Texas pickleball ecosystem flourishes amid sports sponsorship gender gap

June 3, 2024
Everything is bigger in Texas…even pickleball. This weekend, Dallas hosted the CIBC Texas Open, which included both amateurs and Professional Pickleball Association Tour pro players. Last Tuesday, The GIST spoke with Twisted Pickle — a Dallas-based pickleball marketing agency co-owned by Ashlee Erickson Blakley and Suzanne Greever — about the sport’s explosive growth.
Sports BusinessGeneral
Texas pickleball ecosystem flourishes amid sports sponsorship gender gap
Source: Bruce Yeung/Getty Images

The GIST: Everything is bigger in Texas…even pickleball. This weekend, Dallas hosted the CIBC Texas Open, which included both amateurs and Professional Pickleball Association Tour pro players. Last Tuesday, The GIST spoke with Twisted Pickle — a Dallas-based pickleball marketing agency co-owned by Ashlee Erickson Blakley and Suzanne Greever — about the sport’s explosive growth.

The growth: As the fastest-growing U.S. sport, the number of American pickleball players has surged to 8.9M and interest has jumped 550% over the past five years. The number of major tourneys has grown to 47 events across three of the top pro tours, and the $152.8M pickleball paddle market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.7% through 2028.

  • Considering its 30M population and $2.4T economy, it’s no surprise Texas is one of the strongest drivers of the sport’s growth by state, and has the third-highest number of pickleball courts after California and Florida.

The agency: Blakely and Greever noticed a niche in the market for helping pickleball companies develop their brands, so Twisted Pickle helps everyone from franchise pickleball facilities to individual players. And as far as they know, the company is also the only women-owned pickleball marketing firm. In no (wo)man’s land.

The gender gap: Although there are more men (60.5%) than women (39.5%) who play the sport, the game is growing at a higher rate among women than men. Similarly to golf, pickleball has a distinct opportunity to appeal to women players and fans, which is where Twisted Pickle comes in.

  • Blakely and Greever said the pickleball market focuses on marketing male pickleball players as athletes, while women athletes have often been pigeonholed into the influencer-lifestyle space. “It defaults a lot to women having cute clothing lines and then men are at more corporate junctures where they’re making the paddles that are selling,” Blakely said.
  • This is why they’ve been adamant about marketing women players for their athletic prowess and business acumen, like Sarah Williams. “The more women that are promoted in this scene in a business light, the more women as players are going to be focused on as their own business entities,” she continued.

Zooming out: Pickleball is seeing significant growth, but there’s also a sizable income gap between men and women due to sponsorship. The game’s proven its ROI in Texas and beyond, but it takes agencies like Twisted Pickle to push the game forward by recognizing a proven fact: women athletes are often more marketable than men. A slam dink.