Brand Strategy

Brands can’t get enough of pickleball

Major League Pickleball, which formed in 2021, has seen its sponsors quadruple since last year.
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Carvana PPA Tour

· 5 min read

Pickleball, a sport originally associated with an older crowd, is now a favorite pastime among players of all ages. It’s also quickly become a priority for brands, from startups to some of the biggest companies in the world.

More than 150 brands tied up with various pickleball properties from April 2022 to April 2023, according to sports and entertainment intelligence platform SponsorUnited. Major League Pickleball (MLP), which was founded in 2021, has 17 sponsors—a number that has quadrupled since the end of last year.

The PPA Tour, pickleball’s global governing body and bracket-based pro tour, has about 60 sponsors, a roughly fivefold increase compared to last year, according to PPA President Bryce Morgan. Almost all of them are returning for 2024, he said. The association got its start in early 2020, and by the end of that year, its sponsorship contact form “kind of started to go crazy,” he said.

“Up until that point, that was our third-smallest bucket of revenue, and now it’s by far our biggest,” Morgan told Marketing Brew. The PPA, which recently agreed to merge with MLP, also generates revenue via registrations and ticket sales.

That rapid growth is good for the leagues and the sport, but it presents something of a dilemma for sponsors: They might have to work harder to stand out as brands continue to flood the space.

Inside the house

Considering pickleball is America’s fastest-growing sport, many companies have employees who’ve recently taken up the game—or at least taken an interest in it. In some cases, it’s these employees who’ve jumpstarted sponsorship deals.

Carvana, the title sponsor of the PPA Tour, used to have a pickleball court at one of its headquarters in Arizona, according to Makena Berchem, its brand manager overseeing partnerships. Molson Coors, the parent company of PPA Tour sponsors including Vizzy and Miller Lite, got its start in pickleball because of an “avid” player on its sponsorships team, according to Joy Ghosh, VP of above premium flavor. Os1st, the “official sock” of the PPA and MLP, got involved after its president attended a tournament, according to Director of Marketing Stephanie Lee.

In other cases, marketers simply found the sport appealing from a sponsorship perspective. Jim Gunning, CMO of Best Day Brewing, the “official non-alcoholic beer of the PPA,” said it had “all of the attributes we were looking for.” For instance, he said the sport has a fairly even gender split, with players largely coming from upper-income backgrounds.

For Sanzo, the “official sparkling water of the PPA,” the fact that the sport holds appeal across generations was a selling point, according to Senior Director of Marketing Kimberly Lam.

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Tamara Baldanza-Dekker, CMO of Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet’s global lifestyle brand and MLP’s title sponsor, also noted the sport’s cross-generational appeal. “It is communal; it’s friendly; it’s fun; it’s for all ages; it is so inclusive; it’s exactly who we are,” she said. “So we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a sport for us’...We can’t get enough.”

Too many cooks in the kitchen?

As brands glom onto pickleball, some are finding that they have to go above and beyond to make an impact in a sea of sponsors.

In fact, the PPA has had to turn some brands away, Morgan said, largely because of preexisting deals with competitors. While there’s no specific number cap in place, he said there’s probably something of a natural cap. “We don’t want the sport to be overpopulated with sponsors,” he said.

The number of sponsors, though, is already significant, something several marketers said was on their minds. To help it stand out, Anheuser-Busch InBev made its first swing at pickleball a big one. Last year, the brewer announced that it purchased its own MLP team (the Atlanta Bouncers) about a month after Molson Coors’s Vizzy announced its deal to become the exclusive hard seltzer of the PPA Tour.

“Our ownership gives us unique access, creativity, and control—including everything from who our team drafts to who we bring on as sponsors,” Matt Davis, VP of partnerships at Anheuser-Busch, told us. The company is also leveraging some star power, bringing on Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young as the team’s “sole celebrity-athlete investor,” Davis added.

Ghosh noted that Vizzy’s vibrant orange branding “compliments” the PPA’s logo, something which could help catch the eyes of spectators at events, on broadcasts, and via retail displays.

Goodr, the official sunglasses sponsor of the PPA Tour, is also relying on a pop of color, according to CMO Kelley Puckett. “If we’re tabling at an event and have a fully grown man in a pink Carl the Flamingo mascot costume giving away free pairs of sunglasses, that tends to stand out,” she said.

Many pickleball sponsors also recognize the importance of engaging with the sport’s community beyond having their logos on the court.

“Logos are important, but that’s not who we are…I’ve got a team of people that go to every one of these tournaments. We don’t just want to see a logo,” Baldanza-Dekker said, later adding that, “What’s most important is that we bring the fun and the energy, and that we continue to help grow the sport.”

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