Sports Destination Management: Pickleball has been growing – do you have any facts or figures on participation?
Justin Maloof: The sport is indeed experiencing exponential growth. USA Pickleball’s membership increased nearly 45 percent between 2020 and 2021. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the nation over the past two years. SFIA data shows there were more than 4.8 million people playing pickleball last year.
SDM: What does USA Pickleball look for when seeking out places to host its events?
Maloof: We seek venues that lend themselves to creating the best-possible event experience for our participants. That includes criteria such as dedicated courts, lights, ample parking, adequate restrooms, expo space, the ability for corporate partners to activate, a dedicated local volunteer base and last, but not least, an excellent Wi-Fi and/or dedicated hard line connection for event management.
SDM: The sport has a great audience in the over-50 crowd but are you also seeing growth and participation at younger age groups, like elementary school, high school and college?
Maloof: Many people might be surprised to know that roughly half of the sport’s participants are under the age of 35 years old. We see more and more facilities offering programs for youth and observe more casual play at pickleball facilities involving families and kids. The interest in pickleball as a summer camp sport is also growing based on inquiries for resources and support from USA Pickleball.
The youth space is a priority for us, and our sport is continually skewing younger, so we are offering local youth grants and working closely with Franklin, our youth program development partner, to put paddles in the hands of as many kids as possible through physical education classes, YMCAs and other recreational programs. The college level is another huge growth sector right now and we’re seeing club teams emerge on campuses throughout the country, especially on the East Coast.
SDM: Do you think pickleball will ultimately become an NCAA sport?
Maloof: Given the quick expansion of the sport within the collegiate community, we anticipate having the opportunity to one day apply for NCAA status. We look at other sports that have successfully gone through this process, such as triathlon, and the initial pathway is typically as an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women. This entails 40 schools creating pickleball programs within a 10-year period before it can be considered eligible as an NCAA Championship Sport. But the sport must first establish a greater foothold across Division I, II and III schools before this becomes a viable next step.
SDM: If cities are seeking to put in their own facilities, what resources are available to them?
Maloof: USA Pickleball provides assistance as it relates to sport demographics, conducting feasibility studies, economic impact reports, and proposed programming, as well as informational materials on court construction. This assists in local decision-making. Once the project is approved, we assist with design, materials specifications and approved-supplier options. Once it is completed, we help promote the facility through our Places2Play platform and nationwide ambassador network. And, if appropriate, the facility is eligible to host USA Pickleball-sanctioned tournaments.
SDM: Places2Play has been an initiative of USA Pickleball – what are the figures like on those?
Maloof: USA Pickleball’s Places2Play.org website is a popular, free resource tool for locating pickleball venues around the country. The database contains the most updated information about known facilities to play pickleball. Currently the site features more than 10,000 locations with 40,000 courts. Over the past year, the listing has increased by approximately 100 new locations per month. SDM