Pickleball popularity picks up in New Orleans
Pickleball is growing in popularity in New Orleans, with the city opening one court last week in Algiers and more coming later this summer.
- Even former Saints quarterback Drew Brees is getting in on the action. He is part owner of a Major League Pickleball team in Austin and is putting on a pickleball tournament this August in New Orleans.
Yes, but: We're still well below most other U.S. metros in pickle fever.
- New Orleans has 2.6 pickleball courts per capita, putting us at 73rd in the country, according to the Trust for Public Land, a pro-parks nonprofit, Jennifer A. Kingson and Alice Feng report.
Why it matters: Cities are in a love-hate relationship with pickleball.
- America's fastest-growing sport is a boon for players who are aging out of tennis — and others who dig its vibe — but it's noisy and draws nonstop complaints from tennis players who've been kicked off their courts.
- Meanwhile, cities can't build courts fast enough — and they're tapping everything from COVID-19 relief funds to municipal bonds to raise the necessary cash.
Zoom in: New Orleans metro has about 30 pickleball facilities, according to Pickleheads.com, which maps the courts and their amenities.
- NORD opened a new pickleball court last week in Algiers, and City Park unveiled pickleball courts earlier this year.
- The Exchange Pickleball + Bar plans to open in August uptown by the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas Street. The venue will have indoor and outdoor courts, in addition to lessons, membership packages and an on-site food and drinks.
The big picture: There's been a sixfold increase in the number of public pickleball courts in the 100 biggest U.S. cities since 2017 — from 420 to 2,788 — but municipal leaders say they still can't come close to meeting demand from pickleheads.
- Seattle is No. 1, probably because the sport was invented on nearby Bainbridge Island in 1965.
- The next cities on TPL's list are St. Petersburg, Florida; Lincoln, Nebraska; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Madison, Wisconsin.
What they're saying: "The cities that have really good park systems tend to be the ones that have a lot of pickleball courts," says Will Klein, associate director of parks research at TPL.
- "Those are also the same cities that we found are the healthiest places to live," with the best measures of mental health and physical activity.
By the numbers: Carl Schmits of USA Pickleball, the sport's governing body, tells Axios there's a critical shortage of pickleball courts given the numbers — 23 million tennis players and 9 million pickleball players in the United States.
- So, "for every 100 tennis courts, there should be 37 pickleball," he says. "If you ever drive by a combo pickleball/tennis facility, you'll see a difference right before your eyes."
- Instead, there are about 250,000 tennis courts and 44,000 pickleball courts of record in USA Pickleball's 11,000-site database — or about 17.6 pickleball courts per 100 tennis courts.
Follow the money: While some cities are (controversially) using COVID relief funds to build pickleball courts, which qualify as a public health amenity, others are issuing bonds or relying on public-private partnerships to fund construction.
Between the lines: Most pickleball courts are privately owned and developed.
- They're a hot real estate amenity in upscale residential developments and resorts.
- Dilapidated shopping malls are being ploughed down and rebuilt into pickleball courts — as are defunct Bed Bath & Beyond stores.
What's next: Padel, a racket sport from Mexico with a different court configuration from tennis and pickleball, is now on the rise in the United States.
- "Though there are only about 200 padel courts in the United States — most of them in private residences — the sport has begun to attract significant investment, and the pace of court construction has accelerated," the New York Times reported last month.
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