According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the number of people playing pickleball recreationally and professionally grew to 8.9 million people last year — up 159% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that same time frame, the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) grew from a father-son passion project to a thriving pro tour, sponsored by Carvana.
Today, professional pickleballers compete for serious prize money as the Carvana PPA Tour fills venues to the gills and beams into living rooms nationwide via broadcast agreements with leading networks. Our own Jerry McNamara, Sr. Executive of Partnerships here at Tixr, sat down with Connor Pardoe, PPA Tour CEO & Founder, and Parker Roberts, PPA Tour’s Director of Onsite Revenue to discuss how they’ve strategically built a new, integrated sports property by leveraging modern technology and capitalizing on momentum around the sport. Here are our three biggest takeaways from the virtual session:
1. Don’t shy away from the competition. Find ways to differentiate.
Built on a mission to realize professional pickleball’s true potential, the PPA has emerged as a trailblazer for the sport’s future. While the Carvana PPA Tour wasn’t the first league and pro tour to come onto the scene, its explosive growth ties back to putting the fan experience first in the face of competition from rival brands.
“Our unique business model is based on our slogan of ‘Play where the Pros Play,’ and at our very first event we had 619 amateurs come to play. Whether they’re young or old, there’s a division for everyone [at the PPA] and after playing, they can stick around and enjoy the party-like atmosphere as the competition goes on.” – Connor Pardoe, PPA Tour CEO & Founder.
Early on, PPA leadership saw opportunities to provide far more than just a viewing experience. Tour stops now offer live music, food and beverage options, and even pickleball coaching and clinics to complement the headlining matches. Casual fans can sit back and enjoy a festival-like experience with ground passes, VIP access, or courtside seats, and those who want to get in on the action can reserve court opportunities, clinic sessions, or compete in a pro challenge against a top-ranked team — all through Tixr.
Opportunities for players of all ages and skill levels to learn and play pickleball are another crucial component of the pro tour’s offering and the PPA’s commitment to increasing participation in the sport. By offering up a better product, fans ultimately fell in love and dubbed the tour “pickleball’s biggest party.”
2. Partner with brands and vendors that share your vision and fuel your growth.
To provide the best possible fan experience before, during, and after events, the PPA seeks out partners, like Tixr, who understand its ambitions, contribute strategically towards its success, and can deliver first-class customer service and hospitality.
“Tixr is a true partner. The look, capabilities, and tech are far superior than anything else on the market. The support, care, and mentorship from the Tixr team has enabled us to continue to scale and grow [as a league]. Partnering with Tixr has been one of the best decisions we’ve made.” – Connor Pardoe, PPA Tour CEO & Founder.
On top of our hands-on, consultative approach to partnership management, our sleek, modern, unified commerce interface underpins that best-in-class experience for fans. Engaging visuals and a straightforward purchase experience mimic the convenience and accessibility of PPA events. As a result, the Carvana PPA Tour can better educate, excite, and convert both pickleball aficionados and beginners alike.
3. Consider your consumer touchpoints and how you can integrate aspects of your business.
As the Carvana PPA Tour expands its onsite offering beyond professional pickleball matches, the PPA is finding creative ways to build its business vertically — starting with its acquisition of Pickleball Central, the largest Pickleball retailer in the world. The PPA plans to eventually sell Pickleball Central merchandise for pre-order through Tixr alongside tickets and more, then fulfill orders onsite so fans can hit the courts and the stands decked out in their new duds.
“Leveraging our partners, we’ve aggressively added resources under our PPA umbrella. With the acquisition of brands like Pickleball Central, we have the ability to make pickleball anything we want it to be.” – Connor Pardoe, PPA Tour CEO & Founder.
A one-stop shop for both playing and experiencing professional pickleball, the Carvana PPA Tour is unlike any other league in professional sports. Offering fans exclusive access to the best pro matches and the largest catalog of pickleball gear, PPA is building the ultimate pickleball experience for all fans of the sport. It’s hard to believe that in just four short years, which include a global pandemic, the PPA has successfully built a thriving sports property with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
As the league matures, we look forward to bringing new audiences into the fold and growing the sport of pickleball as a whole. Find tickets to upcoming Carvana PPA Tour events in a city near you and experience the best of pickleball!