Pickleball Popularity: Investment Opportunity or Noisy Nuisance?

RAQUEL DRAGHI—Pickleball is officially the fastest growing sport in the United States. With close to five million players nationwide, the sport rose in popularity by nearly 40% over the last couple of years. So, what is this new sport that everyone is so obsessed with? Pickleball is a crossover of tennis and ping-pong, played on a smaller court than a traditional tennis court and using a ping-pong like paddle. This makes the game easier and more accessible to players of varying ages and fitness levels. The game, originally invented in the 60’s, spiked in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many communities across the country were faced with lockdowns, outdoor activities remained one of the few sources of available activities. Portable nets allowed many Americans to create makeshift pickleball courts in driveways and streets.

Because of the pickleball boom, court development has become a necessity. This creates a new area of investment opportunity for developers. For example, a high-end members-only club, The Pickleball Club, recently acquired three acres in Fort Meyers, FL and a retirement community in central Florida for pickleball facility development. The Pickleball Club now has seven facility developments planned in Florida. Florida’s new Live Local Act may provide developers with additional incentives to invest in pickleball facilities. The Live Local Act encourages the development of affordable housing and allows for mixed-use developments. This may potentially include pickleball facilities. The Act offers developers incentives like low-interest loans, tax credits, and exceptions to local zoning restrictions. Thus, investors can strategically integrate pickleball facilities into their development plans. The Live Local Act may allow developers to keep up with consumer demands while increasing profits.

However, the development of pickleball courts may cause friction in many communities. For example, earlier this year, residents of the Village Walk community in Naples, FL sued the HOA over expenses related to pickleball courts. Residents allege the HOA spent more than $100,000 to develop the courts without residents’ approval. But most notoriously, pickleball tends to be an unusually loud sport. The popularity of the sport generates crowds of players that can get noisy and may even lead to hostile yelling between teams. However, the largest source of noise complaints come from the “pop” sound created when the ball meets the hard paddle, which can reach up to seventy decibels. Compare this to a game of tennis, which averages only forty decibels. This has created a significant noise pollution problem, leading to lawsuits by disgruntled homeowners against their HOAs and communities around the country. For example, a San Diego resident recently sued her HOA after years of failed mediation. She alleges the noise is more than just a nuisance; it’s affecting her health. She seeks the ban of pickleball in her community and $300,000 in damages. In another instance, last year Cape Cod residents filed a lawsuit against the town’s zoning board of appeals, claiming that pickleball violates town bylaws that prohibit “injurious and obnoxious noise levels.” The residents got some relief when a temporary injunction was granted, banning pickleball until January 2024.

A final consideration of pickleball’s rapidly increasing popularity is rising insurance costs. The sport, played largely by seniors, has resulted in injuries ranging from sprains to surgeries, causing unexpected and costly challenges for the insurance industry. These injuries are anticipated to cost insurance carriers nearly $400 million annually, according to UBS. Consequently, due to injuries and noise complaints, property coverage costs are expected to rise, and some insurance providers may refuse to cover pickleball facilities.

In sum, pickleball is on its way to becoming America’s favorite pastime and may offer Florida developers a unique opportunity to capitalize on this trend. However, the uptick in pickleball players has come at a cost to many Americans living in close proximity to pickleball courts. For some, suing their HOA or local town may be the only way to obtain relief from the never-ending noise. Nevertheless, the pickleball craze is likely here to stay.