UPDATE TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE (April 1): Ben Johns has announced he is signing with JOOLA. It is clear at this point that JOOLA is going all-in on pickleball as we had noted in our original post below – there are going to be 14 paddles total being released. Johns lined up some media rounds to make his announcement instead of on his own podcast that has not had an episode since January 22, 2022. It sounds like there are a number of other current pros who have sponsorship deals lined up with JOOLA.
The most interesting thing to monitor with this official announcement is where Ben Johns’ new signature paddle fits into the current landscape of pro pickleball. There has been a lot of discussion about the Crbn, its legality and even reports of the PPA possibly banning the paddle. We expect the goal for Johns in partnering with JOOLA is to have a paddle that will push the limits of what can be done. While training, fitness, diet etc. are clearly the most important aspects for a player, it will be monitored whether this change in sponsorship will make any difference for the current #1 player.
The whispers have been around for weeks now, and continue to grow, that Ben Johns is set to join JOOLA on what we presume must be a substantial sponsorship deal with the European table tennis company. The rumor is that Johns has turned down an extension from Franklin that would have paid him around seven figures over three years (edit: the offer may have been four years). Johns, who has been with Franklin since 2019, has been undeniably the best player in pickleball over the recent years and it would appear that JOOLA is going all-in on the number one player in the game.
We do know that JOOLA is looking to get into the Pickleball game. We saw Chuck Taylor playing with the JOOLA Synchro, currently their only USAP approved paddle, at the PPA’s Desert Ridge Classic a couple of weekends ago. We also know that some pros have been given a number of demo paddles to test drive. While it is still very early stages for them, it seems pretty close to definite that JOOLA is looking to get into the North American Pickleball market even though they currently do not actually have any pickleball paddles for sale. Interestingly, the only pickleball related person JOOLA follows on Instagram is Casey Patterson.
If this partnership with Ben Johns comes to fruition for JOOLA, it will be quite a splash for a company that has no hands in the pickleball cookie jar. We have been seeing other big, non-pickleball brands working their way into the market such as Head, Babolat, Adidas and, of course, Franklin. Although Franklin sold pickleballs prior to signing Ben, their acquisition of him, supplemented by Christine McGrath and their existing relationship with Aspen Kern, was their first real foray into the legitimate paddle business. Instead of sponsoring an entire roster of players, Franklin chose to go big with a few players led by Ben Johns and it has been a resounding success for them.
It would appear that JOOLA appears to be trying to build success off the same model as Franklin by signing Ben as the face of their Pickleball line.
The rumor surrounding Ben and JOOLA is that Ben is going to be creating his version of the Electrum paddle. This is not surprising as we’re seeing all sorts of companies try to emulate and/or surpass the grit and spin that used to be unique to the Electrum brand, and Ben himself has been very complimentary of Electrum.
Not a lot of people are probably aware that Ben developed a paddle with Prince, the Quantum Pro, with intention of signing with Prince, but then Franklin came in with a better option and Johns signed with Franklin. Ironically, his brother, Collin Johns, went on to sign with Prince and play with the Quantum Pro, while Ben went on to design his signature paddle with Franklin. Ben also had a hand in the development of the Elite Pro Maverick at Engage so he is no stranger to developing paddles.
Prince thought they had Ben in the bag, which was obviously a mistake on their part to do anything without a hard commitment. Of course, it’s possible this situation could change for Ben and JOOLA as there have been rumblings for some time with nothing officially announced. For what it’s worth, Ben’s Instagram still has Franklin Pickleball as one of his sponsors. But that could also be due to Ben still being under contract with Franklin.
These are the types of deals that will push the sport forward, but it will also leave less room for smaller companies who have had their primary focus as pickleball. That’s the business of the game though as it may only be a matter of time before we start seeing players find larger deals with more widely known companies as the sport continues to grow. It will also be interesting to see what impact this signing has on Franklin. They do have a number of other pros now on their roster, but Johns has certainly been the face of their Pickleball brand, and the “Ben Johns Signature Paddle” appears to be their best seller by far.
One other thing we will be keeping an eye on, if Johns does indeed go to JOOLA, is whether there are any changes to JOOLA’s ownership, which is Sport Squad, Inc. There is currently a bit of an attempt at monopolizing the pickleball market, and you can’t help but wonder if this move might be another part of that.
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