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By the Numbers: The First US OPEN of Pickleball Exceeds Expectations

27 Jul, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
From Spend to Sponsors, the Sport with the Funny Name Blew Away Everyone's Exectations (Even Organizers')

Back when summer was just a gleam in sports promoters’ eyes, the Minto US OPEN Pickleball Championships took the stage in Naples, Florida. And the sports event with the funny name, the one many planners might have earlier dismissed as a fluke, put its money where its mouth was.

Or rather, it brought the money where its event was. The Minto US OPEN, according to Terri Graham, whose company, Spirit Promotions, produced it, exceeded all expectations – even those of the planners.

“It was a grand slam,” says Graham happily.

By all accounts, the event was astounding, and not just for a first-time occurrence. Figures released by the Minto US OPEN personnel bear testimony to not only the viability of the sport but to its value to the community that hosted it.

The numbers shaped up as follows:

  • 808: Total number of athletes registered, “making it the largest pickleball tournament in the history of the sport,” adds Graham.

  • Seven: Countries represented

  • 39: States represented

  • 89: Years of age for the oldest participant

  • 12: For the youngest

  • 42/58: Percentage of male to female athletes

  • 10,000 to 12,000: Spectators who attended the five-day event (figures provided by the fire and police officials who tracked this for safety purposes)

  • $2.5 million: Economic impact according to Collier County Visitor’s Bureau

  • Nationwide coverage: The event was broadcast on CBS Sports Network

  • Four: Homes sold by Minto Communities (the event's title sponsor) during the US OPEN alone. "That was in addition to all the people who stopped by to look at houses and who will probably be back," says Graham. "There were over 100 legitimate leads for Minto coming from this one event."

  • Three to Five: The number of calls and e-mails organizers receive every day, asking when registration will open for the next event.

Bonus numbers: April 23-30, 2017: Date of the next Minto US OPEN – oh, and that event will be extended to seven days and anticipates 1,000 athletes competing on the park’s 48 world-class courts. How do you like THOSE figures?

“The first US OPEN even exceeding our expectations.  The media was in full swing every single day.  We received constant coverage from the local TV, newspaper and radio every day,” adds Graham.

Oh, and by the way, it’s a sponsor’s dream, too. Minto Communities, the developer of homes around the world, including in the Florida area, that was the title sponsor for the event, has signed on for an additional two years, and a number of other corporations, both inside and outside the sports industry, listed here, also made sponsorship commitments to the inaugural event, and will be back in the future.

What has made pickleball the explosively growing sport it is? Two words: Baby Boomers. The sport is wildly popular with the 50-and-up crowd; in fact, it was recently added to the National Senior Games, and state qualifying games have seen over-the-top participation, as well as exponential growth.

"Pickleball was added to the National Senior Games in 2013," noted Sue Hlavacek of NSGA. "We had 362 players in 2013 and 652 in 2015."

Count on that number to grow for the 2017 Games in Birmingham, Alabama, and to grow yet again for the 2019 Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Pickleball is going in everywhere – in parks, on cruise ships and in private courts. The numbers speak for themselves. The Desert Health News estimates that between 40-50,000 people worldwide are currently infected with what is laughingly called ‘pickleball fever.’ And the growth continues.

Why? Easy. It uses the same skills as tennis, making it appealing to individuals who were enthusiasts of that sport (as well of sports like racquetball and squash), but whose joints have suffered from years of bounding across a court. And since baby boomers are one of the top forces driving the sports event market, it’s easy to see who’s spending the money to travel to these tournaments.

Momentum for the 2017 event is building. In addition to a Pro division where the elite pickleball players of the world will compete for over $35,000 in prize money, the event will feature a unique Zing Zang Championship Court, special Gold Box seating, event parties, live entertainment, charitable fundraising activities, plus a Kids Day.

“Pickleball is a sport for all ages,” said Chris Evon of Spirit Promotions. “It’s appealing to seniors who want to have fun while staying healthy and active, and it’s appealing to the youth who love the challenge that pickleball has to offer. The event is designed to have something for everyone to enjoy as well.”

And apparently, it’s a winner for the destination too, as well as the sport.

“There are courts being built every week around the country,” says Graham. “The Collier County government will continue to invest in the East Naples park where we held the event.  They have some really cool ideas for improving it for next year that will offer people a little more shade.”

Want to watch some of the top-level matches from 2016? You can do it here.

In the meantime, says Graham, there has been an uptick in interest in the sport – and she expects that to help boost the event next year as well.

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