Table of Contents
We’re deep into the pickleball craze in the United States, with participation numbers continuing to swell and demand rising for courts nationwide. At the same time, we’re seeing opportunistic operators take over abandoned shopping malls and move into spaces once occupied by big-box stores that are falling on hard times.
One of the biggest names in the pickleball-goes-to-the-mall trend is none other than the Major League Pickleball founder Steve Kuhn, with his appropriately named “Pickle mall” concept; he’s already making nationwide plans for construction. But Kuhn is by no means the only player in the market, and we’ve already seen dozens of indoor facilities open around the country.
As more indoor facilities stake their claim, the industry is seeing a wide variety of approaches to the construction, configuration, and operations of these facilities. I spoke to a number of indoor facility operators around the country and found a wide variety of approaches, with each business bringing unique characteristics to the table.
Over the past couple of months, I had the opportunity to speak representatives from these indoor pickleball companies:
- GameChangers in southwest Chicagoland
- Dill Dinkers, a Washington, D.C. area chain now franchising nationally with more than 120 signed affiliates
- Pickle Haus in Algonquin, Illinois in the Chicago northern suburbs.
- Pickleball Kingdom, the largest existing franchisor of pickleball clubs
- Dan Jenkins, a Pickleball Kingdom – North Texas franchisee building an indoor facility in Plano, with others planned
- Performance Pickleball RVA (aka PPBRVA), which opened in January in Richmond, Virginia’s West End
- Chicken N Pickle, the famous restaurant and pickleball chain with locations from Indiana to Las Vegas
- The Picklr, the Utah based chain that’s now franchising nationally and making a huge splash
- Pickleballerz, an indoor facility in Chantilly, Virginia that was in operation pre-Covid, well before the pickleball boom started
- Bangers & Dinks, an indoor facility in Richmond, Virginia’s Midlothian suburb
- Crush Yard, a fantastic space now open in Mount Pleasant, S.C., part of the greater Charleston area
- Ace Pickleball Club, a franchise model that has just opened its first two locations in Roswell, Georgia and Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Pickle and Social, which just opened a massive space in Gwinnett, Georgia.
Their experiences and approaches are sprinkled throughout the article. Interviewing these operators has led to some fascinating discussions about the direction and choices their businesses have made, and some real specific patterns of operations have emerged in this new category of sports and fitness club.
This article has been months in the making, and now is as good of a time as any to publish, because new indoor facilities are now coming fast and furious. It seems like nearly every day I’m seeing a Google news alert for another new club opening somewhere around the nation. My apologies to those who reached out but whom I couldn’t fit into this analysis.
Building and Space Suitability
The national indoor facility craze really kicked off in early 2023 in conjunction with big box stores vacating large retail locations, which were often 40,000+ square foot footprints of perfectly flat concrete completely suitable for a slew of 20 x 44 foot pickleball court footprints. However, not every spot is workable. “The biggest challenge is always the columns,” notes Will Richards, founder of Dill Dinkers, who has five locations in and around the Washington DC area. “We recently went to visit a potential spot, went inside, and walked right back out in two minutes. The support columns were only 26 feet apart.” Richards continued, “It can be challenging to find good locations, but with an eye to the right details we’ve been able to open four in less than a year. Other factors that come into play include parking, zoning, ceiling height, number of bathrooms, and just overall readiness of location.”
Dan Jenkins, a Dallas-based real estate entrepreneur who has become a franchisee of Pickleball Kingdom, is opening the largest dedicated indoor facility in Texas in early 2024 in Plano, a 15-court dedicated facility. Jenkins is leasing his first spot but notes that not all pre-existing spots are ideal. “What we’ve found in Dallas is, for every big box store going out of business, there’s another big-box player that wants it. And, these spots are not cheap. To keep costs down, we’re looking at ground-up builds. The best part about ground-up builds? Zero structural column issues.” Brian Harper of Pickle and Social agrees, saying “We wanted a first in class pickleball experience, which means we did a custom build. We have the perfect config; ceiling height, colors, and windows.”
Many businesses, however, are looking to repurpose existing spaces. It isn’t just the cliched vacant Bed Bath & Beyond locations that these operators are looking for: there are a wide variety of locations that are being converted to pickleball facilities. Keith Minor, who opened GameChangers in the Chicago Suburbs in January 2021 with his brother Ken, found an abandoned roller rink, stripped the flooring and found a perfectly smooth cement floor. Pickleballerz in Chantilly, Virginia found several vacant adjacent spaces in an industrial office park and squeezed six courts inside. Performance Pickleball in Richmond, VA took over the bottom floor of a former Macy’s department store that had been vacant for nearly a decade. Dill Dinkers has gone into a warehouse space, a mall, an abandoned trampoline park, a sports complex, and leveraged tennis bubbles already in place. So there is a slew of retail footprints that can be converted to pickleball.
There’s still plenty of spaces nationally that have initial footprints big enough for indoor pickleball, but competition for the spaces may lead to more custom builds going forward.
Construction and Sound Issues
Noise in our sport has always been an issue. There’s plenty of stories out there of people complaining about pickleball noise from outdoor courts that sit near residences; now imagine what that sound is like once you’re indoors. If you have not tried playing indoors yet … well it can be loud. One of the indoor facilities I played at recently was so loud that you couldn’t hear players calling the score when all the courts were being played. It can be a problem.
So what are operators doing to help mitigate sound issues? The answer seems to be “as much as they can without breaking the bank.” Jon Laaser from Performance Pickleball put it bluntly: “Look, these indoor facilities are usually steel ceilings and steel columns on top of a concrete floor; you’re playing inside of an echo chamber.” So, in many respects there’s only so much you can do to keep the ambient noise down within an enclosed indoor space. Laaser wrapped every bit of steel in his spot with padding to cut down on noise, and got an additional interesting suggestion: plants. A six-foot potted plant with healthy fronds turns out to be an excellent noise dampener, so Laaser has added “horticulturist” to his other job duties as the COO of PPBRVA.
Will Richards from Dill Dinkers brought in professional sound engineers to look at his first facility. “They quoted me $200k of sound baffles in the ceilings to reduce sound 10% inside the facility.” That seemed like a ton of money for very little impact, so they implemented some of the engineer’s suggestions, but looked at additional sound-absorption techniques like meshed fencing and the use of carpet wherever they could. Bangers & Dinks in Richmond does something similar; the entire facility is carpeted and there’s noise-cancelling panels deployed throughout the space. Crush Yard made the investment to install over 2,000 sound baffles and it instantly made a difference in the ambient noise in their Charleston space. Per Crush Yard’s Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Ladden, “there’s still popping, but popping without echoes is another world. People hang out in the lounge a lot longer now, which leads to more food & beverage sales.”
One of the easiest methods builders can use to help with sound is to use custom sound absorbing fencing, whether its full slats that interweave or to use plastic-encased fence wiring instead of cheaper alternatives. Pickleball Kingdom’s court separator technology reportedly reduces noise by 75%. Pickle Haus is deploying heavy wood-based furniture throughout its location, which also serves as a natural sound dampener.
Sometimes, the space construction approach itself helps with sound issues. Chicken N Pickle often uses an open-air design with its indoor courts, building massive garage doors that open up when the weather allows, which immediately mitigates sounds. Dill Dinker’s Richards observed that the location in his chain that has the fewest sound complaints is a converted tennis bubble, and he thus believes that “main thing that mitigates sound inside is height of ceiling.”
Other noise mitigation issues that various companies are using include putting a layer of rubberized gel in the court itself to serve as a baffle between the underlying cement and the eventual court surface. This kind of high-end court construction used to be rare, but is now becoming more of the norm as these facilities begin to compete with each other in the same market for players.
Initially, I thought there’d be a ton of variation in the types of courts that clubs would be installing, but my interviews definitely revealed mostly similar approaches to the playing surfaces. Everyone is consistent in one thing: the courts have to play like an outdoor court. Nobody is installing hardwoods or unique one-off floors that end up deviating from the outdoor play experience. Some are choosing to invest in more advanced flooring that engineers some “give” into the surface for a better experience, especially on your joints.
Some of the surface technologies in play include Laykhold Master’s Gel (installed by Performance Pickleball), uses Plexipave, the surface used by the Australian Open (installed at Pickleballerz), and Pro-Cushion (installed at Bangers & Dinks). Most other shops used experienced tennis court installers to create an outdoor tennis court look and feel, often supplementing the court with layers of paint that provide sound and joint absorption benefits. Ace Pickleball Club, for example, has settled on a layer-by-layer cushioned court installation, which takes longer to install than name-brand surfaces but which they believe gives the best quality experience to its customers.
Revenue Model: Memberships, Drop-Ins, and Hybrid Models
To have memberships, or to not have memberships, that is the question. And, there’s very distinct opinions about whether memberships is the way to go. Some places are 100% membership driven, some don’t want memberships at all, and some are attempting balancing acts to appease both die-hard and casual player bases.
Says Keith Minor of Gamechangers, “Memberships are not the money maker. Members want to play every night in prime time. You want newbies and corporate outings and court reservations in prime time; they’ll pay full freight, they’ll rent paddles, they’ll hire pros to help teach, and they’ll hang around and eat/drink.” Chicken N Pickle unsurprisingly has no membership models; everything is drop-in, as you’d expect for a food-first establishment. Crush Yard does maintain a membership model despite its food-heavy presentation, with its CMO Andrew Ladden noting, “”We’re open to the public, but members get more.” They’re set up well as an event-driven space, but members get free play every morning as well as other programming.
Pickle and Social expects to “invert the revenue pyramid,” as COO Harper says, and believes that Pickleball (despite the facility having 16 courts) will be his smallest revenue driver. However they are offering memberships and programming to fill hours during the day that are typically empty. They offer a morning membership that runs from 8am-11am, conveniently ending just as the restaurant’s kitchen opens up for lunch service. In the other difficult-to-fill time slot (1-4pm in the afternoons), they offer drop-in round robin events to bridge the gap to the beginning of dinner service and early arriving families.
Other sites have embraced the fact that a 20% of your player base will consume 80% of your courts, and have created membership models that work. Dan Jenkins from Pickleball Kingdom ambitiously is seeking 1,300 memberships at his Plano flagship location once it opens. The Picklr’s co-founder Austin Wood describes their evolution to their current model. “Initially we were all ala-carte pricing, and it confused both us and our customers. We didn’t want to nickel and dime our customers. We realized that there’s different types of pickleball players; some novice, some addicts. So we tried to figure out a model that captures everyone. We ended up with one monthly price that gives members unlimited court reservations plus four clinics and four guest passes a month.”
Jeff Raelson of Pickleballerz readily admits that they arrived at their current membership model through trial and error. “We decided that the key to business is a membership club that offered every possible type of programming and activity. Programming is key to our success. So we have it all: drop in/open play in morning and early evening. Every kind of league you can imagine, including men’s, women’s, mixed, over 55, and youth leagues. We run tourneys, we have reserved courts and events for corporations and team building. We had so many event requests we built a party room. So we have a little bit of something for everyone.”
Many seem to be operating on a hybrid model, combining both drop-in and membership pricing. This seems to be due to the way pickleball has evolved: players generally began playing on public courts, or in spaces that weren’t dedicated to pickleball and were pay-as-you-go in some fashion or another. Bangers & Dinks has a typical structure: $15/day to walk-in or $80/month for a membership, with no contracts and a month-to-month structure. It’s very user-friendly, and it caters to the varieties of the typical open player. If you’re a once-a-week guy, then pay as you go. But if you’re a die hard, get the membership and get great value. Says Nicole Thompson, co-owner of Bangers & Dinks, “We wanted to capture the spirit of pickleball, which is open play, all day and every day. We wanted to do outdoors, inside. That’s how we learned and that’s what we wanted in an indoor club.”
Food and Beverage
The choices business owners make with regard to food and beverage offerings have the widest spread of implementation, with some the range of complexity of food offerings ranging from near nothing to full kitchens and food-first establishments. I talked with twelve establishments, and the breakdown of the twelve ended up being very neatly organized along three lines:
- Four companies offer either zero food or beverage, or a bare minimum.
- Four describe their offerings as “grab and go” primarily or have limited kitchen operations.
- Four are all-in on a “heavy” food menu
Will Richards of Dill Dinkers began his first location in Columbia, Maryland leveraging a food truck to provide food but quickly pivoted. “During our first summer, we brought in a food truck. The truck would come in but none of the players would buy food. We had the most popular food truck companies in the area, but the players just want to play pickleball. The truck operators got so frustrated by the lack of sales, they would leave early.”
Interestingly, Keith Minor, the owner of GameChangers in Chicago, had the exact opposite experience with food trucks. “Initially we had a full kitchen, which was a nightmare to maintain. So after a year, we outsourced the entire food to a food truck/outside vendor. The move allowed me to drastically cut payroll, not deal with any paperwork or hassle of food service operations, but still provide great food.”
Bangers & Dinks in Richmond provides a self-service snack point-of-sale station in the lobby area and has a simple offering of alcoholic beverages behind the counter. This was enough to allow the company to work in an ABC-controlled state, which has strict regulations on alcohol sales. The Picklr locations are also light on food and beverage, offering simple grab and go food such as protein bars and salads. Says Jorge Barragan, CEO of the Picklr, “we love Chicken N Pickle, but wanted to stay Pickleball focused.”
Ace Rodrigues, founder and president of Pickleball Kingdom, is planning a mid-range food option, attempting to cater to players with a heavier “grab and go” concept. It is as far as he wants to go into the food business for his pickleball-first clubs. Same with Performance Pickleball in Richmond. Says Jon Laaser, “We’ve created a food and beverage model that’s diverse and robust, but that caters to pickleball and pickleball players. We can do our own food and don’t have to outsource it.”
Then there’s the operators that are making a big bet on food. They fall squarely into the category of “Eatertainment.” There are plenty of sites in this space that you’ve probably already been to; Topgolf, Dave & Busters, Bowlero, or even Axe Throwing facilities. The idea is to wrap an athletic activity (ahem, yes bowling still counts) around a meal and turn it into an outing that you can enjoy with family and friends.
Chicken N Pickle is probably the most established brand with this approach, is the most well-known nationally, and has been around the longest. They opened their first outlet way back in 2016, years before the rest of the country discovered the sport. According to Chicken N Pickle President Kelli Alldredge, the restaurant founder and visionary Dave Johnson wanted the Topgolf concept but with pickleball, having become fascinated with the game early on during a trip to Arizona. Johnson’s vision? “I want to build pickleball around rotisserie chicken.” Johnson had a favorite restaurant in the Cayman islands called “Chicken! Chicken!,” he liked the social aspect of families sharing rotisserie chicken, and he drew parallels to the social aspect of pickleball. The rest is history. According to their CEO Brad Clarke, “each restaurant has three full service bars and a main kitchen, set up as fast casual setting. Customers can order food and it is delivered anywhere on the property. In fact, more people come through for food/beverage than for pickleball.” The company recently announced ground breaking on their 16th location, in Omaha, Nebraska, to open in early 2025.
Pickle Haus opened its doors in November 2023 in Algonquin, Illinois with a full kitchen & full bar curated by a James Beard-featured chef and a focus on quality. Says Pickle Haus co-founder Graham Palmer, “We decided very early that we wanted to be more of an upscale concept. We looked at “eatertainment” franchises in other sports and we saw an opportunity in this space for pickleball.” Pickle Haus’s first location features 12 courts, each of which has food and beverage service with a focus on upscale offerings while leveraging the social aspect of the sport. The renderings of the restaurant look fantastic, and guests certainly will be impressed with the space.
Crush Yard in the Charleston, South Carolina area was keen to get in on the eatertainment space, and operates in a very competitive restaurant market. It wasn’t going to be enough to just have food; it had to be top notch. So they hired an executive chef with two decades of experience in the market to build out a menu. Says CMO Andrew Ladden, “We’re a full-on restaurant and bar focusing on a southern comfort food menu. It’s an elevated food menu; it’s not just a cheeseburger and simple appetizers. We want the town to come for the food and the pickleball.”
Pickle and Social, if it’s possible, is even more “eatertainment” than even Chicken N Pickle. That’s likely because its management team includes COO Brian Harper, who spent nearly a decade working at Topgolf, which is one of the most-often referenced eatertainment businesses that food-heavy pickleball facilities are trying to emulate. Says Harper, “We have a director of culinary who we have worked with for ten years. We are leveraging our existing data from our other entertainment venues to identify the most successful food offerings and then add on seasonal or geographical cuisines per location.” Pickle and Social also focuses on the “entertainment” portion of the word, with an installed amphitheater in its Gwinnett location and a summer concert series already planned. They offer the widest set of indoor/outdoor family friendly games for their guests, including dozens of yard games and other sports. In fact, Pickle and Social’s Corn Hole set up is so good that they’ve partnered with the American Cornhole League and will have televised cornhole tournaments from their Gwinnett location.
Add-On Services, Pro Shops, and Additional Revenue Drivers
In addition to pickleball, nearly every operator is adding complementary services to their shop in order to improve the experience for the player. Nearly everyone is talking about stocking a pro shop with equipment and offering lessons from either full time or contracted instructors. However, the vastness of the current pickleball vendor landscape makes the pro shop a touchy business. Says Ace Pickleball’s Diederich, “I don’t want to be Dicks Sporting goods, and I don’t want to compete with PickleballCentral.com. The last thing we want to ask our franchisees is to try to compete with shops that stock 100s of brands.”
Instruction is one of the things that Pickeballerz’ CEO Jeff Raelson is most proud of at his facility. “We have four certified PPR pros on our teaching staff. We can take a complete beginners and get them playing. We used to offer free group lessons, and they were so popular that we created a beginner pickleball clinic series called 101/201/301/401. I believe our instruction is heart and soul of the club.”
The more eatertainment-focused locations generally have added in additional family-friendly games to service those who may come into the restaurant but not want to play. This could include casual games like corn hole or ping pong, outdoor activities like life-sized Jenga and 10-foot wide checkers boards. More than a couple shops have jammed in golf simulators into a spare corner to have an additional activity for their patrons. And some are sticking pure and simple to pickleball; no distractions, no ancillary services.
One key revenue driver, outside of pure memberships or drop-in daily fees, is a big one: Events. Facilities need to have the ability to advertise and host one-off events at their facilities. Corporate events are huge money makers and often fill time-spots that are otherwise empty (mid-day during the week), include lots of beginners who are doing a test run of your facility and the sport (read; potential new customers), and who pay a premium for the experience. Corporations can be charged for the court time, for the room rental, for paddle rentals, for instructor time, AND whatever food and beverage service they need; it’s a way to earn revenue in every category the facility provides. Pickle Haus planned for this specifically, adding a 1,500 square foot space in its facility to house events and private parties. Crush Yard’s Charleston location includes an entire second level/mezzanine level that’s perfect for large gatherings and provides overhead viewing to the courts.
To Franchise or Not to Franchise?
The operators I spoke with are all in various stages of franchising, or determining if they’re even going to go that route. Some brands are all-in, pursuing franchising as a pathway forward. The Picklr is probably the most aggressive at this point with franchising, announcing in November 2023 that they planned no fewer than 500 national franchises. And it didn’t take the Picklr team long to go from a couple of physical locations to a franchise strategy. The Picklr’s CEO Jorge Barragan tells the story: “When we opened our first non-Utah based site in Colorado, 500 people showed up at the grand opening. A tennis club operator in town was shocked at the turnout and said he wanted to be involved. We also had 50-60 emails asking for franchises, so we went full franchise mode in Feb 2023. We recruited franchise professionals who had done it before, built a team, now have 50 new hires just this year working on the franchise model.”
The Picklr has already come out firing in 2024, with CEO Barragan announcing live at the Masters (and subsequently teased on King of the Court’s Jan 15th podcast) a deal with Pickleball, Inc to take a significant investment and to merge the Picklr Shop with PickleballCentral’s online store. With the deal, Pickleball Central will be taking over the pro shops of all Picklr locations and providing gear and merchandise. Furthermore, the Picklr will be soon announcing significant celebrity/athlete investments and international expansion plans. They’re taking aim at their franchisor competitors to be the leading brand name in the sport.
Pickleball Kingdom currently boasts more than 120 signed agreements for franchisees all over the country. Founder Ace Rodrigues, a serial entrepreneur who grew up watching his father operate as a franchisee of a well-known national brand, knew from the first day he stepped onto a pickleball court that he wanted to build a Pickleball franchising business. After opening his own physical location in the Phoenix area, he began the process of building the infrastructure to expand nationwide. Leveraging the experiences, mistakes, and lessons learned from his own brick-and-mortar business, he created a now-140 page operations manual called “Keys to the Kingdom” that serves as a guide to his franchisees. He’s confident that his background of business ownership and his passion for the sport will drive his company to success.
Dill Dinkers also was on the express train from multiple locations to a franchise model, basically inside of two years. “After building four sites in ten months, we pivoted to a franchise model, offering 45 units. We quickly sold 25 of them and had more than a dozen people interested just in the Northern Virginia space,” says Richards. In between our initial conversation and the publishing of this article, Dill Dinkers has expanded that franchise footprint and now has more than 120 franchise units in development nationally, putting them firmly in the same conversation as the other three major franchise chains in the space.
Despite being a relatively new physical space, Crush Yard is already fielding calls from all over the country. Per its CMO Ladden, “the Northeast and West Coast seem to be particularly hot markets for this. I think investors who live in the “cold” see the potential of indoor pickleball all year round.”
Ace Pickleball Club is taking the reverse path as compared to most of its franchise competitors. They did not start with a physical location and then decide to franchise; they started with the franchise infrastructure and staff to hit the ground running. Says Ace Pickleball founder and CEO Jay Diederich, “Not many come into this industry with a team that’s already done what we have done for ten years: we have already built a sports franchise and already made all the mistakes that new companies will make. Experience wins.” Ace’s management team previously built a 200-location strong trampoline park franchise, and is now aiming their sights on pickleball. They have a franchise staff of 20 working, nearly 90 units already sold, and 20 locations opening in 2024.
Other franchise-model brands out there include Pickleball Kingdom. When I spoke to Jenkins late last year, he was focused primarily on his first location as a franchisee of the company. Since then, Pickleball Kingdom has set its sights on multiple markets around the United States, including a planned 20 locations in New Jersey alone. Jenkins has been elevated to “Master Franchiser” of the North Texas area for the company, and now has plans for 20 locations just in North Texas.
Interestingly, the most “famous” brand (Chicken N Pickle) specifically is NOT entertaining franchising at this time. Says CEO Brad Clark, “All our locations are privately held; we maintain ownership over all of them. The amount of construction that goes into each location mandates that we keep control for quality purposes.”
One common theme throughout all these discussions was the presence of that one “unique factor” that I didn’t hear from anyone else.
- Gamechangers’ Keith Minor put video poker machines in his location. He’s not sure there’s a ton of overlap between pickleball and video poker players, but the machines net him hundreds of dollars a week in revenue.
- Dill Dinkers’ proximity to one of pickleball’s biggest paddle companies JOOLA (both are based in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC) resulted in their facilities basically being the test bed for all of their production.
- Pickle Haus built their space to include Cabanas, not unlike what you’d see poolside at a resort, each of which have high-tops, private TVs, and waiter-service.
- Pickleball Kingdom created, sponsored and filmed a reality TV show called the Pickleball Paddle Battle, which will award two fully-sponsored pro contracts and two Pickleball Kingdom franchises at the end of its season. The competition was held last August at PK’s flagship location, and TV rights will soon be announced, with several interested streaming/broadcast parties.
- Jenkins’ Pickleball Kingdom franchise in Plano is deploying an Internet Lounge. Says Jenkins, “We want people to hang out all day. Everyone’s remote these days, why not have the opportunity to be remote at their pickleball club? I can’t argue with that logic (as a pickleball enthusiast who is also 100% remote).
- Performance Pickleball was the first group I spoke with that included a gym area specifically to support cross-training. These are the only operators I’m aware of who have their own Podcast, aptly named “The Stack.” But their biggest differentiator may be their investment in AV; more than $250k of television and networking equipment are integrated in the club.
- Chicken N Pickle’s corporate focus on Adaptive and Wheelchair pickleball, in addition to its corporate charity focus as a key part of its mission, will always set them apart.
- The Picklr was for a time the only indoor facility with a touring pro (Tyler Loong) as a legitimate part owner, though some sites have opened since our interview with other pros as investors. They’re the only group that is a part owner of a MLP team (the California BLQK bears). Lastly, they teamed up in December with the Dink and Katy Perry to literally give away a Picklr Franchise, with Omaha, Nebraska being declared the winner.
- Crush Yard has none other than Matt Manasse, aka the Pickleball Coach to the Stars, on its staff as its Chief Brand Ambassador. They’re also a leader in tech enablement, with the entire operation capable of being run off their app, including credit card payments, food ordering, self-pour beer, and court reservations.
- Bangers & Dinks doesn’t do reserved courts. They maintain open play all day, every day. They also host Sportable every week, an organization based in Richmond dedicated to working with persons with physical disabilities and visual impairments.
- Pickleballerz was named the 2022 Professional Pickleball Registry Commercial facility of the year. Also may be the only pickleball club in the country to host a wedding and the reception at its facility, held last year for two players who met playing pickleball and ended up getting married.
- Ace Pickleball Club is the only franchiser out there who built the franchise model first, then the physical model. They also currently carry between 75-80 brands of pickleball paddles at each facility for demo purposes. Instead of trying to stock all these competing lines, they allow free demos as a service to members and then support online vendors for sales.
- Pickle and Social’s concert series and capability to host thousands of music guests is a differentiator for sure. Their wide variety of family-friendly entertainment options is best in breed. They just announced former NFL Quarterback Danny Wuerffel as a Brand Ambassador. Lastly, Pickle and Social’s parent company (Competitive Social Ventures) is offering investment opportunities to the public, right now, for those of you who want to get in on the market but can’t afford to fund your own entire facility.
Are There Too Many Indoor Facilities Being Built?
The massive increase in demand for courts is clearly what is fueling the massive investment in indoor pickleball court creation. Various studies claim that the market needs $900 million of investment/construction to meet current demand, or that the country needs 25,000 new courts to be built immediately.
When will we see an oversaturation of the market? Not for a while. The divergent directions of the facilities clearly show that, like the difference between a real golf course and a Topgolf, there’s going to be two distinct markets for the pickleball consumer. Regular, serious players will focus on the locations that “feel” more like the open play park they grew up on, while casual/inquisitive prospective players may see the food-heavy eatertainment facility as a fun way to try the sport with no pressure. Sure, there’s going to be overlap between the two groups (I’m a serious pickleball player but would absolutely visit a Chicken N Pickle if it were in my town with my wife and son), but distinct patterns of behavior likely will become borne out.
Furthermore, the demand is so crazy for the sport that anyone with the money can open a facility and be initially successful. It doesn’t matter where you put it or how you configure it; right now the demand is so great that you’ll be successful in the near term. Franchise operators are acting as order takers right now, soliciting calls all week for proposals, and there’s really no “wrong” answer as to where to put a new club or how to configure it.
What’s the Perfect Formula?
We just don’t know yet. The food-first places are already proven to be successful and provide a big up-side in terms of, but they’re expensive to build out and are a big risk for new operators. Meanwhile, shops that “just” provide pickleball have less overhead costs but also are limited in per-location revenue to the realistic cap on the number of players/members they can fit into the space before there’s the same wait time for inside courts as people experience on free courts outside. I also agree with Pickleball Kingdom’s Ace Rodrigues, who believes there will be a third market segment of operators who sit in between the bare-bones gyms and the full-blown restaurant experiences and kind of straddle the middle ground.
I think eventually we’ll see some market correction, as unprepared/under-capitalized operators fall short on revenue topics and cut bait. Once the consumers in a market have legitimate choices on where to play, then (like any other business) there will be competition, and competitive factors will start to come into play. Pricing, amenities, quality of the facility, and the user experience all matter whether you’re shopping restaurants, furniture stores, or pickleball clubs.
For now, enjoy the spate of brand new facilities being built out there, support your local businesses, and keep on dinking.
Author Disclosure: I’m a paying member of two of the facilities mentioned here; Performance Pickleball RVA and Bangers & Dinks.