The global pandemic changed many things. In many ways, the world changed on its axis, with different working habits formed and society having a collective realization of what’s important in life. Many took a back-to-basics approach of less is more, of cherishing the simple things, the simple human needs such as social interaction (where it was possible and from a distance), fresh air, and socially-distanced sport.
And it was the ability to release by playing a sport that saw so many people across different societies turn to the traditional big dog of racquet sports, tennis, as well as the at-the-time lesser known – but fast forward three years, much better known – insurgent sports of pickleball and padel. Here were sports that one could play socially distanced, and all the while maintaining a healthy dose of social interaction. At the recreational level, the racquet show could very much go on.
So, fast forward to today, Summer 2023, and these three racquet sports are enjoying remarkable participation rates worldwide. At a time when tomorrow’s generations are turning increasingly to screens, gaming and other new technologies in their leisure time, it is racquet sports that, arguably, has never had it so good.
Firstly, take tennis. Driven by the incredible stars the sport has had in recent times which have taken the sport to new heights – think Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, the Williams sisters, and more – tennis has experienced a 33% boom in participation here in the USA since 2020, with participation now over 23.6 million (according to the U.S. Tennis Association). For a sport that, in the form in which we know it today, has been played for approaching 150 years, and in today’s era of abundant choice, that is a pretty remarkable statistic.
Then, look across at the insurgent sports, above all pickleball which is taking North America by storm. The number of people playing pickleball has grown by 59% over three years and reached a total of 8.9 million in 2022. Pretty remarkable statistics for a sport that not long ago, was far from a part of mainstream American culture. Pickleball’s growth has surely been fuelled by the entry of big-name athlete investors. NBA stars Lebron James, Kevin Love, and Draymond Green, retired NFL legend Tom Brady, and retired WTA tennis star Kim Clijsters have all entered the sport as investors of Major League Pickleball teams. And they’re not alone. These big-name entrants to the sport have helped pickleball reach the masses swiftly and successfully.
And then there’s padel, which has the fascinating story of being the world’s fastest-growing sport, but not yet America’s. Yet, that is, because having remained the quieter sibling to pickleball on American shores before this year, padel has now very much arrived with clubs sprouting up in the heavily Hispanic population of Miami, Florida, cosmopolitan California and in New York City, with numerous pockets of courts and clubs across the nation. With 25 million players globally and its status as the number two sport in Spain (after soccer), padel is on its way to becoming mainstream consciousness in the United States. And we’re all the better for that because this exhilarating squash-meets-tennis racquet sport is massively popular with pretty much anyone that steps on the court, including celebrity figures from Elle Macpherson to David Beckham, and Daddy Yankee to Serena Williams.
With tennis and the two insurgent racquet sports of pickleball and padel experiencing unprecedented growth that a racquet-loving team of investors, including my co-founder, Marco Giberti, and I, decided the time was right to celebrate this modern phenomenon by bringing together the North American racquet sports community under one roof in Miami next March so that industry voices could be heard.
With these three sports surging in popularity, it’s a case of the proverbial rising tide lifts all boats here. RacquetX is a culmination of the collective success story that is the racquet sports industry today, and it’s this success story that we want to embrace when the industry descends on Miami Beach in March 2024.