The Picklr Serves Up a Chance to Play the Fastest-Growing Sport in the U.S.
On a typical day at The Picklr, the sound of paddles striking balls and feet hitting the court blends with laughter and friendly jabs back and forth. The athletes are anything but homogenous – a mix of ages, genders, and players from varied backgrounds.
But one thing they all have in common is an interest in a decades-old sport that has seen a meteoric rise in popularity across the U.S. over the past few years. This is pickleball.
As pickleball’s popularity has grown, so has The Picklr in Northern Utah
Played on a smaller court and with a lower net than tennis, the sport blends elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis, but offers a distinct style and type of fun that has people of all generations addicted.
“Think about it like tennis on top of a ping pong table,” said Jorge Barragan, co-founder of The Picklr, an indoor pickleball facility in Uintah, Utah that opened in early 2021.
One reason: the smaller court can make it easier on the body and simpler to socialize with fellow players. It’s also inexpensive to try. “All you need is a paddle, a ball, and a park,” Jorge said – or in The Picklr’s case, an indoor facility.“The short description of who plays pickleball: it's everyone,” said Jorge. “The game is very inclusive.”
Community on and off the court
Jorge Barragan co-founded The Picklr in early 2021
Like many new players, Jorge picked up pickleball on a whim. While working in the tech industry, his colleague suggested lunchtime games of pickleball to destress. “Quite honestly, I was hooked after a few times,” Jorge said. He soon started playing with his family and it became part of his weekly routine.
He saw a business opportunity: in an area that’s too cold for outdoor play much of the year, an indoor pickleball facility was sure to gain traction. “I saw a need for something that was available all year round, not just for accessibility but also the opportunity to help the community come together,” said Jorge, who always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
In January 2021, Jorge teamed up with his close friend and co-founder Austin Wood to secure a large indoor space. By April, they were ready to open, offering memberships and drop-in play at the facility, which houses seven indoor courts. Since then, they’ve expanded to host tournaments, leagues, and training clinics for people of varied ages and experience levels, including beginners. By the summer of 2021, The Picklr had more than 900 members, and Jorge’s vision of building a strong community had quickly become a reality.
The place is now home to a tightknit group of people who not only care about the game, but each other. When a young girl – a club member and frequent player alongside her family – was diagnosed with cancer, The Picklr’s players quickly held a charity tournament and raised $30,000. “It was wonderful to see how it's not a community that just comes and plays pickleball, but they also care about each other,” Jorge said.
People of all backgrounds and skill levels hit the courts at The Picklr to play the fastest growing sport in the U.S.
Quick to pay, quick to play
Though building the business was quick, it wasn’t easy. Jorge knew others could easily get hooked like he did – but first, he needed to get them in the door.
Along with social media and working with local influencers to get the word out, Jorge immediately took advantage of setting up a Venmo business profile. “My wife uses Venmo as her social media. She sees what our friends are paying for and what they're doing,” he said. So, both of them knew that the word-of-mouth nature of Venmo would be a powerful tool to help get their business discovered, too.
The Picklr uses Venmo for fast, touch-free payments for court time and equipment
They also knew it would help with credibility and easy transactions. “We knew it was a way to legitimize our business, but we also knew that it was going to be an easy way for us to take payments, to get people in the door,” Jorge said. “We've actually had people come play [pickleball] that night because they saw that their friends were playing at The Picklr when they were scrolling through the Venmo friend feed,” Jorge explained. “It was awesome to see that also created a little bit of FOMO.”
Most of The Picklr’s players now use Venmo to pay for drop-in sessions, Jorge said, and added that many customers also use it to pay for membership fees, equipment, and clinics.
“Venmo plays such an instrumental role,” he said of getting people in the door and trying pickleball. “You want to be able to come in, pay, and get to playing.”
Keeping the (pickle)ball rolling
Building a community is just one part of Jorge’s vision. He also wants to build up the sport’s popularity and help players develop into more competitive athletes.
“They can have fun here, but at the same time, we also want people to develop in the sport,” Jorge said. Expanding The Picklr’s youth clinics and leagues will be a major part of how Jorge and his team invest in pickleball’s future. He’s already seeing some young people pass up soccer or basketball to try out pickleball.
Training clinics for young people is one way
the Picklr hopes to keep pickleball’s popularity rising
Jorge has some other big goals in mind, too. Most pickleball matches last around one hour--he wants to get a game going that will last for 24 hours and land on the Guinness World Records. He also has plans to open a second location of The Picklr with eight indoor courts and three outdoors. The club, set to open by early 2022, will be in St. George, Utah, an area Jorge calls a second home – and one where pickleball is hugely popular. Longer-term, “The dream is to take this nationwide, to be able to franchise this business,” he said.
And just like expertly hitting a ball in the game he loves so much, he feels like it’s well within reach. He doesn’t see pickleball’s popularity slowing down anytime soon. “The ball is rolling to the point that it's just continuing to grow and there's no stopping it.”