In April, several thousand pickleball players descended upon Naples, FL, to compete in the emerging sport’s pinnacle event, the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships. Family-owned, global sporting goods company Franklin Sports, one of the first high-profile sports brands to invest heavily in Pickleball, sponsored five players, including top-ranked Ben Johns.
With pickleball, one of the country’s fastest-growing sports among adults and seniors, SGB Executive caught up with Franklin Sports President Adam Franklin, who was on hand at the event, for his take on the company’s investment in the sport and where they see it going.
You have your hand in various partnerships and product launches, from being the official batting glove of MLB to the official street hockey partner of the NHL. Why focus on pickleball? It’s not often that a new sport comes out of nowhere and has overall retail viability. We believe that the sport is still in its infancy, and each year there will be further opportunities. We now have pickleball products placed in over 30,000 retail doors worldwide, and I expect that number to continue to grow.
Have you ever seen a category grow as quickly? The rapid growth of pickleball is not something that you see very often in the world of sports. Rarely, a sport comes along that captures the nation’s focus the way that pickleball has. Pickleball is highly accessible at the recreational level, which makes it appealing to newcomers regardless of their athletic background, and, at the same time, it provides enough of a challenge for athletes who want to compete at a higher level. This combination of accessibility and competition, coupled with an active and welcoming community, has helped pickleball become the fastest-growing sport across the country for several years now.
Do you see potential in the pickleball market? We feel the sky is the limit in terms of pickleball’s potential. The opportunity to be a foundational partner at the ground level of the sport is very exciting.
You’re active in pickleball sponsorships, including sponsoring Ben Johns. Do you get as much out of those partnerships as you do from other athlete sponsorships? Given that we’re still in the infancy of the sport, our pros are responsible for advocating not just for themselves and our brand but also for the overall sport. Every member of our team does just that. We’re very fortunate to work with the top pro roster in the sport, including the No. 1 ranked pickleball player in the world, Ben Johns. We work closely with all of our pro pickleball athletes to develop new equipment and take their feedback into account when we create products. By working closely with our pros, we’re able to tell each of their personal pickleball stories as they author them.
You established the Franklin Cup, an award that goes to the top players across each PPA division, and founded the Franklin PPA Player Rankings. Why such involvement, and are you as involved in other sports? We have a history of working with the top organizations in each of our sports categories to showcase excellence. The Franklin Batting Glove has been worn for decades by some of the greatest MLB players of all time. The PPA is working to showcase the best and brightest stars in pickleball. We wanted to work alongside the PPA to create a pinnacle award for the sport. The top athletes are competing head-to-head on tour for the opportunity to separate themselves as PPA Champions. We feel the added honor of getting their names engraved on the Franklin Cup will add to the prestige of this accomplishment.
Tell us about your signature ball, the X-40, the 2021 Pickleball U.S. Open Championships official ball. The X-40 Outdoor Pickleball is our flagship item in pickleball and has put us on the map within the sport. It is rotationally molded for durability, and the unmatched visibility and playability of the ball have made it a favorite among pickleball athletes across all skill levels. We’re excited to partner with the U.S. Open to showcase the X-40 at the highest level.
You’re an official partner of the Professional Pickleball Association. What do you hope to gain from it? The PPA is working to showcase the best of what pickleball has to offer. We’re committed to doing the same. The relationship is a natural fit. We’re working together to put pickleball on a larger stage and bring it to a larger and more diverse audience.
You offer over 10,000 different products across a wide variety of sports. How have your overall sales been during the pandemic? How are pickleball sales comparatively? The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone in the sports world. We saw our institutional baseball and soccer business go to nothing overnight. We’re very fortunate to have such a broad category of products, which helped us bridge the gap. Our backyard and outdoor game categories saw a significant spike in demand, especially pickleball. One of the first items to sell out early in the pandemic was our line of official pickleball nets.
Since the start of the pandemic, have you experienced an increase in your online sales? We have seen a drastic shift and an increase in online sales over the last year. We’re also finally seeing stronger results at the store level. I’m very optimistic about the back half of 2021 and brick & mortar retail rebounding in a big way.
Any new products and/or partnerships on the horizon? We’re 100 percent all-in on the sport of pickleball. You can expect to hear about new partnership initiatives soon. In terms of pickleball products, our team works closely with our roster of pro pickleball athletes to ensure we’re providing the best value and quality across our line. Keep an eye out for an apparel introduction and a first-of-its-kind pickleball footwear line that we’re launching this November.
How’s your pickleball game? It’s getting stronger. The recent addition of a pickleball court on the campus of our corporate headquarters will only help.
Photos courtesy Franklin Sports