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The Next Pickleball? Looking At Hot Sectors in Sports
Pickleball's growth is obvious looking back — what will we say this about in 2030?
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was recently interviewed by Forbes…
And they asked him about his biggest financial mistake.
His answer was surprising because it wasn’t a mishap (but a missed opportunity).
Dak said that he was approached in 2017 about bringing pickleball courts to Texas — but he never acted on it.
6 years later that certainly looks like a missed opportunity…
But it got me thinking — what are people going to be mad about in 2030 that they missed in 2023?
Let’s Dive In 👇
Before heading to some of my predictions…
Let’s first take a look at some numbers behind pickleball’s insane growth.
Pickleball is now the fastest-growing sport in America for the third year running.
And the space has exploded:
Merchandise - paddles, apparel, nets, and more
Entertainment - TopGolf models are popping up all over the U.S. (pairing pickleball with food and drinks)
Facilities - demand for facilities and courts to play at has grown exponentially
Teams - on the investment side, you have Major League Pickleball selling ownership of pickleball teams
Media - there are newsletters, blogs, forums, podcasts, channels, etc…
I stay up to date on pickleball with The Pickleball Clinic
Instruction - online instructional content and coaching have grown tremendously
Community - travel/vacation packages are attractive along with online groups to meet other pickleball fanatics
In 2017, I was playing pickleball in my high school gym class wondering why the sport isn’t more popular.
In 2023, I turn on the TV and see millionaire pro pickleball players on the Tennis Channel.
Pickleball was so obvious — but what else might be?
Surprisingly I find that a lot of the older generations are still getting around to understanding the power of media.
This blueprint is simple…
Content → Ads → SaaS
This lowers the cost of customer acquisition (and builds community in the process).
Vying for eyeballs isn’t going anywhere. Standing out is going to be increasingly hard (yet increasingly valuable).
I still think NOW is the time to capitalize on content opportunities.
Despite the fact a large percentage of the world gambles on sports — there are very few people that use analytical tools.
Despite the fact data products are used by nearly all professional teams — very few college and youth programs utilize them.
Add in large language models like ChatGPT…
And data analytics in sports is going to grow by leaps and bounds. Optimization is what everyone is after.
Some of you are going to roll your eyes here…
But the rise of women’s sports is still not that obvious to most people yet.
Combine more media coverage with sports betting and women’s sports will rise exponentially.
This was clearly seen in the NCAA women’s final four this past year.
Sports is the last frontier of live content (rights holders are always on the lookout for new sports and women’s leagues are becoming a priority).
If the main governing bodies of US Soccer can properly set up the infrastructure required…
Soccer will continue to grow through the 2026 Men’s World Cup — and absolutely explode after it!
It will be the first time many young American kids see soccer in person.
The MLS, NWSL, and USL will benefit greatly from this (along with soccer-focused startups).
Sport media rights holders are in a never-ending battle of filling content slots.
There’s a reason cornhole is on TV.
Exciting new sports will arise — most of them being entertainment-fueled knockoffs of traditional sports.
Think Slamball and basketball.
I’m sure we’ll see plenty of new sports (and even challengers to currently existing ones similar to LIV Golf and the PGA Tour).
The success of American sports will be replicated all over the world as the blueprint gets passed around.
We’ve seen that in cricket with the Indian Premier League (which is now the 2nd wealthiest league in the world behind the NFL).
And we’ll see it emerge in many other countries + continents.
Some startups will be able to expand globally, while others will be replicated in their home countries and repeat similar success.
Youth Sports + Academies
As companies get larger and innovation costs get lower we’ll see innovations head downstream to youth sports.
Devices that pro athletes use to train and track analytics…will be used for high school teams.
Streaming cameras pro teams use…will be utilized by AAU clubs.
I think education is in for a shift as well (especially with the emergence of AI).
IMG Academy just sold for over $1B. I could see more of these sports academies continue to pop up as the demand increases.
I don’t think VR/AR will have much of an impact on sports fans in the near term…
But I do believe it will transform training.
The ability to put players into game-like situations through VR makes a lot of sense to me.
And with young athletes familiar with video games — they’ll embrace it as well.
At The End of The Day…
My guess is as good as yours as to what technologies/sports will blossom over the next decade.
Pickleball seems so blatantly obvious looking back — but it’s hard to spot similar opportunities in the present moment.
What I will say…
Is that sports is on an upward trajectory and lots of growth lies ahead globally.
It’s a fun time to be building in the space!
Today’s guest is David Ortiz, CEO & Co-Founder of SimWin Sports.
SimWin sits at the intersection of web3, AI, esports, and content. They raised a Series B round last year.
You’ll enjoy this episode as we discuss:
Creating digital sports teams
Bridging the AI + Web3 education gap
Expanding SimWin internationally & to more sports
Check out the podcast episode here.
David Ortiz has led teams at large corporations like Microsoft, EA Sports, Sony, and Warner Brothers with over 20+ years of experience in the gaming industry.
I appreciate you reading (and listening today).
Have an awesome weekend!
I’m not sure which niche sport could replicate the popularity of pickleball…
As pickleball has three things:
anyone can play (young or old)
not expensive or hard to start playing
easy transition from tennis, ping-pong, or padel
My best guess…something to do with a Frisbee.
What do you think?