professional pickleball will eventually become popular with television audiences? Why or why not?

Source: Lauren Hirsch, “Pickleball Went Pro. Can It Profit?” The New York Times, August 19, 2023.