Pickleball has major potential in Nashville. Here’s why

Pickleball has major potential in Nashville. Here’s why

2022-07-13T08:44:58-04:00July 6th, 2022|Nashville, Sports, Tourism|

Writer: Ryan Gandolfo

2 min read July 2022 After forming over half a century ago, pickleball — a badminton-tennis mashup — has started to see an uptick in activity with potential to boost sports tourism, providing a trickle-down effect in related revenues.

In 2021, the ambiguously named sport grew 14.8% year-on-year, reaching 4.8 million players in the United States, according to a 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association report on pickleball.

While the sport has grown in popularity along the East Coast, Nashville is in a prime position to benefit from the emerging sport. 

“The city of Nashville and the surrounding communities all have growing populations of people who love pickleball. People of all ages are getting hooked on this game and looking for places to play as much as possible. This area offers a perfect climate for pickleball, which can be played outside almost all-year round,” Ann Cornwall, president of Music City Pickleball, told Invest:. 

At Music City Pickleball, membership has grown from 75 to 250 in the past two years, despite only being available during the daytime on weekdays. “We know our numbers would be even higher if we could offer evening and weekend play,” said Cornwall. “As the population in this area continues to grow, so has the interest in the sport of pickleball. Now, it’s time for the number of pickleball facilities and courts to grow.”

Despite missing out on an opportunity to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Nashville’s sports tourism is ripe with opportunities, from competitive pro teams like the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators to the exhilarating Music City Grand Prix in August. 

But Bill McGehee sees pickleball fitting into Nashville’s sports fabric nicely. After building up the sport in Florida, the former Tampa Bay Lightning president and CEO and former general manager of Nashville Kats Arena Football started working with Pickleball Hall of Famer Stephanie Lane to bring the vision to Middle Tennessee.

“If we can get facilities and courts built so that we can bring big events and tournaments much like the US Open Pickleball Championship in Naples, we can have tens of millions of dollars of economic impact from hotel bookings and dining revenue, with pickleballers coming from all over the world,” McGehee told Invest: on the eve of the inaugural Great American Music City Pickleball Fest.

The event, which took place from July 2-3, saw pickleball players and spectators come out to the Centennial Sportsplex in Midtown for some weekend fun. In addition, the event included live music, food trucks and local vendors. Part of the proceeds went toward two nonprofits: The Wounded Blue and the Mid South Liver Alliance.

McGehee said his intention is “to build a pickleball platform in Nashville where it can become the music and pickleball capital of the world.”

One thing standing in the way is a lack of pickleball facilities. 

“There are dedicated courts being added to some newer communities. But currently, our area struggles to provide enough courts for this booming sport. In several areas, people are building their own courts in their backyards,” said Cornwall.

By organizing more large-scale pickleball festivals, McGehee and the community in Nashville hope to see more investment from the public and private sector.

“How do you get the city, developers and private equity firms to invest in the sport? The simple answer is to show them there is a need, and you can’t do it by writing letters or making phone calls. The intent of this event is to show the city there is a need to start converting courts to pickleball and show the opportunities to big business,” said McGehee, also relating Nashville’s stellar medical reputation with the health and wellness benefits of the sport.

Pickleball advocates still have a long road ahead to see the sport fully embraced in Middle Tennessee but the excitement is there.

“At Music City Pickleball, we consistently have people contact us from other cities and states that are going to be visiting the area and want to stop in and play pickleball at our club. Pickleball players travel with their paddles and it’s such a great sport for meeting people no matter where you go. And, let’s face it, Nashville and cities around it are places people love to visit,” said Cornwall. “The Nashville area has a great opportunity to make this a thriving pickleball community. It has the potential to draw huge tournaments to the area where people can participate, watch, volunteer and enjoy the sport.”