It was inevitable that the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. would have a trading card set.
We’re talking about pickleball, the sport that combines tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong and uses a flat paddle and a plastic, perforated ball. The sport was invented in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, WA, but gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic because it allowed players to compete while remaining socially distant.
Now, Leaf is highlighting some of the top players in the game. Called the 2023 Leaf Pickleball Premier Edition, the product is due for a September release.
Every five-card box will contain an autographed card, and it will also include a serial-numbered parallel to complement the three-base cards.
If you are a pickleball aficionado, then the names of Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters will be familiar ones. They will be included in the set.
According to the latest Carvana PPA Tour rankings, Johns, 24, of Austin, Texas, is ranked No. 1 in men’s singles and mixed doubles, and second in the world in men’s doubles behind his brother, Collin Johns. Ben Johns has held the top spot for much of the past three years and had a 108-match winning streak at one point.
Ben Johns’ biography on the tour site lists him as “the greatest pickleball player of all time.”
Waters, 16, of Boynton Beach, Florida, is pickleball’s “greatest star,” according to her biography. She is the top-ranked player in women’s singles, women’s doubles and women’s mixed doubles.
Both players will be featured in Leaf’s set.
A familiar name to pro sports fans is former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. While waiting for the call to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Brees became a part owner of the Mad Drops Pickleball Club, a Major League Pickleball team based in Austin, in July 2022.
“I am an avid pickleball player, fan and student of the game,” Brees said when he announced his stake in the Mad Drops.
Brees competed in a celebrity exhibition match, called the NOLA Pickle Fest, on Aug. 12 in New Orleans against seven-time tennis majors champion John McEnroe.
“It’s his charity, so they told me before I got here I had to lose,” McEnroe joked before defeating the Super Bowl champion quarterback.
Games aside, Leaf officials are excited to announce the debut of the inaugural pickleball card set.
“We are thrilled to introduce the first-ever pickleball trading card product to collectors and fans alike,” Brian Gray, CEO of Leaf Trading Cards, stated. “Pickleball has captured the attention of a diverse audience, and we believe that featuring Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters in our trading card collection will not only excite collectors but also contribute to the continued growth of the sport.”
Leaf is banking on the sports growing popularity to stoke interest in a card set.
According to research by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 8.9 million Americans played pickleball at least once in 2022. That represented an 85.7% increase over 2021.
Forbes magazine reported that approximately 70 countries have joined the International Federation of Pickleball, and there is some movement toward adding the game as a demonstration sport for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
“Leaf Pickleball Premier Edition set will encompass a comprehensive range of cards, including rare inserts and autographs, allowing collectors to cherish the essence of pickleball in a unique and meaningful way,” CJ Breen, Leaf’s director of marketing and athlete relations, remarked. “The working collaboration with the top pickleball players in the world has been a truly remarkable experience and I’ve enjoyed every step of the way, creating meaningful relationships with each player and growing the sport of pickleball to the addressable collectible market.”