MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota prides itself on being the “State of Hockey,” but a comparatively new sport that combines ping pong, tennis, and badminton, is gaining on it.
The national pickleball director at Life Time, David Dutrieuille, says its popularity is exploding at a rate businesses have never seen.
This year alone, Life Time will invest $25 million into expanding the sport at its clubs, but even that amount likely won’t meet demand. Life Time, he says, has seen an increased interest of 9,000% in the last year.
Chances are, either you or someone you know has been bitten by the pickleball bug. Many things make the game accessible to nearly anyone, including simple rules, a small court — a quarter of the size of a tennis court — the paddle is light, and the ball is less buoyant than a tennis ball, which makes it easier to control. People at nearly any age can play, but the thing that keeps people coming back?
Life Time member Lisa Johnson says, it’s because it’s so social.
"I have never laughed so much as during pickleball,” Johnson said. “You just hit bad shots and everyone just laughs and has fun.”
Like Life Time, city parks departments across the state are hustling to keep up, adding courts and announcing plans for more.
And then there are pickleball-only clubs like Lucky Shots in Northeast Minneapolis, where you can rent a court for $22 to $45 an hour. They opened last October with 12 courts and already wish they had more, according to their general manager, Anna Mogard.
"Last winter we had crazy, crazy wait lists for getting on the court,” she said.
Lucky Shots will soon have competition from Pints & Paddle in Maple Grove, and Smash Park in Minneapolis.
Each location caters to fans of the country's fastest-growing sport and its fastest-growing demographic: people from 18 to 54.
Even the iconic tennis store Michael Lynne's in St. Louis Park made the pivot to pickleball after customers demanded it — pickleball now accounts for about half of its sales.
The popularity of the sport doesn't just prove to be big fun in the state of hockey, but it proves to be big business as well.
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