See the Athletes, Investors and Companies Clamoring for a Piece of Professional Pickleball

Major names are staking their claim as the sport explodes in popularity

Pickleball, a hybrid of tennis, ping pong and badminton, is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

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4.8M

There were about 4.8 million players in the U.S. in 2021, a 39% increase from 2019, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

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Major League Pickleball, founded in 2021, is also growing. The league will have 16 teams in 2023, up from 12 this year.

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Some current and former professional athletes have become fans of the sport and are investing in teams.

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Major League Pickleball has declined to disclose the details of the deals, but has said pickleball teams have been valued in the seven figures.

The league has also said it wants to boost the number of amateur pickleball players from about five million people to 40 million by 2030.

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Basketball superstar LeBron James, who recently became a billionaire and oversees an expanding business portfolio, invested in a team in September.

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Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady joined the pickleball craze in October. Brady, who returned to the NFL after previously saying he would retire, has also inked a deal with Fox to become a football analyst after he retires.

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Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant’s investment in a pickleball team adds to his growing list of business ventures, which also include launching a special-purpose acquisition company and investing in a sports-merchandising business.

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Former NFL quarterback Drew Brees bought a piece of the Mad Drops Pickleball Club in July and also recently invested in a restaurant chain.

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Former No. 1 ranked tennis player Kim Clijsters invested in a pickleball team with NFL quarterback Tom Brady after retiring for the third time in April. The six-time tennis Grand Slam champion previously retired from professional tennis in 2007 and 2012.

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Billionaire hedge-fund manager Marc Lasry became co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014. Seven years later, he invested in the Lions pickleball team.

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Former world No. 4 tennis player James Blake invested in the Lions with Marc Lasry in 2021.

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Golden State Warriors star forward Draymond Green won his fourth NBA championship ring in June. Months later, he bought a pickleball team with LeBron James and other investors.

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Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser and other beers, said Tuesday it was buying a Major League Pickleball team. It is the first Fortune 500 company to buy a team.

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League pickleball players will play in six tournaments in six U.S. cities for more than $2 million in cash prizes in 2023, the league said.

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Produced by Tania Colon

Cover Image: Matt York/Associated Press