Celebrity Investors Picking Pickleball for Next Venture

Celebrity Investors Picking Pickleball for Next Venture
Mark Cuban is owner of the Vibe Pickleball League | Image by The Dink Pickleball

Pickleball is the “fastest-growing sport in America,” according to a recent report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The sport combines badminton, tennis, and ping-pong and now has 4.8 million players nationwide (a 40% increase since 2020).

The sport is playable for all ages, with all five main age brackets representing at least 12% of all players.

The growing interest and popularity in pickleball have some big-name investors throwing their support behind the sport.

The VIBE Pickleball League recently launched a new six-team competition and announced its first team owner: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

The billionaire owner has become the first person to purchase and join the VIBE Pickleball League as an owner.

“Just like millions of other Americans, I’ve been following pickleball over the past few years, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to invest in the fastest growing game in the country,” Cuban said. “VIBE presents an unparalleled opportunity to launch a new pro league that will feature the best-of-the-best in a highly competitive setting. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

Cuban is just the latest celebrity investor to enter the pickleball world. NBA Stars Lebron James, Draymond Green, and Kevin Love joined an investment group last month to purchase an expansion team in Major League Pickleball (MLP) for the 2023 season.

MLP is growing from 12 to 16 teams starting in the 2023 season and doubling its annual events. Its prize money is increasing to more than $2 million.

The league aims to grow pickleball to 40 million players by 2030.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant is also one of the most recent MLP investors. He and business partner Rich Kleiman purchased an expansion team in October.

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady joined tennis legend Kim Clijsters to purchase a team in MLP in October.

“Of course, I’m excited at the investment opportunity,” Clijsters said in a news release. “But what excites me the most about becoming an MLP owner is that I get to help shape the future of pickleball, a sport I have come to love, with great people – who also happen to be some of my best friends. I’m thrilled to help showcase professional pickleball and make an impact on the sport through my experience gained in the top levels of professional tennis.”

American tennis legend James Blake helped found MLP in October 2021. His team was one of the first in the league last year.

One of the first backers of MLP was future NFL Hall of Famer Drew Brees, who retired from football after the 2020 season and bought a pickleball team in July 2022.

Advocates of the sport hope it will begin to garner worldwide popularity and be introduced at the 2028 Summer Olympics games in Los Angeles.

They also hope it will become an official NCAA sport. It has already grown into a competitive club sport at the college level.

“The beauty of pickleball is that it’s easy to learn and pick up,” USA Pickleball Association CEO Stu Upson told ESPN. “But to take it to the pro level, you must be dedicated. You can’t just go out on the weekend and play and expect to compete as a pro — which is good for the sport.”

As pickleball continues to grow, the sport will only pick up more investors and sponsors, like New Belgium beer, which is vying to become the “beer of pickleball.”

“We like that it’s an inclusive, quirky sport that you can make as competitive as you want,” said Joanna Laubscher, the brand’s community marketing manager. “The talent at the pro level is insane and as more people start to follow it, they will see that legit athletes are at the top of the game.”

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