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Will Anyone Watch Pickleball on Television?

  • February 04, 2023

“We like things that display physical acumen, where the stars can do things that we can’t do, and I think that pickleball is less amenable to that kind of an appreciation,” Zimbalist said.

About three to four pickleball courts can fit on one tennis court, which means shorter serves and less room to sprint for a ball. The court size may make strategy less visible, especially for new audiences or fans with a casual interest. The smaller court size also makes it harder to follow a player’s tactics or “anticipate the buildup,” Zimbalist said.

“I think that suggests that the television future is limited, no matter how many people play it,” he said.

Some pickleball tournaments can already be seen on ESPN, Fox Sports and the Tennis Channel, along with a number of streams online. But as pro pickleball looks to expand on TV, Zimbalist said that it also faced competition from other sports that are already well established — like tennis and golf — and others that have been growing for a while, such as professional women’s soccer and lacrosse.

Upson, the outgoing chief executive of USA Pickleball, said that pickleball matches were better appreciated up close, much like hockey.

“If you go and get a seat down near the glass, and you see these guys skating at 20 miles an hour with that hand-eye coordination and quickness, and beating the heck out of each other — getting eight stitches and then coming back 10 minutes later — you get a much deeper appreciation for the sport,” Upson said.

As new fans are drawn to pro pickleball, they have found there is much to navigate, with tours from three leagues: the Association of Pickleball Professionals, the Professional Pickleball Association and Major League Pickleball.

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