April 3, 2023

How Marketing and Positioning Turned Pickleball into Sexy Sport

Gary Vaynerchuk may never realize his dream of buying the New York Jets.

But that hasn't stopped him from being a professional sports team owner.

Last April, Gary Vaynerchuk purchased a Major League Pickleball franchise.

“I’ve been watching the growth of the sport over the last couple of years and waiting for the right opportunity to jump in," he said post-purchase.

A few years ago, the idea of Vaynerchuk buying a pickleball team would have been dismissed as a joke.

But today, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in North America; growing 159% over three years to 8.9 million players.

Much of the credit goes to Laura Gainor, a marketing consultant that Pickleball USA hired in 2019

Gainor played a key role in revamping the brand, the Website, and the logo and established pickleball as a cool, social and fun sport played by everyone rather than only senior citizens.

It's an amazing example of how a low-profile product can be re-positioned in the minds of existing and new customers.

I use Gainor's pickleball overhaul as a case study for my positioning workshops, so I was excited about having her as a guest on my podcast.

She talks about her original mandate from USA Pickleball and how everyone, including celebrities like Lebron James and Steven Colbert, has embraced it.

Listen to the pocast.

Here's the timestamp for the episode:

Introduction [00:00:10]
Introduction to the podcast episode and the guest, Laura Gainer, who transformed the sport of pickleball in the US.

Definition of Pickleball and its Popularity [00:01:02]
Explanation of what pickleball is, how it differs from racquetball or tennis, and why it has become America's fastest-growing sport.

Background and Journey of Laura Gainer [00:02:15]
Discussion of Laura Gainer's background in marketing and how she started her own agency, as well as her connection with pickleball and her work in transforming the sport.

Initial Impressions of USA Pickleball [00:04:07]
Laura Gainer's initial impressions of USA Pickleball as a brand and the sport itself, and the challenges she faced in refreshing the brand.

Understanding the Target Audience and Persona [00:06:02]
The steps taken to understand the target audience and persona of pickleball players, and the importance of showcasing the fun and social aspects of the sport.

Growing the sport [00:07:25]
Laura discusses how the pandemic helped grow the sport of pickleball and how media coverage played a role.

Initial mandate [00:08:04]
Laura talks about the initial goals of USA Pickleball and the challenges they faced with outdated marketing strategies.

Expanding the demographic [00:09:52]
The conversation shifts to the two paths USA Pickleball could have taken: expanding the existing demographic or attracting a younger audience.

Media coverage [00:13:09]
Laura discusses the media coverage that pickleball has received and how they were able to position it as a legitimate news story.

Media Coverage [00:13:52]
Laura talks about the media coverage that pickleball has received, including Good Morning America, CNBC, and NBC Nightly News.

*elebrities and Major League Pickleball [00:14:26]
Laura discusses how celebrities like LeBron James investing in major league pickleball has helped to grow the sport.

Marketing and Investment Opportunities [00:17:02]
Laura talks about the different marketing and investment opportunities that are emerging as pickleball continues to grow.

Niche Sports and Building a Brand [00:18:25]
Laura gives advice to marketers looking to build a brand around a niche sport or activity, using the example of Spikeball.

Working with Brands [00:19:32]
Laura discusses the brands that she has worked with as pickleball has gained more attention.

Brands entering the pickleball market [00:19:44]
Discussion on the influx of non-endemic brands entering the pickleball market and Laura's role as a consultant for ad agencies.

Pickleball marketing newsletter on LinkedIn [00:20:58]
Laura talks about launching a pickleball marketing newsletter on LinkedIn and its success as a networking tool.

Using social media for branding [00:23:43]
How Laura is using various social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, to promote her agency and pickleball brand.

Creating Pickleball in the Sun [00:25:31]
The inspiration behind creating Pickleball in the Sun, a brand that features pickleball destination getaways, and the balancing act between multiple brands.

Pickleball Destinations Partnership [00:26:17]
Laura discusses the partnership between Pickleball in the Sun and Pickle Play app, which helps travelers find local pickleball courts and resorts.

Memorable Pickleball Event [00:27:33]
Laura shares her experience helping June Diane Raphael with a pickleball event in Los Angeles and meeting Maren Morris for a magazine cover story.

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