Up a Creek Without a Padel

Pickleball has been one of the fastest-rising sports—in participation and licensing interest—in the last couple of years. But another up-and-coming racket sport, padel, is emerging in mainstream popularity and seems to have similar potential to pickleball.

Padel, played with four people per team, is described as a cross between tennis and squash. It takes place on a court surrounded by heavy-duty glass, off which the ball can bounce during play; players use a hybrid racket/paddle that is made of perforated fiberglass or graphite. Similar to pickleball, the sport is easy to learn and can be played by people of all ages and levels of athleticism. More than 25 million players participate in padel across more than 90 countries, according to the International Padel Federation (FIP). It oversees 64 national federations that administer activities involving more than 500,000 athletes.

The sport started in Mexico in 1969 and has taken off in South America and Europe, with Spain and Argentina being leading markets. In the U.K., participation began to rise in 2019, and it is currently the fastest-growing sport in that country, albeit still relatively small. In the U.S., the number of courts is expected to double in 2023, with more than 8 million players expected by 2030, according to FIP.

One of the indications of the sport’s rising mainstream popularity is the formation of new pro leagues and competitions around the globe, such as the inaugural World Padel League championship to be held in Dubai this year; North America’s Pro Padel League, which held its first player draft this month; and Premier Padel, an athlete-driven tour that debuted last year. The first dedicated padel club in New York City opened in 2022. A number of top athletes have been big supporters of the game, including soccer/football players Lionel Messi and David Beckham, tennis player Andy Murray, and basketballer Dwyane Wade.

Not surprisingly, collaborations, licensing deals, and sponsorships are all starting to emerge, with the focus mostly outside North America to date:

  • Wilson this year expanded its existing padel-product collection with Fernando Belasteguín, one of the most prominent figures in the game, who became the youngest player to hold a world number-one padel title 20 years ago. Wilson has been working with Belasteguín for two years. The new collection includes four rackets—the partners debuted their first racket in December 2022—as well as a new model of his Bela Pro shoe line. It also features a padel bag, backpack, and duffle bag. Separately, the company offers a wide assortment of padel products, including through other collaborations, such as with Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp, a well-known padel fan.
  • Bullpadel, a Spanish specialist in padel goods, paired for the second time with FIP as its exclusive partner for balls, bags, and rackets/paddles. The collection is bigger in its second year, for example featuring six rackets instead of two in the first year. Bullpadel also is a sponsor of the World Padel Tour, supplying yellow-and-black performance jackets, anoraks, sweatshirts, pants, tights, and t-shirts, as well as socks, bracelets, caps, and visors. The company works with a number of national federations as well.
  • Last month ASICS, one of the top padel footwear makers, announced it would partner with padel racket maker Starvie, allowing ASICS to outfit Starvie’s roster of endorsers. The two companies are also able to jointly offer a full collection of padel rackets, accessories, and shoes.
  • Head partnered with Xische Ventures for a Head-branded padel sports training center in Abu Dhabi, consisting of a training academy, padel courts with spectator areas, coaching programs, and a retail pro shop. The location offers memberships and fields a pro competition team. The pro shop is stocked with Head-branded padel apparel, shoes, accessories, and other items. Xische plans to launch a total of 10 similar racket arenas across the Middle East and North Africa by 2027.

Racket sports in general have been seeing a surge in popularity within the licensing business. Not only is pickleball hot and padel quickly emerging, but the old standby of tennis has been flourishing lately, with a string of deals being announced involving designers, athletes, and governing bodies for both on- and off-court products.

See our past coverage of pickleball partnerships (here and here) and tennis collaborations (here and here)

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