The popularity of Pickleball is exploding. While many have concerns that this will derail the tennis industry, in the long run, pickleball will grow and support the health of tennis
It's time for the tennis world to embrace this sport because it reflects an experience that comes full circle, from Quickstart tennis to traditional tennis to Pickleball. To fully understand why Pickleball is not a threat to tennis, it's worthwhile to briefly examine the recent history of the tennis industry to gain a historical perspective.
We all know that tennis can be a costly sport for players, and it is equally costly for tennis service providers. That is especially true here in the Northeast because tennis courts do not yield high revenue per square foot as compared to many other uses.
As a result, tennis operators have long searched for a synergistic partner to bring more income per square foot since the 1980's. Racquetball was first touted as the savior of the industry, followed by indoor fitness workout space. Both of these initiatives required costly facility conversions that were mutually exclusive to tennis use. Ultimately, they failed. The next evolution in the industry was the conversion of tennis courts to soccer or lacrosse fields.
Enter the era of pickleball to the tennis industry. This sport will help encourage tennis facilities to preserve their tennis courts and not further convert to fields because financially, it's the holy grail of facility enhancement. Two pickleball courts can fit on one tennis court and all the conversion from pickleball to tennis requires are extra non-intrusive lines and a portable net; exactly like Quickstart Tennis. It’s a low-entry investment for players and facilities, and yields a high return in both fun and utilization.
Pickleball can be added to a tennis facility without permanently subtracting tennis and, as of today, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country. Even if this trend no longer continues, the risk to tennis facilities to embrace pickleball is almost nonexistent.
Let's not forget that Quickstart tennis for children is described as a racquet sport with age and skill appropriate equipment and space that is fun, accessible, value driven and easier tolearn and play than conventional tennis. This, of course, is also the concept of pickleball for many adults with the added value of being an intriguing strategic game and thus highly-entertaining. The evolution from playing tennis to playing pickleball, for many, is inevitable.
Ultimately, the strongest argument for embracing the growth of Pickleball is it will preserve more tennis courts by solidifying the prosperity and viability of the tennis industry without permanently taking away courts and more remaining tennis courts equals more potential tennis players.
Tennis equipment manufactures as well as many facilities are already onboard marketing pickleball. It's time that the USTA weighed in to support pickleball in a big way because it is a natural evolution of tennis and can strengthen the foundation of tennis as the "sport of a lifetime."
Pickleball is an ally and best friend to tennis. Supporting this sport will help protect courts, and help grow the sport of tennis.
Steven Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.