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Pickleball: Is the Pandemic's Hottest Sports Craze Coming to Franchising?

Indoor pickleball gyms will soon be popping up in the Atlanta area as Ace Pickleball Club takes on the franchise model.

During the height of the pandemic, and related lockdowns and other restrictions, Americans everywhere found themselves needing something to do. Pickleball, which is sort of like mini-tennis, quickly rose to the top as a great way to get outdoors, gather and have some fun, all while abiding by safety guidelines.

“Pickleball, often described as a combination of tennis, Ping-Pong and badminton, grew nearly 40 percent between 2019 and 2021, making it America’s fastest-growing sport,” Juno DeMelo wrote for The New York Times. As of early 2023, the sport is being played by over 36 million Americans.

More recently, high-profile athletes, including LeBron James, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, have elevated the sport further with investments in professional pickleball teams.

“What began as a way to get in on a professional sport early has become one of the hottest sports investments with the ability to own a team in the low seven-figure range,” Jessica Golden wrote for CNBC.

With a persistent rise in demand, Ace Pickleball Club, a concept that focuses on developing and running indoor pickleball clubs, has brought the sport to the franchising space. 

“Each Ace Pickleball Club will feature between 8 and 16 courts in a climate-controlled environment with on-court technology for instant replay and live streaming to provide the ultimate pickleball playing experience,” the brand website says. “Members of all ages and skill levels will be able to participate in a variety of activities offered at their local club, including daily open play, clinic, leagues, tournaments, social and glow-in-the-dark events.”

On its website, Ace has options to join both the membership waitlist and franchise waitlist, and it says the first location is set to open in the Atlanta area this spring. It began offering franchises in February.

Ace Pickleball Club was founded by Jay Diederich and Joe Sexton, two franchise professionals with over two decades of combined experience in the industry. Diederich, who has worked with GNC and Sky Zone, now serves as CEO of Ace. Sexton has worked with Mathnasium* Learning Centers, Sky Zone and PetWellClinic, and is now president of Ace.

Diederich says the idea came after his own family began to love pickleball. However, as much as his wife loved the game, she wasn’t interested in subjecting herself to the heat, rain and bugs that accompany outdoor play.

“That’s when the lightbulb went off,” he said. “Our team spent 10 years in the indoor trampoline world. I called Joe and said I think we should do indoor pickleball.”

Unlike other indoor “sports” concepts that tend to cater to adults in an entertainment or eatertainment-focused environment, Diederich says Ace Pickleball Club truly is focused on the sport and will mimic a gym. The indoor detail simply adds the appeal of guaranteed gameplay; sessions will not be rained out or intensified by extreme heat.

“We believe we’re the first franchise offering with our model,” he said. “Everything that’s out there right now is chalked up to eatertainment, mirroring that TopGolf experience with a bar offering, so pickleball will drive traffic to their restaurants and bars. We’re looking at it as a pickleball gym model.”

In addition to the founding team, the Ace Pickleball Club concept has support from others with backgrounds in franchising, including experience with concepts like the Joint Chiropractic, Crumbl Cookies and Orangetheory.

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.