Pickleball Is All the Rage — Here’s How K-Swiss, Fila & More Brands Are Capitalizing

What was once a sport synonymous with the 55-and-older club is now hitting with a younger generation of athletes. And brands are taking notice. In 2021, pickleball grew to 4.8 million players in the U.S., according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

For Fila, which launched into the pickleball category in 2019 with its first performance pickleball shoe, the Volley Zone, tapping into that growing audience is a major focus.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted that it would have turned into quite the cultural phenomenon that it has become today,” said Lauren Mallon, Fila’s senior director of marketing and strategic partnerships for tennis and pickleball. “We’re honestly just scratching the surface of the potential within the recreational pickleball category. There is so much room for growth, particularly in footwear, as more and more people come to the sport and play on a regular basis. We’re very excited about the growth in particular with the younger demographic and the opportunity that holds.”

fila, pickleball, sneakers, volley zone
Fila’s Volley Zone shoe.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Fila

K-Swiss is also looking to capitalize on the trend. The heritage tennis brand said it has seen this craze coming for the last five years and developed the Express Light Pickleball sneaker as its first sport-specific model.

“The real excitement has been in the last two to three years as the investment into the sports facilities and professional leagues accelerates,” said David Malinowski, K-Swiss’ director of tennis, noting an uptick in demand for pickleball shoes. (What makes pickleball different from tennis is the need for quicker movements in short distances, so shoes must be adjusted for stability.) Malinowski said that many early adopters came from the tennis world, which gave K-Swiss instant brand awareness as it entered a new category. And it is optimistic about the sport’s future prospects.

“Pickleball is absolutely here to stay and will be dominant in the 50+ communities, as it’s not as stressful on the body as tennis, it’s very social and can be played at a scheduled group time,” he said. “The hard part will be driving the visibility to get the younger consumer to play pickleball on a more regular basis and build leagues in this super competitive market.”

K-Swiss pickleball sneakers
K-Swiss pickleball sneakers.
CREDIT: Courtesy of K-Swiss

There’s reason to think young athletes will get on board. Total participation growth from 2020 to 2021 was fastest among players under 24 years, for instance. And on TikTok, an app geared to Gen Z, videos with the hashtag #pickleball have over 180 million views.

While the numbers are there, Matt Powell, VP and senior sports industry advisor at The NPD Group said no footwear brand has captured the attention of pickleball wearers.

“Most players are wearing tennis or other court shoes,” he said. However, Powell expects at some point in the near future, sales of pickleball rackets will exceed those of tennis, with rackets growing nearly 50% for the first six months of 2022.

And shoemakers are seeing gains.

Fila reported significant growth in pickleball footwear sales, with double-digit increases in the category year-over-year since 2020. In 2023, the brand will launch new colorways for the Volley Zone.

“We are consistently evaluating our offerings across apparel and accessories, led by one of our most popular products in the category, the Fila Pickleball Bag,” added Mallon.

As the popularity of the sport continues, even fashion brands are looking to get in on the action. In May, Alice + Olivia debuted a capsule pickleball collection sold exclusively in Alice + Olivia stores, Aliceandolivia.com and Saks.com. The eight-piece line features elevated fitness essentials, including printed matching tops and skorts retailing from $195 to $265.

Alice + Olivia’s pickleball collection top.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Alice + Olivia
alice and olivia, pickleball, set, outfit
Alice + Olivia’s pickleball collection bottom.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Alice + Olivia

“The pickleball capsule has been extremely successful,” Alice + Olivia designer and founder Stacey Bendet told FN. “A combination of the cute style, strong prints and the fact that there are not many other designers playing into this category have helped the line sell.”

K-Swiss’ Malinowski said, “The sport has passed the try-me phase and has entered the mass-market appeal, as well as professional side.” With that, K-Swiss will continue its investment in the category. For fall, it’s adding a premium performance shoe, the Pickleball Supreme (priced at $125), featuring improved responsiveness and added support and comfort. And in spring ’23, the brand will introduce its first pickleball apparel and an entry price-point footwear model, the Court Express Pickleball ($65).

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