You – almost assuredly a pickleball fan – likely read the above headline and thought, 'what are you talking about?! I take pickleball VERY seriously.'
But do you watch or attend pro pickleball events? Or are you more of a recreational-only fan? No judgement either way.
Again, if you're a devoted fan of this website or our newsletter, you may actually tune in to some of the pro stuff. But if so, you're somewhat unique:
IMO this is PPA and MLPs biggest obstacle. 36.5 million players but pro matches receive 3-7k views. Name another sport that is so popular to play but doesn’t translate to following the pros. I can think of maybe Soccer in the US? Played by millions but most kids don’t follow pro https://t.co/4ySiheER6d— Jimmy Miller (@JimmyMiller_PB) January 22, 2024
Jimmy Miller may be on to something there. While pro pickleball viewership has certainly grown in the few years it's been widely organized in the US, it's the recreational side of the sport that's actually seen tremendous growth.
Over 36.5 million players reportedly played pickleball in 2023, but there’s still a massive gap between those who play it recreationally and those who watch the pros.
As Jimmy pointed out, most pro events barely get a few thousand viewers, a fraction of a percent of the overall pickleball audience.
The same could be said about attendance at pro tournaments, outside of Nationals and others where many rec players come out in force.
Soccer is in a similar position as it continues to grow in America with millions of players but only a small audience base consuming Major League Soccer and other pro leagues across the states.
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So why don't people tune in?
Some attribute it to pickleball being "a peoples' game." Throughout the sport's history, its growth hasn't really hinged on big names and money – those only came to the sport relatively recently.
There's a grassroots mindset – even a casualness – among many pickleball fans, some of whom associate other spectator sports with money, power, etc.
But for those who would otherwise want to watch, there are a few issues to contend with (note, these are things we've heard others say, not what we ourselves believe!):
- Dinking rallies get boring for the average viewer
- The perceived level of difficulty doesn't appear great enough
- The various sources for viewing, with different courts airing on different platforms or streams
- The lack of centralized local teams, comprised of members of those communities, for locals to rally behind
The real question is...
What can pickleball do better to help bridge the gap between the professional and recreational games?
Naturally, we have a few suggestions, some of which we gleaned from commenters on our Instagram post:
- Travis Rettenmaier believes a pickleball equivalent to the shot clock where the point is ended within 20-30 seconds would avoid extended dinking rallies
- More of a focus on nighttime streaming of pro matches would accommodate more peoples' schedules
- Keeping a centralized location for all major matches – just one viewing platform – would make it easier for the uninitiated to tune in
We're curious to hear your take: what do you think is the biggest hurdle to growing pro pickleball viewership? And do you have any suggestions for solving these issues? Let us know here.