Established as the fastest growing racket sport of all time, as well as one of the fastest growing overall sports, padel is a phenomenon like no other. Founded in Mexico in the 1960s by the Mexican businessman Enrique Corcuera, the sport has snowballed into a culture of its own complete with star participants, national federation governing bodies and an estimated global industry worth of nearly $200 million.
Played by over 25 million active users in over 90 nations, padel has come to be known as the quintessential ‘boom’ sport of the post-2000s. Garnering a mass following in Spain, padel’s reach has filtered through to the rest of Europe and continues to cover the rest of the world with its unique rules and noted quick progression for beginners starting out.
But how did padel become the rising sport it is today and just why has popularity soared over the past decade, particularly within the UK? Will the sport reach a peak tipping point before popularity and participating starts to decline, or is this just the beginning of its meteoric rise?
Taking Over Europe & Beyond
Spain is without doubt the home of padel. Once considered an obscure sport played by a select few individuals, currently over 6 million people play padel on a regular basis. What’s more, padel has overtaken tennis in terms of registered players, with padel sitting at 75,000 registered players compared to tennis’ 70,000 as of 2020. This has led to padel being the second most practiced sport in the country, an incredible feat when taking into consideration its recent formation.
Where padel has really solidified its appeal is undoubtedly the Scandinavian countries. As of 2021, Sweden laid claim to over 4100 padel courts, a 310% increase to 2019, highlighting its wildfire like escalation in access, infrastructure, and participation. Denmark and Finland have also seen this growth sustained on a mass scale, with a 516% and 592% increase in the
number of courts since 2019. This continued development was assisted during the COVID-19 pandemic by the fact that padel courts remained open for public and social use, helping to advance its trajectory whilst the majority of social sports remained stagnant and unavailable.
The padel fever has predictably made its way to Western Europe, with the UK and France showing clear signs that the sport is growing exponentially. As of 2021, the total number of padel courts in the UK is 130, benefitted by worldwide stars such as Andy Murray, David Beckham and Jurgen Klopp playing and advocating for the sport. The first Pro Padel In France, padel courts doubled to almost 1,000 between 2019-2021, with President Emmanuel Macron among its huge fans and participants. One of those 1000 courts is the spectacular arena within Roland Garros, the famous location of the French Open.
With Germany also following a similar vertical-like curve in development and participation, padel is unequivocally spreading and growing at an extraordinary rate. Investment opportunities are fast becoming obsolete due to the rapid capitalising of roles within these markets, signifying that time is of the essence for businesses to establish themselves and ride the tide of the padel wave.
The Future of Padel
Padel’s imminent and long-term future looks strong and prosperous. Due to the low financial threshold to begin playing, a cross spectrum of demographics who can participate and feel comfortable doing so, as well as its appeal as a competitive yet fun form of sporting exercise, has rubberstamped its burgeoning potential in unconquered or growing markets.
In the UK, the gym chain David Lloyd Leisur plan to build an estimated 90+ padel courts nationwide over the next decade, including three courts as standard for all new venues opened. The LTA, padel’s governing body within Great Britain, are slowly beginning to single out and direct promising players to padel over the traditional form of tennis, signalling the high regards in which they hold the sport and its destiny.
Like all sports, one of the main proponents of establishing worldwide success and popularity is for it to become a fully-fledged Olympic sport. Many are predicting this to happen within the next decade, as it currently meets all but one of the requirements needed for this happen. In 2019, padel was officially recognized as an international sport by the IOC, however the male side of the sport needs to reach 75 national federations before Olympic status can be confirmed, with it currently sitting at 38.
It seems like it’s a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ padel’s popularity paves the way for Olympic status and mass participation globally. As a major sport, padel has shaken off its doubters labelling the sport as ‘hype’ and a ‘fad’, progressing at a rate seen like no other new sport, not to mention racket sport. Now is the time to embrace padel and enjoy its spectacle.