By Scott H. Shook
Pickleball may be the fastest growing sport in the U.S., but until recently the big names in the sporting goods business have either fizzled out or not entered into the fray at all. But with tennis juggernaut Head entering the pickleball market, the sport now has a major brand seriously involved in their sport.
“Other large brands have tried,” said Ben Simons, Head’s senior business manager in charge of pickleball, from his booth at the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, on April 29 at East Naples Community Park. “They jumped in quick and maybe didn’t bring out the best product. We’ve spent the last two years developing our product. And as of today we’re the largest sporting goods brand in pickleball.”
Head, whose tennis tour lineup includes Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic—the top two players in the world, appears to have done their homework before bringing their brand to pickleball.
“It’s always a big decision when you get in a new category, a new division,” Simons said. “Because it’s a lot of resources. You tie up R&D, you tie up factories, you tie up my time—because I’m also running the racketball and squash divisions. So you know it’s going to cost you money and time to get in. So you have to make sure the sport’s right. And that’s why we’re just coming in now. People were saying, ‘You’re late, you’re late, you’re late.’ We’re really not. Pickleball is in its infancy, I think. And you’re never late if you do it right, in my opinion. That’s why we took our time.”
Head is rolling out a comprehensive package, including two lines of paddles, grips, bags, headbands, wristbands, hats and shoes. In fact they are the official footwear of the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships.
“As a Head brand, we can take from the others sports that we’ve done,” Simons said. “We know the philosophy that works. We can take that philosophy and adapt it to pickleball. The two lines that we have, the extreme and the radical line, are different in the way they play, in their feel. But they’re consistent in the way they’re designed. So people can really understand which paddle does what. We also have a lot of synergy between products. Like our footwear: we have indoor and outdoor shoes. We became the official footwear of the U.S. Open because we saw an opportunity there. We’ve been developing bags for a long time. We designed a pickleball bag. So I think our synergy with our other sports have allowed us to hit the ground running in pickleball.”
Head picked the U.S. Open to introduce its new line to the public. The reaction has been overwhelming, according to Simons.
“This was our launch. The first time the public saw these paddles was Sunday when the tournament started. They won’t even be available for sale until August, early September,” Simons said. “People are excited. We’ve had such great feedback here the past week. The pickleball players have told us, ‘You did it right.’ They’re excited about it. I think most pickleball players want to see their sport grow. They want to see pickleball become mainstream. Having a large brand in the sport legitimizes the business. The large brand brings it credibility.
Simons said that Head has lofty goals when it comes to its entry into pickleball.
“We want to be number one,” he said. “We’re number one in racketball. We strive to be the best at whatever we do. We’re trying to make the best product we can. And if we do that and we run our business correctly, we’ll sell what we need to in the marketplace. The goal is always to win. Most of us were athletes in our previous lives, we’re competitors. So it’s definitely a competition. We want to be the best brand out there.’