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by Kelly Campbell 

Think back to the old days – you meet up with friends at the mall, get lunch at the food court, catch a movie, and walk around stores picking out (sometimes questionable) new outfits. Sadly, malls across the US are no longer the popular destination they used to be, but that could change soon. With the rise in e-commerce and companies like Amazon combined with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, malls have become emptier and emptier as in-person stores shut down. Luckily, a new business opportunity might be the last-ditch effort we need to save malls across the country – and that’s where pickleball comes in. 

Pickleball passion & growth over the years hasn’t just made the sport more accessible and encouraged people to pick up a paddle – it’s also inspired entrepreneurs to get involved in a new pickleball market. From technology companies to equipment retailers, pickleball businesses and owners help revolutionize the sport while keeping up with ever-growing pickleball demand. It feels like there are new pickleball startups every week, and pickleball mall venues are just one example of a growing pickleball business opportunity. 

Read on for more about the pickleball-in-malls craze, the current market for pickleball startups, and the potential for growth for burgeoning pickleball businesses. 

Pickleball is Mall That 

These days, a trip to the mall might mean you can grab drinks at the food court and dinks at the pickleball court. Twenty years ago did you ever think that your local Sears would turn into a pickleball court? 

According to Business Insider, there are currently only 700 malls left in the US, compared to 2,500 malls in the 1980s. Pickleball could play a huge part in saving what’s left. 

Over the last decade, but especially since the COVID-19 shutdown, people have switched to shopping online. As in-person stores have closed, malls have shifted to become more of a source of entertainment with movie theaters, laser tag, virtual reality experiences, arcades, escape rooms, and even amusement parks. Now, pickleball is the latest trend taking over mall vacancies. 

Pickleball courts and venues are being built in malls across the country. The demand for pickleball is there and the price is right, which is great for pickleball business owners, pickleball players in need of a place to play year-round, adults and children looking for fun activities at the mall, and for malls looking for tenants to fill vacant lots. 

What makes pickleball a great addition to malls is that pickleball tends to be drastically cheaper than these newer entertainment experiences while promoting physical activity, even on rainy days. Pickleball mall venues are a great option for birthday parties and events for kids that are cheap, accessible, and healthy. Rather than opening up costly new facilities, aspiring business owners can utilize malls in a way that will be long-lasting and beneficial for consumers. We’re seeing more and more pickleball entertainment venues being opened and built in general, but construction of new facilities is time-consuming and costly. Pickleball popping up in malls is a no-brainer that provides wins all around and minimizes overall waste of resources.

In Stamford, CT developers plan to open a huge pickleball facility in Stamford Town Center Mall with 28 pickleball courts, a cafe, and more where a Saks Off 5th used to be. Pickleball Mania opened an indoor pickleball facility at The Shops at Ithaca Mall In Ithaca, New York a few years ago. All-Stars Pickleball Club in Concord, New Hampshire opened at the old Steeplegate Mall Old Navy site. There are more and more instances of pickleball entrepreneurs getting started at malls, and there’s still plenty of room for pickleball to take over malls across the country. 

Pickleball Startups & Where Aspiring Business Owners Can Go From Here 

With the growth of pickleball, it seems like we’ve steadily seen an increase in the number of pickleball startups in general, even in challenging markets. Both within and outside of pickleball mall facilities, there’s still a lot of room for even more pickleball businesses to open and flourish. 

Here are some of the hottest pickleball startups/startup types out there for pickleball right now: 

E-commerce – It’s no surprise that pickleball equipment businesses are booming when you consider the millions of pickleball players out there. There is a huge and exponentially growing demand for pickleball gear and these companies are thriving. Check out Pickleball Central, Nettie, and Total Pickleball

Technology – From scheduling for tournaments to finding courts to easy rentals, pickleball tech companies bring players together, increase accessibility, and have transformed professional pickleball to make ratings more unified. Check out TrackitHub, Swimply, and DUPR.

Construction – Companies that specialize in building pickleball courts – whether for personal backyards, public parks, or entertainment facilities, have become increasingly popular. Check out FlexCourt and Rhino Sports. 

Entertainment Venues – Numerous companies have started to make pickleball more social and (even more) fun with courts with restaurants, bars, and live music. Check out Chicken N Pickle, Smash Park, Pickleball Kingdom, and Pickleball America.

Pickleball startups have helped promote, improve, and increase accessibility to the game to get us to where we are now. The pickleball boom wouldn’t be possible without pickleball entrepreneurs starting and growing the sport through their business ventures, and there are still so many opportunities that pickleball lovers can seize. 

Pickleball startups, no matter what category, help legitimize the sport. We hope continued growth and improvement will make pickleball a core US sport, and these companies ensure that the sport continuously evolves and grows in the US. Even when the market is challenging, the demand for pickleball is still high. 

We’re excited to see and learn from startups that will likely emerge as the sport continues to grow, and we hope there are more creative ways that pickleball businesses can repurpose resources like malls to invest in communities.