Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

November 27, 2023

Pickleball is becoming big business as new facilities sprout across CT

PHOTO | DARIUS TEREPKA PHOTOGRAPHY Players volley on a court at Pickleball America in Stamford. The membership-based facility has 13 pickleball courts, with plans to double in size by the end of next year.

The growing popularity of pickleball is spurring private investment in new large, indoor recreational facilities across Connecticut.

The owners of Camp Pickleball in Plainville have received approval to build a new 10-court, 24-hour facility for individual players, clubs and private events.

In Stamford, owners recently debuted Pickleball America, one of the largest indoor pickleball and “sportstainment” facilities in the U.S., located at the Stamford Town Center mall.

A Middletown developer is proposing a 20-court, indoor-outdoor pickleball facility. Plans were also approved in Branford for a 21,760-square-foot indoor-outdoor pickleball facility to be called All World Pickle and Paddle.

Pickleball facility operators said they are motivated by the growing popularity of the sport and demand for indoor court space. Their business models are similar to gyms and other health clubs — they rely on memberships as a key revenue source.

Pickleball’s evolution

Pickleball — a cross between pingpong, badminton and tennis — was invented near Seattle in 1965.

According to a 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association report, pickleball participation has increased by more than 158% in the past three years, with nearly 36 million players, and 9 million people having played in 2022.

The average age of a pickleball player is 35, with the most participants in the 25- to 34-year-old demographic, according to the SFIA.

The pickleball paddle market size was estimated at $152.8 million in 2021, and is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.7% through 2028.

There are more than 10,000 places to play across the U.S., but a new report shows more than 25,000 new courts will be needed to meet current and future demand.

Many municipalities are building pickleball courts in local parks, but private investors are also getting in on the action with new club-like facilities.

Pickleball America and Camp Pickleball officials said indoor court space is in high demand, especially during the winter months, as people play for competition, fitness or just fun.

Pickleball America is using 80,000 square feet of former retail space in the Stamford Town Center mall, with 42,000 square feet of space on the first floor and 38,000 on the second. It offers 13 courts, with plans to add 14 more in 2024.

Jay Ross
Mia Schipani
Joe Schipani
Jay Waldner

The concept for the Pickleball America facility was created by a local Stamford team of Jay Ross, a real estate developer with Greenwich Realty Development LLC; Mia Schipani, chief sales and marketing officer for Pickleball America and broker with real estate firm Houlihan Lawrence; pickleball pro Joe Schipani; and Jay Waldner, of Waldner’s furniture dealers.

It’s one of the largest flexible and multipurpose venues in Fairfield County, Mia Schipani said, with a professional coworking space opened to members, and rooms available for private events, from corporate gatherings to parties or exhibitions.

Owners expect more than 500,000 players annually, not including guests who attend social events.

Pickleball America has several revenue streams, including memberships, one-time player fees, special events costs, plus campaigns for naming opportunities, sponsorships and business partnerships.

The company has a membership goal of 3,000 per year, but is already nearing the halfway mark, with 1,400 memberships purchased, Schipani said.

A standard one-year membership costs $199 per person, but there are discounts for seniors, teachers, students and military personnel. There are also family membership plans.

Pickleball America is venturing into in-kind barter partnerships with UConn, Nike, the Bridgeport Islanders, Master Athletics, Diadem and sponsors such as HSS Stamford Hospital group, Houlihan Lawrence, and BMW of Darien, among others, Schipani said.

The business expects to be profitable in less than two years, the owners said.

Regional destinations

Camp Pickleball will be a $1.3 million investment built from the ground up on a vacant lot in Plainville. When completed, it will have 23,400 square feet of space, with both indoor and outdoor courts.

Plainville Town Planner Mark DeVoe said it’s an interesting concept that has received wide support.

The facility will be an economic boost for Plainville, centrally located along the I-84 corridor and ideal for recreational use since it’s near the Farmington Canal Heritage trail and other commercial sites, helping to draw in visitors from surrounding towns, DeVoe said.

Trish Jenings
Matt Jenings
Nathan Rule

Founders and co-owners Trish and Matt Jenings both worked in the pharmacy industry, with Trish also working as a realtor. They partnered with Nathan Rule, who worked as an actuary. They were introduced to pickleball more than a year ago and instantly saw the appeal.

“It’s the type of sport anyone can play, at any level,” said Trish Jenings.

Matt Jenings plays pickleball about four days a week, but it’s harder to find court space in the winter, he said. Any courts in the area are often booked or not available throughout the day.

Camp Pickleball will be accessible 24 hours a day, and owners expect some groups to book early morning court times

Plainville residents will be able to take advantage of membership discounts and have priority booking, Jenings said.

Membership and event pricing are not yet available. The venue has a targeted opening date of spring 2024.

In addition to offering in-demand court space, both facilities plan to be regional destinations for fitness and entertainment.

Pickleball America owners plan to offer summer camps, along with space for badminton, basketball, esports and gaming, shuffleboard, corn hole, dance performances, live music, and dedicated spaces for exhibitions like car shows, flea markets and large-scale events.

Camp Pickleball will also offer open play, pickup games, skill-based sessions, lessons, camps, clinics, tournaments, leagues and social events and parties.

Space constraints

Finding pickleball-appropriate space was a hurdle for the new ventures, founders said.

Pickleball America owners looked at strip malls, empty retail storefronts, and industrial and office space, before they settled on the Stamford mall site, Schipani said.

There was very little industrial space on the market, but an abundance of office space, yet many office landlords weren’t interested in converting their properties, she said.

A new build would have been more costly, and the mall site was ideal with infrastructure and parking built in.

Pickleball America owners said they invested close to $630,000 to fit out the former Saks OFF 5TH retail store.

Schipani said the mall owners were most willing to work with them, and receptive to the idea.

Stamford Town Center is owned by Yaraghi Realty, a subsidiary of New York-based home-furnishings company Safavieh. Yaraghi Realty bought the 518,000-square-foot mall in 2020 for $20.1 million, city records show, and has worked to fill vacancies with non-retailers like Pickleball America.

A rendering of the $1.3 million Camp Pickleball facility planned in Plainville, which will feature indoor and outdoor courts.

Camp Pickleball officials said they searched for six months to find an older building to lease, but ran into structural roadblocks like obstructive support beams and low ceilings, as well as high rents.

They found that in order to build the best facility, new construction was the only option. Camp Pickleball will be a clear-span building with no support beams in between courts.

Facility owners say their venues will be economic drivers to their host towns, while benefiting from surrounding businesses and recreational sites.

A new Pilates studio is opening next door to Pickleball America, and the space will also have a coworking lounge, and is close to area shops and restaurants.

“There are no facilities like this in the area,” Schipani said.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF