At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, Amy Zhao spikes the ball with enthusiasm. Tennis? Badminton? Ping pong? No, it’s pickleball that is all the rage in New York as in the rest of the United States where it is becoming more professional and sees investments pouring in.
On this weekday evening, there are several dozen of them, men, women, thirties or retirees, to share four new courts which have replaced pétanque courts in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The teams are formed spontaneously and we wait our turn while discussing, in front of the unique view of the illuminated skyscrapers of Manhattan, before an 11-point game. “It’s super fun. I always play with different people”smiles Amy Zhao, a 52-year-old New Yorker.
David Masters, a 31-year-old computer software engineer, was seduced, discouraged by tennis in New York: “It’s $100 (the price of the annual pass for access to public courts) and you have to get up at 6 in the morning” to find a niche, he explains. With its neon yellow perforated plastic ball that floats a little in the air, its rackets reminiscent of padel, its mandatory spoon service and its reduced-size court, pickleball can take on the appearance of “mini-tennis”. , or even “sub-tennis” for its detractors.
The circuit distributed three million dollars in bonuses in 2022
But what pleases is precisely this mix with badminton and ping-pong, which causes hyper-fast exchanges and improbable volleys. In addition to reflexes, placement on the pitch is crucial: you have to play high on the court, but with a ban on entering an area behind the net when you hit the ball on the fly.
The game, invented in 1965 in Washington State by three fathers, including Republican elected official Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell, is on the rise in the United States. A clearly visible push in New York, where private coaches have appeared (at 75 dollars an hour for some) and where courts have grown everywhere, sometimes in an artisanal way in sports parks, with strips of large scotch white to delimit the grounds and portable nets.
“During the pandemic, people wanted activities. And pickleball ticks a lot of boxes, because it gets you outside, and it’s a sport that doesn’t require tons of exercise, unless you want to play at a higher level.”explains Karim Kerawala, a client manager of 33 years, one of the most active players in Brooklyn.
With LeBron James
On the application where his group organizes meetings, the number of players has increased in one year from 200/300 to nearly 2,000, he explains. By admitting all smiles that for him, it’s a “new obsession”. Several circuits “professionals” The American landscape is already disputed, including the APP Tour, founded in 2019, which was able to organize its first tournament at the end of May in Flushing Meadows, on the lands of the US Open.
Its competitor, the PPA Tour, founded in 2018 and bought by businessman Tom Dundon, already owner of the Carolina Hurricanes ice hockey team, signed exclusive contracts for the 24 best players in the discipline, men and women. The circuit distributed three million dollars in bonuses in 2022, a sum which should “double in 2023”according to Hannah Johns, director of content for the organization.
“We have been able to get bigger sponsors and we are now working with the most important channel networks, which have helped us to introduce this sport to the general public”she explains, citing NBC, ABC, Fox, and pointing to the broadcast this summer of a tournament on the national channel CBS.
And in this turbulent sector, Major League Pickleball, which aims to reach the goal of 40 million players by 2030, announced that American basketball star LeBron James had joined forces with fellow players Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors) and Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers) to buy out a team.