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More Mall Owners Embracing Pickleball To Lure Shoppers

Pickleball Outdoors via Wikimedia Commons
Mall operators are adding pickleball facilities in a bid to lure shoppers.

If developers build courts, America’s 8.9 million pickleball players will come to play. Then they’ll stay for dinner.

That’s the calculation being made by mall owners as anchor tenants like Bed Bath & Beyond and Regal Cinemas' parent company declare bankruptcy and landlords look for new tenants to draw shoppers. 

Pickleball’s explosive popularity— the number of people playing grew by 159% in 2022 according to the trade group Sports & Fitness Industry Association — has created new demand as tennis courts around the country overflow with pickleball players. That demand has created an opportunity for retail owners to fill vacant anchor spaces with indoor courts as they pivot toward social experiences like virtual golf, breweries and indoor skydiving.

Several pickleball facilities have already signed leases or opened across the country in malls, according to a recent report by JLL.

Pickleball America will put 28 courts in an 80K SF former Saks Off 5th at Stamford Town Center in Connecticut. Pro Shot Pickleball recently opened at a former Burlington store at Shore Mall in New Jersey. A former Belk in Macon, Georgia, will soon host 32 courts as part of a larger redevelopment, and Steeplegate Mall in New Hampshire replaced a shuttered Old Navy with All-Stars Pickleball Club.

Landlords hope that pickleball facilities will draw players to the mall and then those players will grab food or go shopping. If they’re right, court operators could become valuable tenants for mall owners that have lost anchor tenants like Macy’s, Sears or Burlington.

The leases come as the retail market has broadly recovered from the lows of the pandemic, with nationwide vacancy falling to 5.7%, the lowest level since 2007 according to a Cushman & Wakefield report. And the attrition of legacy tenants like Bed Bath & Beyond and Party City, which also filed for bankruptcy this year, hasn’t caused the type of anxiety among retail owners that might have been seen two years ago at the height of the pandemic.

Paul Weinschenk, president of retail at Peterson Cos., said at a Bisnow event in March that the loss of legacy tenants provides an opportunity to reach a new type of consumer.

He said the vacancies offered a chance to ”step back from some older tenants over time and bring in a new wave of tenants who are more relevant to consumers.”

Laura Gainor, a writer for USA Pickleball, the national governing body of the sport, said that malls provided an ideal space for pickleball’s expansion.

“It is a pickleball player’s dream, because it’s a big indoor space and you can play the sport year-round,” Gainor told CNN Business. “You can fit six or even 12 courts in an empty department store space.”