Member Insights: for the world’s fastest growing sport to live up to the hype – only a risk taking philosophy will win the day
September 27, 2022
Ben Nichols has previously worked at Premier Padel Paris Major at Roland Garros supporting the International Padel Federation (FIP) with Strategy and International Relations. In this article he looks into one of sport’s newcomers and what it needs to do to grow in a crowded market place.
With the seismic global events that the world has witnessed this year, most notably the recent death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the outbreak of war in the Ukraine some months previous, it is easy to forget the array of other developments that have taken place globally.
For sport, as ever for this relatively young industry, there has been the steady flow of stories percolating, whether they be on-field events, governance related, political, commercial or personal. That, one can agree, is par for the course as far as sport in 2022 goes.
Yet, there’s one sport – a still relatively unknown one, at that – which is undergoing a rapid and tumultuous shake-up at the professional and the grassroots level – and that sport is padel.
As someone that has grown up with racket sports, I confess to having a significant dose of bias. Yet bias or no bias, padel is causing waves far beyond the low-hanging-fruit-tennis-playing-audience that should be easy pickings for this modern, inclusive, sociable, fun-loving sport.
Outside its Spanish-speaking and Latin heartlands – namely Spain, Italy, Argentina, Mexico and Portugal to name a few – and outside the racket sports community, the sport is starting to make some real noise.
For this 31-year-old-start-up sport – the sport’s fascinating juxtaposition is that the International Padel Federation (FIP) was established 31 years ago yet the majority of countries worldwide are only just waking up to smell the padel coffee – there is chatter in sporting circles and media coverage a-plenty causing huge hype for this sport which, for want of a better description, is a cross between squash and tennis played in a four-glass-walled perspex-come-cage box and usually in open air surroundings.
Take The Times newspaper which, ahead of Wimbledon this year described padel as ‘the sport that’s rapidly becoming a big hit’. Another mainstream British newspaper the Daily Mail cited the sport’s ability to attract other major sporting stars such as David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Rafa Nadal in a similarly-timed article.
And, pretty much anywhere you read about padel, it is sweepingly referred to as ‘the world’s fastest growing sport’ – though how one defines this is still up for debate. All this said, padel is undoubtedly, on the move.
Yet, with the sport growing at the grassroots level ever-faster in non-traditional padel markets such as the Netherlands, France, the UK, the UAE – and soon to be, I would imagine, Australia and the Asia Pacific region – it is what’s happening at the higher echelons of the sport, the professional elite level, which is the cause of growing attention and interest.
As was reported widely in the sport industry news earlier this year, the arrival of what promises to be a transformational new tour for the sport, Premier Padel, looks set to accelerate the growth in awareness of this sport amongst the sport-loving masses.
With Qatar Sports Investments-backed Premier Padel aligning with the global governing body FIP to accelerate and transform the sport at the elite level on one hand, and the Estrella Damm-beer-owned World Padel Tour having having reached its tenth anniversary this year, once the dust has settled on the power struggle at the top of sport, the greatest winner in the coming years will surely be padel itself.
Yet, whilst all this plays out – as background noise to those that want to pick up a padel racket and fans whose curiosity has been piqued by the chatter surrounding this sport – it is surely some bold risk-taking by sporting leaders that will truly lead to the game’s acceleration, because as it stands it is positive PR that is ahead of the reality of where the game finds itself at the global level.
Whilst good PR is just that – good – should the sport’s planners and administrators opt to take the sport’s top events to the Spanish-speaking heartlands, its comfort zone territories, to ensure full stadia and energised fans, then the sky isn’t the limit.
As a 31-year-old-start-up sport which has the benefit of learning from how other more traditional mainstream sports grew over much longer life spans – what sports did well, what sports didn’t – here, surely, is an opportunity, for padel to be bold, to do things differently and to demonstrate intent by venturing into new markets where the word padel is as yet an unspoken, foreign language.
If padel is to be the modern, edgy, slightly left-field, provocative new sport many profess it will be, then the sport needs a strategy that plays out this way.
Padel has made steady progress in this way in the Middle East. Whether by accident or design, the sport has cut into the mainstream in the expat-heavy markets of the UAE and Qatar. It also made the decision last week to stage an upcoming Premier Padel P1 tournament at New Giza in Egypt – the first time the sport has played a tournament of this level on African soil. It’s on track.
But what about real intent that lives up to the hype. Intent at a time when the sport has a greater spotlight shining down on its four glassed walls than ever before.
The sport should be going flat out to cement its place at next year’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, China – a major multi-sport event that would open up the gates to an entirely new, non-traditional padel market.
The Olympic Council of Asia has announced that it has begun a discussion with the International Padel Federation – namely by establishing a Task Force – to advance steps for inclusion at the Games.
This is a positive step – for the game to live up to its hype and become a truly global sport, however, a collaboration between the Asian Games and padel cannot come soon enough.
The same could be said about the Commonwealth Games – a major multi-sport event which has just hosted two successful editions of the Games (Gold Coast 2018 and Birmingham 2022) for countries covering one third of the world’s population.
For Commonwealth Sport – a sporting brand which has faced questions over relevance in recent times – and for a sport such as padel which needs to become truly global it would seem a win-win opportunity for both padel and the Commonwealth to embrace this modern progressive sport and take it to the next edition of the games in Victoria 2026, in sports-mad Australia no less.
And there are other opportunities no doubt. Other lateral, out-of-the-box thinking opportunities – that can open the gates for padel in the English-speaking market – the market really needs to capture if it is to ensure its growth runs in parallel with the positive PR.
To ensure it lives up to the hype and, perhaps above all, to ensure it attains the holy grail of Olympic inclusion which, ambitiously and pointedly could come at Los Angeles in 2028 – could there be a better signal of intent for padel to “break America” than launching its Olympic life in California – or, more likely, Brisbane in 2032.
The recent announcement of the launch of North America’s first professional padel league in 2023 is a step in the right direction – yet, it often takes generations to immerse a non-traditional sport in a new culture and that’s why bold, statement-making strategic decisions are needed by the sport.
They say in life that you will never achieve greatness until you step out of your comfort zone. Surely for padel, if it is to be a truly great and global sport as we hear its destiny, it is time to take a bold step where it has not yet gone – to take the sport into new territories and venture into markets where padel is still a big unknown. It’s time to take this radical new sport on a daring, exciting journey.