Back before Memorial Day, the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships moved into Naples, Florida. And it proceeded to silence those who doubted its validity as an up-and-coming sport.
Here are some of the numbers:
- 808: Total number of athletes registered
- 7: Countries represented
- 39: States represented
- 89: Years of age for the oldest participant
- 12: For the youngest
- 42/58: Percentage of male to female athletes
- 10,000 to 12,000: Spectators who attended the five-day event
- $2.5 million: Economic impact according to Collier County Visitor’s Bureau
- Nationwide coverage: The event was broadcast on CBS Sports Network
Bonus numbers: April 23-30, 2017: Date of the next US OPEN – oh, and that event will be extended to seven days, with the expectation of 1,000 athletes competing on the park’s 48 courts.
Not bad at all for an inaugural event, is it? And there’s nowhere to go but up.
Want some more numbers? Here are a few that are even more impressive, given that they relate to court contractors:
- 2 million: Estimated number of players today
- 8 million: Estimated number of players by 2018
- 385 percent: Increase in numbers of places to play pickleball since 2010 (A place to play is defined as just that – a place to play. It can be anything from a gymnasium with pickleball lines to a facility designed specifically for pickleball)
- 912/76: Number of places to play added in 2015/the average per-month number of places to play that were added
Not building courts or lining existing facilities for pickleball yet? You might be behind the curve. Even ASBA’s Technical Meeting is going to feature programming on pickleball courts. (So that’s yet another reason to attend!)
The reason for the growth of the sport can be summed up in two words: Baby Boomers. The sport is wildly popular with the 50-and-up crowd; in fact, it was recently added to the National Senior Games, and state qualifying games have seen over-the-top participation, as well as exponential growth. There are courts in parks, rec centers, sports clubs and even on cruise ships.
The sport particularly appeals to tennis enthusiasts whose spirits are willing but whose joints might be getting a bit creaky after years of play. It uses the same motor skills, but the smaller court, underhand serve and predominantly doubles play makes it inviting to those who want to stay active as they mature.
Pickleball is gaining traction among court builders; in fact, an ASBA member, Mor-Sports, built the courts which were surfaced in DecoTurf, with Har-Tru the supplier of other equipment; if other members of our Association were involved, ASBA would love to hear from you.
Momentum for the 2017 event is building. In addition to a Pro division where the elite pickleball players of the world will compete for over $35,000 in prize money, the event will feature a unique Zing Zang Championship Court, special Gold Box seating, event parties, live entertainment, charitable fundraising activities, plus a Kids Day.
And apparently, it’s a winner for the destination too, as well as the sport.
“There are courts being built every week around the country,” Terri Graham, whose company, Spirit Promotions, produced it, “The Collier County government will continue to invest in the East Naples Park where we held the event. They have some really cool ideas for improving it for next year that will offer people a little more shade.”