Sony, Natekar Sports to invest $10m+ in World Pickleball League

SETVI Gaurav Natekar World Pickleball League

MUMBAI: India’s growing reputation as a potential racquet sports hub is all set to get a massive boost with the launch of the World Pickleball League (WPBL), the first-ever professional pickleball league, envisaged by Natekar Sports and Gaming (NSG) and Sony Entertainment Talent Ventures India (SETVI).

NSG, is a company promoted by ‘former Davis Cup star and Arjuna Awardee Gaurav Natekar and his wife, ‘Arati Ponnappa Natekar, also a former India #1 in Tennis. SETVI is a joint venture between Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

NSG will have SETVI as their strategic investor and partner in the league which will be conducted under the aegis of the All India Pickleball Federation and International Pickleball Federation.

NSG will look to invest over $10 million over the next 3-5 years in India and the APAC countries thereby heralding the dawn of a new era for the sport. The league is poised to also propel pickleball into the international spotlight, offering a fusion of sports, fun and entertainment that will captivate players, brands, and fans alike, worldwide.

Using his extensive experience of over 35 years as a player, consultant, entrepreneur, and administrator, Natekar, founder and CEO of NSG said: "We are proud to unveil the inaugural global professional pickleball league in India and are excited that SETVI has chosen to invest with us. At NSG, we have always looked to fostering a vibrant sports culture and constantly explore opportunities to grow the sporting ecosystem in India and pickleball has emerged as the perfect embodiment of that ethos. Its easy-to-learn-and-play nature coupled with it being age and gender agnostic makes it the ideal sport for people to come out and play thereby democratizing sports participation like never before. Moreover, having SETVI as our investor and the All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) as our partner, I believe we have a unique opportunity to get India to engage in a ‘new age’ activity that will also increase the basic fitness levels of India’s public.

Speaking about their partnership with NSG, Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO of SETVI said, “The alliance between NSG and SETVI ignites a new era for Pickleball's growth story. With its inherent potential to serve as a dynamic growth vehicle for sports, both in India and on a global scale, Pickleball stands poised for an unprecedented ascent. As brands seek lucrative avenues in sports properties, the soaring popularity of Pickleball promises a mutually beneficial outcome for all stakeholders involved.”

Pickleball is fast becoming a cultural and social sporting phenomenon for the burgeoning 30 million households in India who want access to sports for consumption or to play. The World Pickleball League will help transcend age and gender barriers to tap into the growing interest in the sport and engage middle and upper-middle-class segments across the country.

The inaugural edition of the league will witness six franchises compete for the title. Each team will have five to eight players including international stars. The league will also mandate the teams to have Indian players and junior players who will form a part of the team to rub shoulders and learn from the best players in the world.

Arvind Prabhoo, president of All India Pickleball Federation and International Pickleball Federation too, welcomed the professional pickleball league and said this initiative could change the future of the sport in the country.  

"Pickleball has been one of the fastest-growing sports in India since 2008. A professional league like this will only give impetus to the growth of the sport, and having professionals like NSG and SETVI promoting the league gives me confidence that in the next 5 years, our prospective target to get 1 million players engaged in pickleball across the nation is well within our reach and has the possibility that the sport will be mentioned among the top-10 sports in the country," he commented.

Currently played in over 80 countries, pickleball is extremely popular in the Asia Pacific region and has been growing steadfastly in India in the last few years with over 30,000 amateur players and 8000 registered players across 18 states already playing the sport. The sport requires less space than Tennis and can be played by anyone from the age of seven to 70, making it one of the most popular recreational as well as competitive sports in many parts of the world. 

NSG have put together a plan to develop pickleball infrastructure across the country and create a strong competitive structure to identify, promote, and nurture future talents along with the league rollout.

By leveraging the rich experience of NSG, the World Pickleball League aims to harness the growing appeal of pickleball as an entertaining and community-building phenomenon and establish the sport as a vibrant athleisure activity that brings people together.