Professional pickleball is now being watched on televisions across America. From the APP’s recent deal with ESPN to the Tennis Channel’s PPA Tour broadcasts, pro pickleball is starting to make its way into the spotlight.
However, a recent article in the New York’s Intelligencer column argues that pickleball doesn’t have much to offer as a spectator sport. Candidly titled, “Pickleball Looks Really Dumb on TV” believes that America’s fastest growing sport doesn’t have what it takes to merit a primetime broadcasting spot.
Most of the article’s argument lies in how pickleball is too casually paced to actually excite an audience. Primarily, the supposed casual nature of the game imposes a sense that the game is “lacking a clear demonstration of athleticism.”
The pickleball community begs to differ. Pickleball’s casualness and wide accessibility aren’t drawbacks, but rather its strengths for building a much larger community and fanbase.
If you’ve already dismissed pickleball as an easy or underwhelming sport, then watching professional pickleball certainly won’t be for you. For similar reasons, the same thing might apply to people who feel like tennis is too difficult for them, and therefore they have no interest in watching it at the pro level.
That’s the thing: pickleball isn’t necessarily trying to reach the exact same demographics as other professional sports. Yes, there is absolutely crossover between pickleball and other racquet sports, but pickleball’s viewership will really thrive on the game’s ability to welcome people of all skill levels.
Pickleball’s lowered barrier of entry will ultimately bring more eyes to televised pro matches. Newcomers of any sport tend to turn to what the game looks like at the professional level, even in casual playgroups and environments.
The sport is rapidly growing, and the millions of pickleball players across the nation need a pro-level outlet to observe and learn from. While the gameplay might feel slow to fans of other sports, it’s exactly the pace at which pickleball enthusiasts are interested in.
When compared to tennis, pickleball clearly tends to favor slower gameplay. However, when things start to heat up, the athleticism of pro pickleball players absolutely shines through. Just look at this clip from a recent Major League Pickleball (MLP) match.
For those familiar with the sport, this point was full of exhilarating moments, a lot of which were seen in some of the slower dinks right at the kitchen. It’s the finesse displayed by Callie Jo Smith and Andrei Daescu of the Milwaukee Mashers that really gets the crowd hyped up.
Pickleball fans that are invested enough to learn the game’s strategies find these matches highly entertaining. Players that are new to the game will see exciting learning opportunities, like Daescu and Staksrud’s uses of the Erne shot in that previous MLP clip.
It must be said; Pickleball has a lot of room to grow when it comes to providing high-entertainment value on the big screen. We’ve already seen moments like the ridiculous split-step call at MLP Mesa that had many spectators questioning how specific rulings can affect the quality of gameplay.
However, pro pickleball’s potential far outweighs some of its current drawbacks. Most of the pro tournaments are either new or are adapting their formats as the sport evolves.
An important thing to remember is that the sport is still in its infancy at the pro level. The MLP is the sport’s newest league, and 2023 marks its first season with a new format with 24 brand-new teams. Another new league called the National Pickleball League (NPL) is gearing up for its inaugural season’s draft next month.
There are many advantages to starting professional sports leagues in the modern era. However, pickleball still has to overcome many more obstacles to optimize the presentation of the sport to its audience. As the professional leagues grow, their ability to capture pickleball as a spectacle will also improve.
Pickleball is intensely competitive at its heart. It’s only a matter of time before that competitive nature is accurately realized on TV.
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