A few months ago, eagle-eyed Bravo viewers like me suggested that someone up top at NBC Universal was profiting from the proliferation of pickleball scenes across the network’s reality programming, particularly on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules. Over the long weekend, a slew of pro-pickleball propaganda from the New York Times, NPR, The Guardian, and more outlets positioned pickleball, essentially a tennis game at a 1:4 scale, as the fastest growing sport in America.
And you know pickleball is red hot when the Times interviews TV’s most relevant star Matthew Perry, once a junior competitive tennis player in Canada, about his gameplay. “I don’t move around as well as I used to, but I saw my friend Amanda Peet talking about pickleball on a talk show and I was like, ‘I have to try this,’” he said.
I knew that Vanderpump Rules’ Lala Kent and Randall Emmett had granted interviews to a pickleball magazine called The Dink, but the Times also alerted its readers to a new magazine called InPickleball with a circulation of 45,000 whose name “comes from an aspiration to emulate InStyle magazine.” InPickleball published a “feature with sun-drenched photos of Teddi Mellencamp Arroyave, the former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member and a pickleball enthusiast.”
A disclaimer on the Times piece states, “Stuart Emmrich, a former New York Times editor, consulted on the magazine last year but is no longer affiliated with it.”
Well, well, well. Let’s just map Big Pickleball’s influence here: we’ve got Bravolebs, literati, A-List film stars, Larry David, and more all grinding down their heels playing ping pong for big boys, and a rash of stories appear within a few hours hyping up the sport. This goes all the way to the top, I worry, far higher than anyone over at NBC Universal. In a Morning Edition segment which aired four days before NPR’s weekend pickleball piece, a reporter even posited that if the International Pickleball Federation, composed of players in 70 countries, could get five more member nations on board, the sport could be Olympics-bound by 2024.
In a year with record-low Olympics ratings, pickleball’s explosion onto the recreational sports scene all seems a little too convenient, and I’m starting to think NBC Universal is merely a middle man answering to someone else. I’m gonna go ahead and say it’s Putin. Somehow.