Alternative Sports

In North America, Mid-July is considered the ​worst month for sports fans​. The NBA finals are done, and there’s no NFL or NHL.

So it’s the perfect time of year to talk about alternative sports.

It seems like Pickleball is sucking up all the oxygen in the room. But there’s lots of other cool stuff out there gaining traction which you may not have heard of.

In this issue, we’ll explore some of these alternatives. How many people play? What is the largest governing body? What does viewership look like? And how much money is sloshing around?

Let’s go 👇

What are alternative sports?

What makes a sport “alternative” is hard to pin down.

They often have roots in mainstream sports, but with a bastardization twist:

Alternative sports receive minimal media coverage. They feel unserious, but have small groups of hardcore, dedicated fans.

ESPN regularly broadcasts axe throwing, dodgeball and bratwurst eating on ESPN 8: THE OCHO (which is just a temporarily rebranded ESPN 2, inspired by a ​joke​ from Dodgeball.)

Lately, some alternative sports have gained a lot more buzz than others.


According to the ​Sports & Fitness Industry Organization​ (SFIA), Pickleball is the ​fastest-growing alternative sport in America​.

At first glance, Pickleball looks a lot like tennis. In reality, it’s a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong.

You have four players on a badminton court, hitting a hollow ball over a tennis net, using table tennis-like paddles.

For whatever reason, Pickleball has curried favor with celebrities. Tom Brady, Kevin Durant, Eva Longoria, and Michael Phelps have all rushed in to buy clubs in ​Major League Pickleball​

If it seems like Pickleball came out of nowhere, you’re half right. The International Pickleball Federation (IPF) was officially established in 2020. But Pickleball has actually been around for over 50 years.

It was ​invented in 1965​ by Joel Pritchard, a Washington Senator (congressman, not NHL player) who created it as a less-intensive alternative to racket sports.

By 1976, the ​first official Pickleball tournament​ had arrived. David Lester reigned supreme, with Hall-of-Famer Steve Paranto coming in second.

Steve Paranto brandishing his silver-placed trophy for the inaugural Pickleball tournament. Yes, that’s right, Pickleball has a ​​Hall of Fame​​. (It’s just a Blogspot page updated with player bios, but it still counts)

Things became serious in 1984, when the ​US Amateur Pickleball Association​ (USAPA) was established to grow the sport nationally. This led to the first official rulebook that would dictate tournaments for decades.

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Picture of Stefan von Imhof

Stefan von Imhof

As the CEO of Alts, Stefan lives and breathes alternative asset analysis and valuations. His alternative investing newsletter has grown into — the world's largest alt investing community, with over 200,000 investors. His favorite alternative investments are holiday rentals, cash-flowing websites, and especially his collection of 300 vinyl records. Originally from Boston and Santa Barbara, CA, he now lives with his wife in Australia.

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