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Pickleball lovers look for indoor courts so they can play all year


Pickleball - it's the fastest-growing and maybe the noisiest sport in the country. Now, indoor courts are popping up all over because people want to keep playing year-round. NPR's Erin Kenney has the story.

ERIN KENNEY, BYLINE: Will and Denise Richards love pickleball. Here's Denise.

DENISE RICHARDS: Once you start playing, it really clears your head because you really can't focus on anything else other than playing pickleball.

KENNEY: A couple of years ago, they wanted to keep playing even when it got cold outside in the winter. On a trip to Pennsylvania, friends took them to some indoor courts. It turned out indoor was a loose term. The courts were inside of a barn and freezing cold. This is Will.

WILL RICHARDS: It wasn't the best experience. But when you're truly addicted to pickleball, you will play anywhere.

KENNEY: But the Richards knew they could do better than that, so they started their own pickleball business. I met up with them at one of their locations in North Bethesda, Md., which was formerly a trampoline park.

D RICHARDS: There's no handbook on how to run a pickleball place. It's pretty much like the Wild, Wild West right now, where people are trying to figure it out.

KENNEY: Denise previously worked in sales. Will managed Domino's franchises. Now they both work full-time for this business. They offer memberships starting at $33 per month. And they've opened three locations in less than a year, one in a former warehouse. Recently, a mall owner reached out to them.

CARMEN SPINOSO: We're like, this is a really cool use. And it would be a great addition to our property. And we started looking at multiple pickleball operators.

KENNEY: That's Carmen Spinoso, the CEO of Spinoso Real Estate Group. His company approached Will and Denise to open a location in one of his malls. Spinoso has been in the mall business for over 30 years. And he said recreation venues like pickleball courts are driving foot traffic.

SPINOSO: It's competitive and it's fitness. It's fun, it's fast. It's a cool thing. I really like it a lot.

KENNEY: The indoor courts are also good for players who want more places to play. Another perk? Air conditioning. Indoor courts could also solve another conflict, says real estate researcher James Cook.

JAMES COOK: And then there's the noise issue. Especially in the city, for whatever reason, people are really annoyed by the sound of pickleball. So having that in an enclosed shopping center that's not immediately next to residential, that makes a lot of sense, too.

KENNEY: Another problem for pickleball? Angry tennis players. That's right, many outdoor pickleball courts overlap with tennis courts, forcing players to duke it out over shared playing space. Riley Newman is a professional pickleball player who also played tennis in college.

RILEY NEWMAN: If there was more indoor options, I think that would help some of that divide, where pickleball players know exactly where to go to. And they can go kind of to the designated pickleball facilities instead of kind of taking over tennis courts, which I know ruffled some feathers.

KENNEY: Newman plays for the D.C. Pickleball Team, which is part of Major League Pickleball. That league is growing rapidly. And it has attracted celebrity owners like LeBron James and Tom Brady. The pros are still competing outside for now, but Newman is confident more indoor courts are on the way.

NEWMAN: It's coming. And just grab your seat belt because it is going to take you for a ride.

KENNEY: Erin Kenney, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erin Kenney