The 41-court site in Mesa, Arizona, is set to host the 2024 Biofreeze USA Pickleball National Championships.
The 2024 Biofreeze USA Pickleball National Championships are coming to Arizona. And Mike Burke, president of Arizona Athletic Grounds in Mesa, which is hosting the event from Nov. 10-17, is ecstatic.
“Incredibly excited, the bar is high. It’s going to be a phenomenal event,” Burke said. “We’re going to host a lot of people. It’s exactly the type of event I want to host here — big, high profile, extraordinarily well-run, great partnership with the host organization. I’m looking for more immersive, experiential events going forward, and this one is going to check those boxes.”
Arizona Athletic Grounds opened in January 2022 and features 41 pickleball courts, including one covered championship court which can seat 2,000 spectators. The 300-acre complex hosts plenty of pickleball in the form of recreational leagues, camps and private training sessions, but it’s also home to baseball, basketball, gaming, indoor soccer, softball and volleyball.
“We’ve got exceptional facilities, and I’m making dramatic improvements daily ranging from improved food and beverage, better access to bathrooms, cool ancillary areas like our high-performance training center where visitors and athletes can hang out between matches and events,” Burke said. “It’s more than just the pickleball courts. This is a full experience park.”
This year, the facility just outside Phoenix is hosting high-profile events in cornhole, jiujitsu and wrestling in addition to Brick Fest Live, a well-attended Lego event. However, being awarded the USA Pickleball National Championships has created a different sort of buzz in the community and around the facility, Burke said.
“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback about hosting this exciting event in November,” he said. “There’s natural traction that drives, natural momentum that drives, and our pickleball business is going to be on the map (after hosting Pickleball Nationals). We’re going to host more high-profile events. We’re very excited about that.”
Burke is not only excited about his facility hosting Pickleball Nationals this fall, but he’s also looking forward to the budding partnership between AAG and USA Pickleball.
“We’ve had some larger events and think a total athlete count of maybe 500 to 1,000,” he said. “We have a USA Pickleball Golden Ticket tournament that we’re hosting in a few months. I think the athlete count there is expected to be around 1,200, maybe a little bit more. Those events are exceptionally important.
“We’re focused on running those as well as we possibly can, listening to visitors, athletes, making improvements daily. It all gears us towards Pickleball Nationals, which will be the largest pickleball event we’ve hosted and, of course, the largest (pickleball event) in the nation.”
Burke said AAG is hosting as many events as possible, and collecting data points at those events, in an effort to continually improve.
“And honestly, with the partnership approach that we’re taking with USA Pickleball, there’s a live feedback loop (with USAP) to make sure that Pickleball Nationals is run as well as it possibly can be,” he added, “but the preparation starts now.”
A big part of that preparation is digesting all the feedback, positive and negative, that USAP has received from previous editions of Pickleball Nationals.
“I’m aware of some of the challenges and opportunities that came out of last year’s National Championship,” he said. “Parking is at the top of the list, to ensure that’s run as smoothly as possible. We have a lot of on-site parking, but there’s room for improvement. What we heard is that parking is pretty good, but there’s room for improvement.
“I’m focused on ingress, egress, parking and shuttles. I think about those topics and work on those almost every single day. By the time Pickleball Nationals roll around, we will have made noticeable improvements to the parking infrastructure in place. We’re in live dialogue with third parties that are helping us work through that. We’re also planning on an exceptional shuttle service in conjunction with USA Pickleball.”
And on a personal level, Burke is excited to learn all he can about and even start playing pickleball himself in the future.
“I love it. It’s the fastest growing sport in the nation,” Burke said. “We have an incredible facility here. I’m thrilled to be able to take on this amazing opportunity. At the same time, I’m excited to start playing. I haven’t played pickleball before, but I’ve been invited to go out and play on the courts, so I’m excited to get out there myself. I’ve been an athlete my whole life. It’s just my type of sport.”
Stephen Hunt is an accomplished freelance writer and sports statistician who has been blessed to cover a multitude of subjects and sports in his time. He is a freelance contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.