As a table tennis coach, I’m also interested in Pickleball. Playing pickleball is a relatively new sport, but it’s already gaining traction across the globe, especially in the US. Table tennis players are naturally drawn to this game for a variety of reasons.
The rise of Pickleball in the US
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Even Tennis (USTA) is worried about Pickleball.
Since 2013, USA Pickleball membership has increased from 4,000 to nearly 40,000 (1000% increase). Meanwhile, some table tennis clubs are claiming record membership for turning a tournament pass into a same-price membership so the numbers look better on paper.
In 2018 the main consensus of the strategic planning meeting was to increase the value of membership. What could be done to encourage people to become members? How could we create a community that people want to be a part of?
Make membership ‘seem’ more valuable by taking away access to things that used to be free for active players (incl tournament pass players). Access to ratings (the abysmal rating access fee that fell on its face), ability to enter 5-star events, participation in rated club leagues.
Table tennis, ping pong, and pickleball
There is more and more variation of racket sport. We have table tennis. Then we have ping pong, playing with a hardbat.
Now we have Pickleball, something in between table tennis and tennis.
A growing community of Pickleball
Then the price drop option has done zero favors to overall revenue from membership. That’s the easy solution, bring the price down. Still doesn’t really encourage anyone to be part of the ‘community’ or lack thereof. And remember these aren’t necessarily new members, many are just those who switched from tournament passes.
If nothing creative or innovative is done to market this sport and make people want to be a part of it, then table tennis will continue to lose to other sports – like pickleball. And yes people will leave one for the other, and right now that’s all one-way traffic.
Pickleball paddle is larger than table tennis paddle
The Pickleball paddle is larger and simpler than the table tennis paddle.
There are no longer table tennis paddles used in Pickleball. They are a little larger and squarer than ping pong paddles. However, there are many similarities between the games. They have the potential to be exhilarating and fast-paced. As well as this, the scoring is pretty comparable.
Pickleball enthusiasts advise beginners to compare the sport to ping-pong, but with the added benefit of being able to stand on the table.
New players are more attracted to Pickleball
PINGPOD just crossed 10,000 users – most of them new to the sport. Not to brag but just countering the point that nothing creative or innovative has been done to market the sport. Part of the creativity needs to come from the grassroots private businesses rather than relying on USATT to innovate.
The user base was accumulated through the pandemic but spreading them around and making them accessible and inviting and tech-forward gets people drawn to the sport who would not typically go to a table tennis club. the traditional club system is not inviting to newcomers.
It’s great for building talent but there are 100x more people out there that would just like to play casually and have fun with their friends. Some of those will take it more seriously but we are missing that category of folks with the current setup – USATT or not. USATT only covers the competitive players really.
Table tennis is too fast for Senior players
Yes, it’s rather difficult to master all kinds of spin of the small ball.
Table tennis needs to be more accessible to everyone. People tend to do things that are presented as an option. That’s why there is marketing. We need more diversity. Younger people don’t necessarily like hanging around creepy, old, retired dudes. Most people have played at one time or another. We just need to be reminded how fun it is. If there were more tables in plain sight, I think more people would naturally be attracted to play.
Have you been to a gym that does pickleball or has a pickleball league? Pickleball caters to people who are over 60. While your point is valid, the pickleball model isn’t the future of table tennis.
People are excited to play table tennis. We do need a marketing plan. USATTs biggest demographic is seniors. Pickleball organization together and something is working for their sport. My point about the dual pricing is that changing one and calling it membership and then saying membership is at a record high is just deceiving when the overall numbers are likely similar.
Pickleball has a very good tournament
A marketing plan would be great, what needs to happen is figuring out how to promote the sport nationwide. Right now it’s a lot of individual clubs and entities doing their thing and a lot of status quo without direction.
Some players recently got into pickleball as where they live there isn’t a table tennis scene. The small learning curve helps the enthusiasm for pickleball and helps the intimidation factor that table tennis can have when a rec players goes to a club to play. Meanwhile, hundreds of tournaments are being run with max capacity with very few issues with scheduling. The US open of pickleball has so much interest they have to do a lottery system. The governing bodies of each sport are drastically different it shows!
A player in Chicago said:
We are doing well in the Chicago area still beating pickleball attendance in all the rec centers we play in. 20 years ago, there were 3 active clubs in the area. Now there are more than 20 clubs.
I tried to reach out to the current administration by email and phone call, I was ignored. At USATT stopped supporting our efforts when the new administration came in. Nevertheless, we will continue our efforts to grow the sport whether we get support from USATT or not.
Pickleball has more fun than table tennis
Pickleball is more fun. If it wasn’t people wouldn’t play it. Table tennis is not simple enough to be fun. Hardbat table tennis is attractive to a much larger base and yes it is fun and simple. You could market the heck out of table tennis and it wouldn’t make it more fun. It takes too long to learn.
Pickleball is easier to learn
It’s a recreational sport. Don’t make it out to be anything more than that. It’s like slow-pitch softball it’s just recreational. It’s fine people or figures out how to set up their own tournaments. They will even make their own rules. Why do they need to be a member?
Do you work for a manufacturer or do you have a new idea? It’s just like bowling or racing radio control cars. It’s just a fun sport. Like Jack’s, old maid, and wiffleball home run derby. Membership will not depict the greatness
A player said:
As a long-time table tennis player (played you in the ’80s in Towson) and new pickleball player, I think you have hit the nail on the head. Thankfully I learned table tennis as a junior when I was able to train a couple of hours a day/7 days a week for a couple of years. As an adult that amount of training is unrealistic if you want to have a career and a family. I have become probably an equivalent level pickleball player playing games a few times a week over the last 15 months. It is easier. It is really fun. It’s easy to find playing partners. It is super social. Table tennis ratings are significantly better, and it has given me a lifetime of enjoyment, but it is a way tougher sell!
Pickleball is for Seniors?
Pickleball is used by Seniors to get a bit of exercise because it is easy to play. The only way we can promote table tennis is to try to get young children boys versus boys and girls versus boys in the schools to lay the path for success.
The only way to success is the Recreational level within each town. The same people running the Soccer Clubs and the Wrestling Clubs are our future. You cant build a lasting Organization with 60 year olds. Pickleball will go the same route as Paddleball or Racketball.
Some similarities between table tennis and pickleball
In table tennis and in pickleball, you need to relax and use your wrist. It’s an advanced technique.
Both sports required you a racket. Pickleball’s racket is bigger than the table tennis racket. Both rackets can be in wood or in carbon fiber.
Some differences between table tennis and pickleball
Table tennis has a more complicated serving rule than Pickleball’s rule. In table tennis, you must toss the ball up 16 cm without adding spin to the serve.
In Pickleball, you can throw the ball and you can spin the ball at the same time.
The table tennis racket should be approved by ITTF. The pickleball equipment is still developing. Pickleball racket should be controlled and approved by USAPA (USA Pickleball Association).
Pickleball is outdoor, table tennis is indoor
I think the access to pickleball makes it something you can’t really compare evenly with. Sure it’s a similar sport, but there is very little overhead as most things are outdoor. I am sure there are some things we can learn from other racquet sports to help grow our sport though.
So if you like playing outdoor, you will prefer playing Pickleball.
Pickleball is easy to play. Table tennis is very hard to play if you don’t get the “feeling” of the ball. The learning curve of table tennis is deeper.
I still prefer table tennis because I like the spin. But some players would find Pickleball is something between tablet tennis and tennis. Tennis is a more physically demanding outdoor sport. Pickleball is softer, then so it’s a good recreational sport.
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