(Bloomberg) -- Pickleball, once a low-stakes game relegated to retirement villages, is going pro — and its backers are aware their chance might not come again.
Brian Levine, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, is the interim Chief Executive Officer of Major League Pickleball, which launched in 2021 and now has a $5 million prize pool.
“When Tom Brady made a captivating video about why he feels passionate about pickleball, that literally doubled our followers in one day,” said Levine. “It doubled when LeBron James announced that he was buying the New York Hustler’s team. And so you get that opportunity, but you’ve gotta close in that opportunity, right. Because that could be fleeting.”
With billions of dollars being pumped into the sporting industry, Bloomberg News is looking at which game might be the next to explode, illustrating how money and dealmaking are reshaping what we watch — starting with pickleball.
Initially a kids game first invented in 1965, investors from LeBron to Eva Longoria have recently piled into the sport. The slew of celebrity buyers has helped increase the number of participants 159% from 2020, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
“Getting involved from a business perspective and being a part of an ownership group was something that was very natural and an easy transition for me,” said Larry Fitzgerald, a former NFL player and likely future pro football hall of famer “I think it’s going to continue to grow. You see so many tennis courts transitioning to pickleball courts. I think it is going to get more popular.”
The popularity of the sport is already transforming urban planning. Wollman Rink in New York City’s Central Park has partnered with CityPickle to bring 14 courts to the park, while real estate developments are now incorporating courts to lure buyers.
Read More: Marc Lasry Says Pickleball Offers Better Rate of Return Than NBA
“I want to be able to invest in a team today that is [worth] $50 million or $100 million, that can be worth $500 or $1 billion in five or 10 years,” said Marc Lasry, the co-founder of Avenue Capital Group, on Bloomberg Television.
Lasry bought his Pickleball franchise for $100,000 in 2021. “Today it’s $10 million,” he said. “If you think about what’s happening [in sports], it’s all about the media. More people are watching sports [and] as more people watch sports and there is more streaming, you are going to find that the values of those teams are going to go up.”
Both CBS and ESPN agreed to TV deals with the Association of Pickleball Professionals in January. But while its influence is growing, investors are also excited about the potential longevity of the sport — at least in terms of how long you can still wield a paddle.
“Pickleball courts are being built across this country, and it’s 8 to 88,” said Gary Vaynerchuk, an entrepreneur and Major League Pickleball team owner. “This is not American football. This is not basketball, where at 47 you’re tearing knees like I am. This is a sport a lot of people play and participate in.”
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