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The marketing strategy that made pickleball so popular this year

The marketing strategy that made pickleball cool in 2022

Adam Edery, a 25-year-old video producer living in Los Angeles, calls himself “the Pickleball Guy,” and creates content about the 57-year-old sport for Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. (Check out his YouTube channel here.)

But up until the summer of 2016, he had never played his now-namesake sport. At the time, he was working at a summer camp for University of Michigan alumni in northern Michigan, when the camp director asked if he’d be willing to teach pickleball to some of the older attendees.

“I taught pickleball for four summers at that camp and have been playing and teaching ever since,” Edery tells Wix. “Recently, I started making content for YouTube and social media, and it took off.” (Related: You can use Wix Fit’s built-in suite of marketing tools to promote your business.)

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What is pickleball?

Pickleball is a hybrid of tennis, ping pong and badminton, created by three friends from Washington in 1965. By 1984, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was founded to grow the sport on a national level. By 1990, people were playing in all 50 states, according to USA Pickleball. Fast forward to 2022, and you’ll see that the sport has a new image—and audience—thanks to successful marketing efforts.

Why is pickleball so popular today?

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) named pickleball the fastest growing sport for the second year in a row. Surprisingly enough, while about 17 percent of players are 65 and older, a third of all players are 25 or younger.

“For so long, people would say something like, ‘I used to play with my Aunt Sally,’” Edery says of his pickleball conversations. “Now, that’s not the case at all. I have people my own age to play with who really enjoy it, and it’s more competitive.”

Pickleball’s popularity is no accident. In 2020, USA Pickleball underwent a massive rebrand, led by then-chief marketing officer George Bauernfeind and current director of media relations, Laura Gainor.

Their goal: to broaden the audience and encourage everyone to play. “Pickleball is a multigenerational sport, and we want the whole United States to play it,” Gainor says. “It’s not for a specific niche. Pickleball is for everyone from grandparents to young adults.”

The sport now has a 4.8 million+ player base, according to Gainor, large in part to these marketing strategies. See if they might work for your fitness business, too.

01. Speak to your audience

Prior to the 2020 rebrand, USA Pickleball hired an agency that organized focus groups to chat with consumers about the sport.

“We asked them what words they associated with pickleball,” says Gainor. “The word that kept coming up was ‘community,’ so we focused on that in our initial ad campaign.”

But the quest to know your audience doesn’t stop with one campaign—it evolves as your audience evolves. Now that a large chunk of players (28.8 percent) are between ages 18 and 34, Gainor says they’ll do more market research to further cater to this crowd with their next round of marketing materials.

Notably, USA Pickleball's goal wasn’t to market the sport so aggressively to younger audiences that they lost existing fans. By centering their marketing efforts on just how easy it is to play with a minimal learning curve, USA Pickleball has had tons of success courting new players without isolating loyalists.

“We positioned pickleball as something that’s social, competitive and a great way to get people active,” Gainor says. “Something that literally anyone, anywhere could get into.” (More: The fitness industry needs to be more accessible and inclusive. What you can do about it.)

Tip: Know your current audience and know your target audience. You can add a Survey & Poll to your site to learn more about your demographic, and use Wix's business management features to optimize your ads and social media campaigns. The growth of pickleball also reflects a larger fitness trend: a focus on fun and community. How can you bring people together in your own fitness business? Community is one of the keys to gym member retention.

02. Refresh your branding

Fact: People want to be a part of something that looks cool. “We wanted people to want to be a part of our ‘club’ so to speak,” says Gainor. “We wanted people to be proud to represent USA Pickleball.”

That meant a more concise name and a cleaner look. They changed their name from the USA Pickleball Association to simply USA Pickleball. And they created a more modern logo and updated their website to make important information easier to find, including a “What is Pickleball?” animated video to introduce newcomers to the sport. The last time the logo or site had been properly updated was 2013.

Tip: Check out the Wix Logo Maker if your logo needs a refresh. If you’re not sure, ask yourself if you’d wear your own logo proudly if you weren’t financially (and emotionally) invested in your company, or ask a friend for their honest opinion. You can also use one of these fitness website templates to modernize your website with the most recent designs.

03. Keep your finger on the social media pulse

“Every morning, I search on Twitter for the keyword ‘pickleball’ to see what people are saying about the sport,” Gainor says. “Very quickly I find who is talking about it and ask myself, ‘where can we engage?’”

As the sport gets more and more press, the brand (and their spokespeople) engage and interact as much as possible. Every news article is highlighted on their website, and they follow accounts and hashtags related to the sport to stay up-to-date on the latest happenings, news and emerging brands.

Tip: Keeping a finger on the social media pulse at all times is a must for smart marketing, says Gainor. Even if you’re not engaging in every single conversation, you should know what people are saying about your sport or specialty. What are people excited about? What are they struggling with? Then, how can your business give them more of what they want or need?

04. Encourage enthusiasm

Rather than handing a racket to someone who isn’t interested in the sport just because they have a following, USA Pickleball keeps their eyes peeled for large personalities who are already playing the game. In other words: authentic partners.

From there, “we have no problem getting people rackets or other USA Pickleball swag to use,” says Gainor. “We love seeing big names playing, like the Kardashians, Savannah Guthrie and Jenna Bush Hager,” says Gainor.

Tip: Enthusiasm for your brand is crucial, and you should do everything you can to foster it. That means offering free classes to get people in the door, rewarding dedicated members with private sessions or starting your own fitness clothing line so people can proudly display your brand (around town and on social media). Freebies aren’t a loss—they’re a smart marketing strategy. Here are some creative ways to get your clients to share their workouts on social media.

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