Pickleball courts are replacing old retail tenants in shopping malls.
What Happened: In Stamford, Connecticut, Pickleball America is building one of the largest indoor U.S. pickleball venues in an 80,000 square-foot space that was formerly a two-story Saks Off 5th retail store, CNN reports.
In Missouri, an outdoor mall is replacing a former Bed Bath & Beyond with a pickleball club.
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Malls in New Jersey and New Hampshire replaced former Burlington and Old Navy spaces with pickleball clubs.
In July, Picklemall, a company backed by Major League Pickleball founder Steve Kuhn, will open its first U.S. location in Tempe, Arizona. The venue will utilize indoor malls and strip malls for new locations, helping to drive people to vacant spaces.
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Picklemall will also utilize apps that offer scheduling for courts, learning new skills and recording your game easier.
Fifty more locations are planned over the next 24 months in various cities, including Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Why It’s Important: Pickleball has become one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.
It started in the 1960s, but from 2019 to 2022, it grew by 159%, according to data from Sports & Fitness Industry. The Association of Pickleball Professionals claims the sport grew 35% from August 2022 to March 2023. With an estimated 8.9 million pickleball players, courts are beginning to pop up in city parks, hotels, retirement communities and now shopping malls.
With several retailers struggling and closing stores in shopping malls and strip malls to focus on high-performing stores and direct-to-consumer efforts, large real estate is coming to market and needs tenants.
Pickleball courts could be an answer for mall owners who need to replace the empty space. Having pickleball courts can also bring in new potential shoppers to frequent stores before and after playing, similar to indoor golf and other sports entertainment complexes.
The trend comes as the game attracts some famous names, some even vying for ownership of professional teams.
VeeCon 2023, a super conference hosted by Gary Vee and VeeFriends, featured a pickleball court during its Field Day for people to play or try out the sport if they had never played.
Vee is one of the many celebrity owners of pickleball franchises. Vee acquired a team in 2022 for the Major League Pickleball. His team is named “The 5’s” after his favorite number.
Other celebrities and entrepreneurs that are fans of the game include LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kevin Durant, Heidi Klum, Michael Phelps, Kate Upton, Justin Verlander, Drew Brees, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka and Dude Perfect.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been playing the sport for decades (a friend of his dad’s is said to be one of the inventors of the sport).
“They found a net, a Wiffle ball, some ping-pong paddles and created a game on an old badminton court that the entire family could play together,” Gates said previously.
The popularity of pickleball has also led to increased media coverage. CBS Sports, a unit of Paramount Global Inc (NASDAQ:PARA)(NASDAQ:PARAA) and ESPN, part of The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS), both acquired rights to air tournaments and content.
Deals signed with DraftKings and Genius Sports could also see pickleball betting in the future.
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