Four players on a pickleball court
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Darts, kabaddi, and pickleball: Exploring the new popularity of these sports in the US

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October 11, 2023
This story was produced by OLBG and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

Darts, kabaddi, and pickleball: Exploring the new popularity of these sports in the US

The American sports landscape has been fairly well-defined for the past half-century. The NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL have entrenched themselves as the four major sports in the US from a popularity and profitability standpoint. Because of their inventory of games, television contracts, and the marketability of their stars, they have set the American standard for sports. In the next tier is the PGA Tour, whose majors draw millions of eyeballs as they did this spring for the final round of The Masters (12.06 million). Then you have the MLS which is attempting to close the gap on the NHL in terms of television ratings and profitability. While they're nearly there in terms of sponsorship dollars, the MLS is far behind in franchise value and TV viewership.

Reasonable minds can disagree on where the sports hierarchy, from a popularity and profitability standpoint, will sit in 10 years. For example, roughly the same amount of Americans play soccer as they do baseball. Will that translate to better ratings and higher valuations for MLS franchises in the future? That's difficult to say. A far more interesting conversation is which sports are arriving on the national radar for the first time. Just as lacrosse slowly worked its way up the sports ladder in the US, including the launch of the Premier Lacrosse League in 2019, there is still room for new options in the American sports landscape. 

OLBG looks at the next wave of sports in the US to gain momentum and captivate audiences with their unique gameplay and growing popularity. Here are three sports to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Man plays darts
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Darts received a major boost during COVID, with sports networks scrambling for live content to replace their major properties (NFL, NBA, MLB) during the lockdown. It may surprise many to learn that 17 million Americans play darts, which is a 5 times larger player pool than ice hockey. The American Darts Organization has 100,000 registered players. The global darts market size was valued at $615.38 million in 2022 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 4.43% during the forecast period, reaching $798.09 million by 2028. While the average darts player in the U.S. only earns $350 a month, the upswing in sports betting on the sport may lead to higher television ratings and prize purses moving forward.

Mamatha Mamatha #7 of Independent Olympic Athletes is caught by Zarif Doost Farideh #4 of Iran during the Women's Kabaddi Gold Medal match at Ansan Sangnoksu Gym on day five of the 4th Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Games on July 3, 2013 in Incheon, South Korea
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Chris McGrath/Getty Images


A massively popular sport in India and South Asia, kabbadi is more or less a professional version of tag, albeit much rougher. Each team is comprised of seven players, with the goal being for one player or "raider" to run onto the opposing team's floor, touch as many of their players as they can in 30 seconds, and then return to their own half of the floor. Additionally, the raider is trying to do all of this without being tackled by opposing defenders who are gunning for them. Each player tagged by the raider registers a point, while the opposition can earn a point for stopping the raider. That is the crux of the game. The US Kabaddi League is set to launch, seven years after the US entered its first Kabaddi World Cup in 2016. Time will tell if it can rise quickly in terms of US popularity or be left on the scrap heap with other failed leagues like Slam Ball.  

Four people playing pickleball
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While the first two sports on this list need things to go just right to experience a major jump in popularity, pickleball is already on its way. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US in the last three years. Pickleball participation has grown an average of 158.6% over the last three years according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). There are an estimated 36.5 million pickleball players in the United States according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals. Of those 36+ million players, 8.5 million people played eight times or more in the past year, and 45% say they plan to play more pickleball in the next 6 months than they did in the prior 6-month period. From a demographic perspective, 18-34-year-olds make up the largest percentage of pickleball players at 28.8% nationwide. There are currently 10,320 pickleball courts in the United States, which has aided the explosive growth of the sport. The pickleball paddle market size was estimated at $152.8 million in 2021 and is forecasted to grow at 7.7% CAGR through 2028.


All sports data, ranging from TV ratings and franchise profitability to participation statistics and growth estimates were gathered from sources including CNBC, The Guardian, Reuters, and USA Today. We also referenced quotes made on the record by official sports organizations including USA Pickleball and the National Kabaddi Federation and cited research projects from outlets like MarketWatch.

This story was produced by OLBG and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

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