Interest in pickleball rising across the country

Posted at 1:35 PM, Dec 08, 2021

Studies show that more Americans are playing pickleball than ever before.

Demand for the sport exploded from 2019 into 2020, with participation growing by 21%. That's a number that sports economist says is huge for any sport.

Those economists suspect that factors from the COVID-19 pandemic may have worked in the sport's favor.

"I think it's unusual. On the one hand, because of the pandemic of opening up the possibility for the experimentation, on the other hand, because it's very easy to pick up in terms of expense, and just learning the game itself — it's a pretty simple game to learn," said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College. "So, I think that those factors created a boom for pickleball that is very, very rarely seen."

Sam Brown, the president of the American Pickleball Association, says they've been doing outreach to younger generations for years. Traditionally, older Americans have shown the most interest in the sport.

"We have been helping universities get involved with pickleball. For instance, intramurals," Brown said. "We like to get the middle schools not just playing it — because they do in some schools around the nation — but having teams, just like tennis and football."

Communities across the country have also been investing in more pickleball courts. A Massachusetts town recently approved more than $400,000 to upgrade pickleball facilities. A bar in San Antonio has combined the sport with craft beer, and an old mall in St. Louis has converted the food court to a pickleball court.

Experts don't expect pickleball to bring any big economic boosts to communities, but there are still big benefits.

"It makes people happy," Zimbalist said. "It's the same reason why public parks go in and you landscape areas in your city. You don't do those things because you think they're going to raise per capita income or generate higher levels of employment. But you do it because it makes the city a nicer place to live."

Brown says those interested in playing pickleball should check to see if any community courts have equipment available to rent or borrow. He says players can buy paddles for as cheap as $15.

"I used to play against an older fella who is as old as I am, and his son was a teacher in his 40s, and he was out there with his two grandkids. And they just had a great time," Brown said.