Updated: 9/28/20 | September 28, 2020
Wherever you are in the world, your pickleball play has likely changed starting about mid-March 2020. So, what’s good about our new normal in the world of pickleball … plenty! There are good things in pickleball during COVID.
Pickleball has grown BIG with the recreational players and the need to play outside. We love that! It’s like the game has returned to its roots of outdoor family fun with all ages and only bragging rights …. To further understand the good things happening we reached out to a few of our friends who are big wigs in the pickleball business world and asked “What are some good things, from your perspective, from mid-March to the end of August, 2020.
What are good things about pickleball during COVID?
Ernie Medina, Jr. (USA Pickleball Ambassador- Loma Linda, CA, super smart science health guy (see his credentials in comments) and USA Pickleball Board Member) read this post and commented with more good things about pickleball during covid (see his complete response in comments below) “Pickleball is the perfect pandemic panacea!” because it directly counteracts the various negatives of COVID19:
Physical health: Pickleball is exercise that helps keep our immune system functioning at it’s best…and this is the main defender of our body against foreign invaders like viruses!
Mental health: Pickleball allows us exercise outside, in the sun, with our friends, where we can have fun, laugh, and socialize in a safe way. Pball is a great antidote against anxiety and depression!
Social: Pickleball allows us to socialize while keeping physically distant, thus countering the isolation people have been feeling since “stay at home” took effect.
Outdoors: To play pickleball safely, everyone has been forced to go outside, playing anywhere they can–parks, driveways, cul-de-sac, playgrounds, etc. Being outside is a lot safer when you’re around other people, and there’s something beneficial about being outside and exercising. Also helps counter the “cooped up, Zoomified” feeling we all get from staring at our screens all day for work and school!
Weight management: While people have been complaining about the “Pandemic 15” because they are home all day baking and eating, pball allows us to get much needed physical activity, especially when many of our gyms and other places of exercise have been forced to shut down or limit their offerings.
And as you stated, the numbers of newbie and rec players coming into the sport has exploded! Ambassadors and certified instructors have all talked about how they are busier than ever teaching newbies. I and my fellow certified instructors have been holding classes for the last couple of months, and have people on a waiting list waiting for more. Many schools have had to stop their regular group sports and have now started looking at pickleball as a sport that they could do. (I started teaching a group of teen boys pickleball for their PE this week.)
This pandemic has given us a chance to refocus what it means to be a member of the USA Pickleball org. Before, most of the 40,000 members were members because they wanted to play in sanctioned tournaments. The vast majority of the 3+ million players are NOT members because they are non-tournament players! Now we are focusing in on a membership drive for those non-tourney players, showing them why their support of USA Pickleball is so needed!
Robert Elliott, Executive Director of Engage Sports: It provided us time to go back to basics and streamline and improve some business processes and procedures. We are now operating more efficiently than before COVID. It also provided us time to create some new bundle packages, colors, and promotions.
Vince Signorelli, CEO, Vulcan Sporting Goods Co.: A positive dynamic we are seeing is the growing number of new players getting into the game. All these new faces, trying the game for the first time, is so fun to see. Because outdoor pickleball is one of the best activities that people can do and also be reasonably social distant, I believe that the COVID situation caused a huge spike in the number of new players getting into our sport!
More from Vince: Another positive dynamic that comes to mind is at the pro tour level. With all of the tournaments canceled, pro’s were basically stuck at home. And then this summer, suddenly the pro tour operators went into action designing exhibitions, invitationals, and other pro-level events to replace the canceled tournaments. This pivot has been remarkable to see, and is a credit to the many smart people in the pickleball industry. These folks saw that pickleball enthusiasts were starved for live online streaming so that they could watch their favorite pro players compete. And who else is interested in this type of content? Major sports television broadcasters! Television became desperate for live sports content, and we are showing them that pickleball is extremely television friendly. With the tours leveraging this unique and difficult situation, magically they have sped-up pickleball’s transition to television broadcasting. And television is going to take pickleball to a level we can only imagine and dream about. This is super exciting.
More from Ernie: Totally agree!!!
Please share your personal GOOD THINGS in pickleball during COVID in the comments below.
Big Business – How has your pickleball business been overall?
Robert: The first few months our business slowed 50%, then around June our business returned to normal and now our workforce is actually 20% larger now than before COVID hit.
Vince: After a huge first quarter of 2020, overall demand for pickleball products dropped precipitously and suddenly in the second quarter tournaments were canceled and places-to-play were closed. I think as a group we will all look back at 2020 as “the year that might have been!” But for suppliers and retailers, even though pickleball demand has been stalled to a degree in recent months, there is significant pent-up demand that we are starting to feel in the second half of the year. I think the world is starting to experience a limited return to play, particularly outdoor play. And pickleball players are eager to get back to the game they love, which is reflected in equipment sales coming back.
If sales of any particular item(s) significantly differed from your expectations, what was the item(s) and what do you credit that to?
Edward Hechter, CEO, Pickleball Central:
Our sales have thrived during the pandemic because pickleball courts are small enough to be a backyard, cul-de-sac, or public park game. So while other forms of exercise were restricted, people turned to pickleball at home for fitness and fun. Our biggest challenge has been having the right products in stock at the right time. During March, April, and May, sales in 9 of our 13 product categories were down, and down big. But the other four categories were up, and up big. For a while we struggled to keep nets and entry level starter equipment in stock. In the last two months, sales patterns have returned to a more normal mix of product sales.
Vince: Products that lend themselves to this “Stay At Home, Play At Home” spirit literally jumped off the shelves. There were a few weeks in the springtime when every single portable net was sold out. For example, we had what normally would have been a 6-month supply of our 10′ practice nets, but that inventory was snapped up immediately.
Robert: We instantly sold out of our entire inventory of portable nets and balls. With the shelter in place, people still wanted to continue playing pickleball. We had launched our new thick core paddles, the Encore EX 6.0 and Encore MX 6.0, a couple months prior to COVID and they quickly became top sellers for us during COVID.
A word about local, small clubs:
Jennifer and Alex: In Southern California, where we live, we’ve seen two small, local pickleball clubs make adjustments to their schedule in order to comply with the no open play, keep your social distance rules: They changed from their regular drop-in routine to an online reservation system so you choose your court mates for a 2 hour period. This change in protocol has been enjoyed by many, and when “return to normal life” occurs, it looks like a hybrid of reservation and open play will be the standard. And we think this is a very good thing!
With this COVID-19 having been the first pandemic we’ve truly been affected by, we’re even more thankful than usual to have pickleball in our lives. And we think Vince at Vulcan Sporting Goods sums it up beautifully with these words.
Vince: I am very proud to be a part of the pickleball industry. Even during these terribly difficult times in this world, I am thrilled to see the hard work, creativity, resourcefulness, and passion of so many leaders – and the millions of enthusiastic players – determined to find ways to keep enjoying and playing the game they love! I’ve been in the sporting goods industry my entire career, for about 35 years, and I will always look back fondly at the camaraderie and determination of a sport working together to keep play going no matter what obstacle is in the way. Once again, pickleball inspires me, even when, and maybe especially when, the chips are down!
Stay healthy, keep playing and we look forward to crossing your path on the courts soon!
For more reading – CLICK HERE Pickleball Fun in a Pandemic, this article also written by both Alex Hamner and me for Pickleball Magazine.