New Skechers Sponsorship Says ‘Pickleball is Absolutely Here to Stay’ – Sourcing Journal

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Skechers is going global with the growing pickleball craze.

The casual sneaker brand that counts Martha Stewart as a fan is now the official footwear sponsor for the 2023 English Open and English Nationals Pickleball Tournaments.

“With the launch of Skechers Viper Court in 2022, Skechers has fast become the leading pickleball footwear brand in the United States, and we’re looking to repeat that success in the UK,” Richard Parker, managing director for Skechers in the UK and Ireland, said. “Now as the sport is rapidly growing in the country, it’s time for players here to experience the advantage of Skechers pickleball footwear designed specifically for comfort and performance on the court. The partnership with Pickleball England illustrates our commitment to the sport and is just one of the several steps we are planning to continue supporting the fans who love this game.”

The sport, which mashes up badminton, ping-pong and tennis, has been around since 1965 but has seen outsize growth in recent years. It’s the fastest-growing sport in America, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, with participation doubling in 2022 and increasing by 85.7 percent year-over-year and by 158.6 percent over three years.

“Pickleball is absolutely here to stay,” said Max Ade, CEO of Pickleheads, a “digital home” for pickleballers, adding that the not-new sport “just exploded in popularity over the last few years.”

Whereas racket sports tend to have a “big learning curve,” Ade added, pickleball is simpler to pick up and “less strenuous” on the body, which means there’s a “lower barrier for entry” that makes it more accessible to “larger demographics” than more vigorous sports. With these factors in mind, it’s easy to see how it’s become the “fastest-growing sport” in America, he said.

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“The thing driving pickleball’s popularity is the structure of the game itself,” Ade said. “It’s not likely to go away anytime soon.”

Skechers was quick to pounce on pickleball’s potential.

Last year, the footwear company signed its first two elite pickleball athletes in North America—Tyson McGuffin and Catherine Parenteau—who compete in Skechers footwear and branded apparel. Then it debuted the Skechers Viper Court shoe last April at the US Open Pickleball Championships in Florida and has since sponsored every major tour and organization on the continent, including USA Pickleball, Major League Pickleball, the Association of Pickleball Players (APP) Tour, the Carvana Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour and the Pickleball Canada National Championship.

But does pickleball’s U.S. popularity translate across the pond?

Though the game is less established in the UK, there are at least 150 courts in Britain for fans of the once-obscure sport, according to Pickleball England, with an estimated 4,000 players in the country. The 2021 English Nationals tournament hosted more than 1,040 games over 34 events with 237 players, Pickleball England reported. Last year’s English Open attracted 490 registrants from 24 countries.

Karen Mitchell, chair and co-founding director of Pickleball England, said the organization is “thrilled” to have the footwear company in its court. “Skechers currently sponsors major elite professional pickleball tours in the United States and Canada, so it’s fantastic to have their support for our biggest events over here,” she said. “We can’t wait to work together to reach new audiences and help more people fall in love with this incredible sport and Skechers footwear.”

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This year’s Pickleball England’s English Open, set for Aug. 3-6 at the Telford International Centre in Shropshire, is expected to draw 90 percent higher attendance than last year’s event. The English Nationals will be held Oct. 26-29 at the Bolton Arena in Greater Manchester.

With new international pickleball investments taking root, Skechers might have good reason to turn its attention to China. The comfort shoe company had hedged its bets on the world’s second biggest economy, widening its global distribution network there earlier this year. Skechers holds pickleball-related events throughout the 1.4-billion-strong country, including an exhibit at Poizon Con—a mobile app marketplace for secondhand sneakers popular among Gen Z—in Chengdu earlier this year as pickleball pandemonium gains traction nationwide, fueled by social media fervor and influencers, or “key opinion leaders,” posting about the game.

Though big brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma have focused their energy on the money-making mainstream sports of basketball, football and soccer, Skechers has been an early mover in the pickleball space. Now, other footwear brands are dipping their toes into the court in an attempt to capitalize on the growing interest in the racquet-based sport enjoyed by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Larry David as well as athlete investors from LeBron James to Tom Brady.

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Fila launched its first pickleball performance shoe, the Volley Zone, back in 2019, while K-Swiss deviated from its tennis roots with the Express Light Pickleball sneaker in what the company called the first court shoe specifically designed for the sport.  

But one analyst questions why brands are making sport-specific gear for a game that doesn’t require anything fancy.

“There are brands who are making pickleball clothing and pickleball footwear and, frankly, you don’t need either to play the game,” Matt Powell, a former NPD Group expert and now an independent industry analyst leading Spurwink River, told Sourcing Journal. “A shoe made for tennis is perfectly adequate for pickleball; you don’t really need fancy footwear or apparel to make it work. [But] it can capture the community of pickleball by saying, ‘the clothing I’m wearing connotes that I’m a pickleball player,’ and therefore I’m a part of the community—that’s certainly an avenue. But from a technical competency of being able to play the game, you don’t really need special footwear or apparel.”

In other Skechers news, President Joe Biden was spotted sporting the brand’s Snoop Dogg-approved Hands Free Slip-ins—sockless—earlier this week while boarding Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base en route to London for a meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and King Charles III before Tuesday’s NATO summit.

While Obama was known for his love of basketball and former President George H.W. Bush for his baseball career, it remains to be seen if the 46th president will make pickleball his favorite pastime.

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