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The Pickleball Boom: Implications for Stores and Space Planners

By Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, ARC

No American sport is growing faster than pickleball, the tennis-like game played with paddles and a plastic ball that looks much like a Wiffle ball. You don’t have to look far for health clubs that have converted space for pickleball courts, or tennis courts that have been given over to this suddenly popular game, once a gym-class afterthought.

What’s more, retail space planners have surely noticed the rise in shelf space given to pickleball equipment at sporting goods stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods and big-box stores like Target. (The Space Planning Community’s local Target, for instance, had 46 pickleball items available for in-store pickup as of this week.) Even the local Marshall’s had pickleball equipment at the ready for shoppers, right by the checkout, perfect for an impulse buy.

The Space Planning Community looked at the pickleball craze through the lens of what it means for retailers and suppliers. Here where’s what we found.  

A Shooting Star Among Sports

So how popular is pickleball?

Let’s start here. According to a study from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) and Pickleheads, a pickleball court-locating service, nearly nine million U.S. people played pickleball in 2022, an increase of about four million people over the previous year. What’s more, the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) reports that no sport grew faster in interest in 2023 among the nearly 40 sports it tracks. As of last June, there were more than 50,000 U.S. pickleball courts, per the SFIA and Pickleheads.  

Who plays pickleball? According to the SFIA/Pickleheads study, the average pickleball player – someone who plays 1-7 times a year – is 35 years old, with average income around $75,000. Pickleball enthusiasts, who play at least eight times a year, are average age 42, with income of $85,000. Interestingly, the study found strongest pickleball participation in both the 25-to-34 and the 65-and-over demographics, with 18-to-24 just behind. About 60% of pickleball players are men, according to the study.

The value of the pickleball equipment/apparel market is difficult to get a completely clear picture of, as there are a number of privately held manufacturers, but suppliers are taking note of the sport’s vast growth. In its 2023 annual report, Amer Sports Group, owner of tennis giant Wilson, said that the “fragmented” pickleball market “[provides] Wilson an opportunity to innovate on currently relatively standardized equipment.” Overall, Amer’s Ball & Racquet Sports’ division, which includes Wilson and Louisville Slugger, reported about $1.1 billion in revenue in 2023, with Amer noting that new product innovations in core sports and adjacent sports like pickleball were responsible for about 15% of Wilson’s sales.

Space Planning for Pickleball

On a recent weekend, we snapped some photos at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Arlington Heights, Ill. to get a sense of how pickleball equipment can be displayed.

One advantage of pickleball equipment for retailers is it can fit quite nicely into existing displays, such as metal gondolas with pegboard backs. Paddles also fit neatly on wall displays with peg hooks, and several can be stacked on a hook. As the paddle surface is solid, and pickleball handles generally don’t have holes, most paddles are affixed via hang tags.

A smaller racquet-sports retailer in Arlington Heights, Strings Attached, has also given over some wall space to pickleball.

According to USA Pickleball rules, official paddles should be no longer or wider than two feet. Pickleballs are a little less than three inches in diameter, and come in plastic boxes or canisters. The net — which is required to be at least 21 feet, nine inches long and 30 inches tall — is the bulkiest piece of standard equipment found at shelf.

Looking Ahead

Pickleball equipment doesn’t figure to disappear from stores anytime soon, as people young and old take to the sport. Even retailers without a sports focus might well consider devoting a little bit of shelf space to the category. The gear doesn’t take up much room, and there are a wide variety of price points, with paddles ranging from $10 to $280. Also, pickleball can be marketed as both a sport and a leisure activity; the paddles would fit well in a summer seasonal display, or on a shelf dedicated to winter indoor games.

Let’s finish with a thought exercise.

Think of a drug store, or a grocery store. Now, consider this scenario: you need a birthday present, quick, for a sports-crazy 10-year-old, and you don’t have time to get to a sporting goods store. Now, the odds are, the drug store or the supermarket probably has a small toy aisle, and you’ll probably be able to find a football, or something equivalent, saving the day.

Will we ever get to the point where pickleball is that ubiquitous? Probably not. However, it doesn’t require a lot of room, or a special display, and it is popular. Moreover, it’s as popular with 6-to-12-year-olds as it is with 35-to-44-year-olds, according to the SFIA and Pickleheads.

Indeed, pickleball may well have more staying power than you think, and equipment shoppers are starting young, backed by the wallets of adults seeking to keep their kids happy and fit.

More Reading for Space Planning, Category Management & Shopper Insights Professionals

The National Sporting Goods Association offers research reports on sports cross-participation, with analysis on how sports stack up against each other in terms of current interest. For information, contact the NSGA at research@nsga.org or 847-296-6742.


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About the Author: Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, for the Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC).

Mike brings more than two decades of communications experience to the CMA/SIMA. He began his career in journalism, spending more than 10 years covering the National Football League for Pro Football Weekly and NBC’s Pro Football Talk. His bylines have also appeared in CBS MarketWatch, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NBC New York, and ESPN.com. More recently, he has pivoted to corporate communications, including strategy and messaging experience for a Fortune 500 company. Mike holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois.

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