It’s taken 50 years to catch on, but the game with the funny name combining elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis is gaining momentum nationwide. Pickleball, started in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965 by three men as entertainment for their bored families, is not named for pickles. It’s still unclear how the game got its name.
Escalade Sports, located at 817 Maxwell Ave., first became aware of the sport roughly two years ago, says David Vogrin, director of marketing at Escalade. After a year of researching, Escalade bought Pickleball Now in March 2014 and began to sell paddles, balls, and accessories for the sport still under the Pickleball Now name.
“It was a perfect storm of events,” says Vogrin. “Not only had we started to see the game played in gyms, but customers began to ask about it.”
The business just completed two courts in its facilities — one with an indoor playing surface and the other with an outdoor playing surface — for all employees to play and familiarize themselves with pickleball. Vogrin says the company encourages employees to be active and to try the sport.
A recent report from the Sporting Goods Fitness Industry Association recorded pickleball participation in 2014 at 2.5 million people. That includes players who have played the sport one or more times. According to Vogrin, SGFIA is a sports industry data source.
Other than a net, to play the game, you need a paddle — which has a flat wide surface and is smaller than a tennis racket — and of course, a pickleball. The balls are similar to wiffleballs with holes throughout. Vogrin says different types of balls are used for indoor and outdoor play.
“We’re taking a different view on the ball,” he says, adding Escalade also is seeking unique new technology with paddles. “We’re focused on providing products with optimum performance.”
When it comes to pickleball in the Tri-State, Vogrin says one of Escalade’s key initiatives is to grow the category. “We dominate table tennis, darts, and many other categories. We want to do the same with pickleball,” he adds.
The business also is positioning its brand toward a younger generation, including sponsoring younger players in the game. In March, Escalade sponsored five teams in the first official pickleball tournament at the Downtown YMCA. One of its teams — Ben Tremont and Escalade president Dave Fetherman — won the tournament. Vogrin says the sport is gaining popularity because it is fun, active, and social.
“Pickleball is unique because you can play a point and you’ve had fun whether you win or lose. When you get done, you’re laughing,” he says.