Pickleball Power: Stu Upson of USA Pickleball on the Sport’s Growth, Events and Venues

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The Sports and Fitness Industry Association has made it official in its latest trends report: pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the country. Over the past two years, participation is up 39 percent, including an increase of more than 20 percent from 2019 to 2020 when the pandemic helped drive the sport’s appeal. Leading the charge on the sport’s growth is USA Pickleball, which boasts 50,000 members and a robust events series that is also gaining momentum. Stu Upson, a veteran of the sports-events industry has been CEO since December 2020 and is leading the organization into the future with new sponsorship deals, broadcast deals for its largest events and a steady hand as the sport navigates questions of a gap in venues and a rapid rise of manufacturers and others wanting in on the action. In addition, professional leagues are sprouting, including some that are inking impressive hosting deals in some of the largest sports venues in the country.

In this conversation with SportsTravel Executive Editor and Publisher Jason Gewirtz, Upson discusses what has accounted for the sport’s growth in popularity, when venues will catch up with demand, what the event landscape looks like and what the biggest threats may be to the continued power of pickleball to gain new followers and fans.

Among the topics featured in this episode:

  • What accounts for the growth of the game? (5:34)
  • Is the sport growing beyond just with seniors? (7:48)
  • Is the game growing overseas? (9:36)
  • What is happening with pickleball-specific venues? (10:15)
  • Residential developers building specific courts (13:46)
  • Communities converting tennis courts into pickleball courts (15:42)
  • What will the venue conversation be like in five years? (17:27)
  • What events does USA Pickleball own and operate? (18:44)
  • Events being put out to bid or hosted in existing venues? (21:50)
  • Are indoor events growing? (22:58)
  • How has the professional level of the sport been growing? (24:00)
  • APP Tour brining an event to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (25:08)
  • Sponsorship trends at  USA Pickleball (27:00)
  • Pickleball’s potential threat to the tennis industry (28:37)
  • Similarities between the growth of bowling and pickleball (30:23)
  • Does he play pickleball? (32:22)
  • Biggest threats to the continued growth of the sport (32:40)
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