As some of the country’s shopping malls are in decline, a potential savior might be pickleball, a racket sport invented by Washington State congressman Joel Pritchard. The sport’s popularity is surging in the U.S.
Picklemall, a startup, is repurposing vacant mall spaces into indoor courts to meet the growing demand. With the first location set to open in Tempe, Arizona, in July, the company plans to present 24 courts. Since the pandemic, pickleball has gained popularity, with player numbers increasing from 5 million in 2021 to 8.9 million in 2022.
Picklemall founder and billionaire philanthropist Steve Kuhn, asserts the demand for more pickleball courts, as there is currently only one pickleball court for every 250 players compared to one tennis court for every 30 tennis players. The indoor concept of Picklemall offers benefits such as a controlled climate and championship-style courts. However, the indoor transition has also introduced noise challenges, as a solid pickleball hit generates about 70 decibels of noise. The company promises to address noise concerns through sound-dampening devices.
Despite skepticism regarding the longevity of pickleball, Picklemall plans to open 50 nationwide locations over the next two years. The startup uses Google queries to map pickleball players across the U.S. and guide decisions on future locations.
The venture aligns with the changing demands of mall goers, particularly millennials and Gen Z-ers, who seek retail, entertainment, and dining experiences with a difference. Despite some assumptions falling short about Gen Z expectations, Picklemall hopes to tap into a unique feature of pickleball: its ability to bring together multiple generations in one game.
Beware, however, that pickleball injuries are amounting to upwards of $500 million in medical costs annually, as estimated UBS analyst Andrew Mok after assessing data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and studies about the sport.