What was once synonymous with a club 55 years and older is now clashing with the younger generation of athletes. And brands are taking notice. In 2021, the number of pickleballs in the US increased to 4.8 million, according to the 2022 Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
For Fila, which launched into the pickleball category in 2019 with its first performance picketball shoe, the Volley Zone, tapping into that growing audience is a major focus.
“I don’t think anyone would have predicted it would have turned into quite the cultural phenomenon it has become today,” said Lauren Mallon, FILA’s senior director of marketing and strategic partnerships for tennis and pickleball. “We’re honestly just scratching the surface of potential within the recreational pickupball category. There’s a lot of room for growth, especially in footwear, as more and more people come into the game and play regularly. We are very excited about the growth with the youth demographic and opportunity.
K-Swiss is also trying to capitalize on this trend. The heritage tennis brand said it has witnessed this craze for the past five years and developed the Express Lite Pickleball sneaker as its first sport-specific model.
“The real excitement over the past two to three years has been an uptick in investment in sports facilities and professional leagues,” said David Malinowski, K-Swiss’s director of tennis. (What makes pickleball different from tennis is its need for fast movement over short distances, so shoes must be adjusted for stability.) Malinowski said that many early adopters came from the tennis world, which led to K- Gave Swiss instant brand awareness as it enters one. new category. And it remains optimistic about the future prospects of the sport.
“Pickleball is absolutely here to stay and will be a staple in 50+ communities because it’s not as stressful on the body as tennis, it’s very social and can be played on a set group schedule,” he said. “The hard part will be driving the visibility for the younger consumer to play pickleball on a more regular basis and build leagues in this super competitive market.”
There is reason to think that young athletes will come on board. For example, the overall participation growth from 2020 to 2021 was the fastest among players under the age of 24. And the video with the #pickleball hashtag has garnered over 180 million views on TikTok, an app geared towards Gen Z.
While the numbers are up, Matt Powell, VP and senior sports industry advisor for NPD Group, said no footwear brand has captured the attention of pickball wearers.
“Most of the players are wearing tennis or other court shoes,” he said. However, Powell expects that in the near future, sales of pickleball rackets will exceed those of tennis, with rackets increasing by about 50% for the first six months of 2022.
And shoemakers seem to be benefiting.
Fila posted a significant increase in sales of pickleball footwear, with double-digit growth in the category year-on-year since 2020. In 2023, the brand will launch new colorways for the Volley Zone.
“We are continually evaluating our offerings in apparel and accessories, led by one of our most popular products in the category, the Fila Pickleball Bag,” Mallon said.
As the popularity of the sport continues, even fashion brands are looking to get in on the action. In May, Alice + Olivia debuted the capsule pickleball collection, sold exclusively at Alice + Olivia stores, Aliceandolivia.com and Saks.com. The eight-piece line features advanced fitness essentials, including printed matching tops and skirts retailing from $195 to $265.
“The Pickleball Capsule has been hugely successful,” Alice + Olivia designer and founder Stacey Bendet told FN. “The beautiful style, strong prints and the fact that there aren’t many other designers playing in this category have helped sell the line.”
“The sport has passed the trying phase and entered the professional side with mass market appeal as well,” said K-Swiss’s Malinowski. With this, K-Swiss will continue to invest in this category. For fall, it’s adding a premium performance shoe, the Pickleball Supreme (priced at $125), which features improved responsiveness and added support and comfort. And in spring ’23, the brand will introduce its first pickleball apparel and an entry price-point footwear model, the Court Express Pickleball ($65).