Gym chains are betting big on pickleball to attract new members as the fitness industry aims to capitalize on America’s fastest-growing sport.
YouFit Gyms, which operates roughly 75 locations across the U.S., launched indoor pickleball courts in 28 gyms as a free benefit for Premium and Premium+ gym members.
YouFit’s newfound focus on pickleball comes after the company was forced to file bankruptcy during the Covid-19 pandemic, as did several other gym chains. The company hopes that expanding its pickleball offerings will help it stand out amongst its competitors.
But no fitness brand is making a bigger bet on pickleball than Life Time, which began building courts in 2021 and is now the largest provider of permanent pickleball courts in the U.S, with more than 600 courts dotted across the country. And it’s not stopping there — Life Time plans to open more than 1,000 pickleball courts by the end of 2024.
Data released by the company highlights that the courts are not just sitting unused. In 2022, Life Time reported a 338% pickleball participation increase, while Life Time’s courts in Minnesota have been used by more than 250,000 people this year.
“We have something that we call mixers, which are very social. And for two hours of play, it’s $10 for a round-robin tournament. It’s a great way to meet people for all different levels of play,” said Rachel McBurney, a Pickleball Coordinator/Pro at Life Time in Johns Creek, Georgia.
“Quite a few people say they used to just come run on the treadmill, but now I can come and get a great cardio workout, have fun and meet people.”
Life Time, a publicly traded company, saw Q3 revenue increase 17.9% in 2023 to $585.2 million.
Life Time’s pickleball involvement spans not just the amateur ranks but also the professional level. In 2023, three Major League Pickleball season events were hosted at Life Time facilities in Atlanta and San Clemente, CA.
In its 2023 State of Pickleball Report, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association estimated that roughly 25,000 courts at a projected cost of nearly $1 billion would need to be built to meet the demand for pickleball in the U.S.
Fitness clubs aren’t the only one’s tapping pickleball’s popularity to boost business. Other health-related stores, like running store retailer Run With It in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, are getting in on the action as well.
Run With It owner Jeff Harris began selling pickleball products in 2020 alongside traditional running shoes and apparel. Sales were so strong that Harris decided to build a full-size pickleball court next to his new storefront. Named Pickleball at the Palms, up to four players can rent the court at $24 per hour.
“It’s a loss leader because it brings people into the store, the court stays full pretty much all the time,” Harris said. “They see that we’re selling paddles, they see that they can buy court shoes, they can buy Lululemon–and they seldom leave empty handed even though they’re just coming in to play pickleball.”
Harris spoke about his pickleball endeavor at The Running Event, an annual trade show for retailers in the running space held in Austin, Texas. Its November 2023 event had a pickleball court on the trade show floor hosted by K-Swiss, which now sells pickleball sneakers.
“Our pickleball sales as of the end of November were up 250% over last year,” Harris said. “10% of our gross sales now is just pickleball. So it was a good move.”