Only a few years back, pickleball remained relatively obscure to the majority of the country. However, fast forward to today, and, as we hear almost every day now, it has become the fastest-growing sport in America.
“When Kevin Durant Says It’s Cool”
This surge in popularity is evident as pickleball courts sprout up in cities and parks nationwide. Celebrities and professional athletes have also shown a keen interest in investing in professional teams. Last year alone, over 36 million people tried their hand at this engaging sport, solidifying its widespread appeal.
Among the sport’s most ardent supporters is Steve Kuhn, formerly a hedge fund manager, who went on to establish Major League Pickleball. Recently, he took the stage at CNBC’s Game Plan conference to discuss the rapid ascent of pickleball and the imminent challenges they face on the horizon.
“I think there was a time when pickleball was considered a sport that was not really a sport. There was almost like a hushed, embarrassed tone when talking about it,” said Kuhn, famous for red, white, and blue cap emblazoned with “Pickleball will save America” on the front.
Follow this link to hear the interview with Steve.
A Staggering Contrast
Major League Pickleball teams are currently commanding prices as high as $10 million, a staggering contrast to just a year ago when they were attainable for a mere $100,000. The sport’s professional matches have gained widespread visibility, appearing on almost every major television network and streaming platform.
However, with this rapid growth, new challenges have emerged. One of the primary concerns is to enhance accessibility and make the game easier to learn for newcomers. Establishing consistent rules and scoring systems is vital for the sport’s continued development.
To address these challenges, Kuhn advocates for the implementation of rally scoring, a system that enables players to score points regardless of who serves. He believes this modification could greatly benefit the sport’s overall appeal and competitiveness.
Creating Dedicated Pickleball Courts
As he says, “We’re begging the sport to follow our lead on that. We think that would make it easier for more people to learn and have fun, especially kids.”
He also addressed the growing concerns of non-players who live within earshot of pickleball courts:
“We need to create dedicated pickleball courts where we’re not going to bother anybody. It’s our responsibility to do that.”
Kuhn expressed a strong passion for encouraging greater participation in pickleball among kids and diverse communities. In the upcoming months, he plans to visit Washington to hold discussions with House, Senate, and White House members, aiming to secure additional government funding for the sport.
Promoting The Sport Among Children
Notably, Kuhn highlights the potential of school gyms to construct pickleball courts at a remarkably low cost, providing an excellent opportunity to promote physical activity among children. Recently, the MLP partnered with Pickleball Cares, a non-profit dedicated to giving resources and sporting equipment to communities in need.
Despite his contentment with the sport’s progress and enthusiasm for its future, Kuhn remains uncertain about one aspect of pickleball: its name. He points out that the sport’s name originated from pickleboat races on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and this connection might only partially resonate with some.
In any case, Kuhn’s dedication to enhancing the accessibility and popularity of pickleball is unwavering, and he continues to work diligently to propel the sport forward.
“I still don’t love the name,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t matter anymore.”
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