Digital Marketing Redux   //   May 16, 2024

Why big retail names like Target and Lululemon are courting pickleball players

Some of the biggest names in retail are entering the pickleball playing field.

Lululemon collaborated with Life Time pickleball and tennis to be its official apparel partner earlier this month. In April, Target teamed up with tennis brand Prince to launch a limited-time collection of pickleball apparel and sporting goods.

Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. since the pandemic. But despite its growing popularity, there has yet to be a dominant brand endemic to the sport, said Sky Canaves, senior analyst at eMarketer. Startups and athletic retailers were among the first to dabble in pickleball. In 2022, Skechers started signing pickleball athletes as brand ambassadors, while Recess, founded in 2021 has become a go-to partner for many brands and retailers looking to experiment with selling pickleball paddles. Now, the continued growth of the sport presents an opportunity for larger retailers to gain market share and acquire more customers.

Canaves said that while larger players are new to pickleball, they could have some advantage over existing smaller brands due to their existing presence. “Because of their scale, their existing customers and their ability to market and distribute products more efficiently in some cases than the smaller brands, they do have some advantages,” Canaves said. “There still isn’t one big pickleball [brand] that’s come out. We don’t have a Lululemon of pickleball or a Wilson of pickleball yet.”

Lululemon and Target are aiming to expand their customer base through these pickleball partnerships, Greg Carlucci, senior director analyst at Gartner, told Modern Retail. One of pickleball’s biggest draws is its multigenerational audience. According to USA Pickleball’s latest fact sheet, 21.2% of total pickleball participants in 2021 were between 6-17 years old, 28.8% were 18-34 years old and 20.4% were 35-54 years old. 

“By and large, whether you’re Gen Z all the way up through Gen X and Boomers, it’s a sport that can be scaled across different generations,” Carlucci said. “It reaches a broad scope of audience and it’s an approachable sport that a lot of people can play, which is not true for every sport.”

Lululemon and Target are approaching pickleball in the same way that some of their peers have done in the past: partnerships.

Lululemon’s agreement with Life Time means that it would be providing apparel items to the fitness club’s members through the club’s LifeShop store and its website. Lululemon and Life Time would also be collaborating on the key events, including select Life Time Pickleball Classic events. 

Brands partnering with pickleball clubs really started to pick up last summer, with beverage startups like Sanzo and Poppi teaming up with the Professional Pickleball Association and Miami Pickleball Club, respectively to be their official beverage partner. As part of the partnership, Sanzo said that its brand logo will be seen on the sides of the pickleball courts during tournaments.  

Target, on the other hand, has opted to launch its own collection with a well-known sporting goods brand. For a limited time, Target is offering up to 80 pickleball-related products, such as paddles and duffel equipment bags as well as apparel for men and women. Target said in the announcement that the collection aims to be a one-stop shop for pickleball-related items. 

While core pickleball players might be more familiar with the best brands for their sporting needs, larger brands have room to appeal to people who are just getting started, said Dan Lobring, senior vice president of Stretch PR, a global PR firm specializing in business and sports.

“Because it’s new and upcoming, there isn’t as much awareness around who’s the main paddle manufacturer,” Lobring said “There is some nice blue sky for the more traditional retailers to sort of own that market. Share of people that are going to be more casual and also interested in trying.”

Compared to traditional pickleball brands, Target’s collection is in the more affordable price range. The Prince for Target paddle is only $40, while a single paddle from brands like Recess can cost $98. 

However, for avid pickleball fans, Lobring said it might be hard to convince them to stray away from the brands they already know and love. Still, Lobring said that there is a market for established and newer players in the pickleball playing field.  

“If I’m an avid pickleball fan, and I want to be wearing the same gear as a professional, I’m probably not going to Target,” he said. “But if I’m more just wanting to try it and play with friends maybe Target’s a good option.”