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Bob Bowman: Why I Love Pickleball

By Chris Smith

The surge in pickleball’s popularity has swept up plenty of sports business executives. At least two — W Partners CEO Wally Hayward, who first learned of the game some 15 years ago when his daughters started playing in gym class, and former MLB Advanced Media president and CEO Bob Bowman — play competitively in Florida.

Bowman, who also introduced Boston Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy to the game, had hoped to compete at the recent US Open Pickleball Championships, but was not selected in the entry lottery. He talked to SBJ about why the sport means so much to him.

Bowmangetty images

When did you first get into the sport?

I stated playing in January 2020. Everybody is playing here in Naples, and it’s an easy game to be OK in, if a very hard game to be great in. My wife and I can play; we couldn’t play tennis, but we can play pickleball. I started playing competitively in 2021.

Why are you such a big fan of the game?

I’ve played every racquet sport; ping pong, badminton, squash, tennis. If you’ve played pickleball then you know, it’s a great workout. It’s very social because you’re right next to who you’re playing with. And it’s pretty easy on your body. I’ve tried to find something wrong with it, physically or mentally, and I really can’t. And it’s easy to play.

Do you keep up with professional pickleball players?

I follow it probably less than I should, but I’ve followed enough to recognize them. I’m pretty conversant in what they’re doing, where they’re going, who their sponsors are and what paddles they endorse. I’m certainly not a groupie, far from it, but I follow it.

What’s most important for the growth of the game?

This is one sport where participants really matter. In golf, if you think about the Masters or U.S. Open, 90% of the people there are golfers. The most important thing for pickleball is to not become a pro sport, but become an amateur sport with pros playing in it. Making sure the amateurs love it and continue to support it, and making sure there’s a very broad base is, to me, pretty vital to the success. Not trying to get the pinnacle or get the top 1% right away, but make sure we have the 99% down below who love the game and play the game.

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