As the sport reaches new heights, pickleball courts have become a boon for health clubs.
What’s happening: After naming pickleball as a key growth engine for its “Athletic Country Club” strategy in 2021, premium health club operator Life Time is now the largest pickleball facility operator in the country — and participation is soaring.
By the numbers:
- Since October 2021, Life Time has built five permanent pickleball courts per week, including a pickleball-only social club in Minnesota.
- It offers pickleball at 350 locations, planning for 600+ by the end of 2023.
- In the past nine months, monthly participation went from 17K to 70K+, a 338% increase.
State of Play
Pickleball’s rise has gotten a lot of hype. But its sustained interest, from exercisers and investors, has been legitimate.
The MLP effect. The sport’s pro organization Major League Pickleball (MLP) is expanding from 12 to 16 teams for its 2023 season. And a number of athlete-enthusiasts are buying in, including LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kim Clijsters, and Kevin Durant.
With an official podcast, TV deal, and tournament expansion, MLP hopes to create an all-access experience that attracts more first-time players. “Our mission [is] to reach 40 million [recreational] pickleball players by 2030,” remarked MLP founder Steve Kuhn.
Complex issues. A potential hurdle, pickleball and tennis are in a turf war. While some tennis pros and purists pursue legal action for court priority, most racquet sports aficionados are in agreement: More courts are needed to support the growth of both tennis (~22M players) and pickleball (~5M players).
Answering the call, residential developments, high-end athletic clubs, and pickleball-focused restaurant/entertainment venues are investing in the game’s continued ascension.
- 1K US courts were added last year alone, eclipsing 10K in total.
- 60% of pickleball projects are new facilities, not conversions.
Looking ahead: Life Time CEO Bahram Akradi believes pickleball will be responsible for a healthier way of life, saying:
“Someday soon I believe that pickleball will be the sport that gets the largest number of people moving for fun, connection, competition, and the simple love of the game.