Jun 14, 2023 - Sports

Pickleball popularity picks up in New Orleans

Data: Trust for Public Land; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios Visuals

Pickleball is growing in popularity in New Orleans, with the city opening one court last week in Algiers and more coming later this summer.

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.

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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