Recently I was asked to present information to our local city council about pickleball and why building courts is a smart investment for the community. I started researching for this presentation and was surprised that it was very hard to find published information on how other communities went about finding funding. I know our community is in a similar situation as SO many others: lots of pickleball players with limited places to play. How do you appeal to local government to convince them that funding pickleball is a smart investment for the community as a whole?
Let’s start with a little background about our particular area- I live in the Northeast in a city of about 100,000 residents. There are exactly TWO public dedicated courts. One more court is lined on a tennis court, so I’ll add that one in to bring us to a whopping THREE courts for 100,000 residents. If you travel out 20 minutes from our city center to the suburbs, you can find a few more courts- two designated pickleball courts and eight additional courts lined on tennis courts. Lines are LONG, some days 50 people sit and wait for their turn to play on these two designated courts. I also forgot to mention that these two courts are painted on concrete, so the surface is less than ideal.
Our fight for funding started a few years ago. Some money was raised by our local pickleball association, but it wasn’t enough to build the courts than we envisioned. What exactly did we imagine? Six dedicated pickleball courts with fencing and lights. We had the space at a local park on old, run down concrete that was used for who knows what- maybe tennis or basketball at one time. The surface was basically like a huge parking lot with giant cracks everywhere. It was impossible to fix the cracks; the whole surface needed redone. This is not cheap, especially in our post pandemic world where supplies and labor are limited and costs for materials are soaring.
Basically we are looking at around $300,000 for this project. A year ago the first estimates were around $200,000 for the same exact amount of work. However, the project was put on the back burner and costs increased. Then council started thinking that maybe the money would be better spent on other parks in different areas of our city. Things were looking bleak for our grand pickleball plan and it was time to step up and be heard. While I DO NOT claim to be an expert in securing funding from local government, I can tell you what worked for us (YES! The funding got approved and demolition of the old space has begun). Since I found very little information during my own research, I hope to help you if you are in the same situation.
Never assume that people know what pickleball is
Our local council talked about pickleball four months ago at a meeting and they were cracking jokes and asking if the sport was played with cucumbers. Obviously, I was pretty offended at first but then saw this as an opportunity to spread my knowledge about what exactly the sport is. We ended up making a brief 4 minute video introducing pickleball and showing clips of it being played in our area, which I sent to the Mayor and council members before our meeting. Give facts about how pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country for two years in a row. Educate them on the benefits of playing and how this sport can span generations. Our organization’s youngest member is 16 and the oldest is 84. Point out those stats- this is sport that will appeal to a large variety of citizens.
Include community service and social outreach
Most pickleball communities offer some type of clinics or social events. Our particular organization hosts many events at our local pickleball park and these are open to ALL. Pizza parties, Taco Tuesday, Dinkin’ Donuts, clinics, and park clean up days. Point out what your players are doing to give back to the community. Park revitalization will be more appealing if the people granting the money know that the park will be cared for once the project is done. Also, highlight any camps you do with children and teens. Parks are communal spaces that should be utilized by all ages, but people are especially happy to see the younger population breaking away from technology and getting outside! We asked the students who participated in our camps to write a quick note about their favorite thing about pickleball and included short phrases in our presentation. If your pickleball community hasn’t started holding social events and clinics yet, please do! It’s a great feeling to see newbies get the “pickleball bug”.
Get neighbors involved
If your park is located in or near a residential neighborhood, hold a “Pickleball 101” night and invite the neighbors. If they play, they are less likely to complain about the noise. In our situation, the park that we set our sights on for pickleball was quite desolate. The neighbors saw undesirable activity happening there. Once pickleball players painted the courts and started gathering to play- the park’s dynamic improved. The area got cleaner and the shady activity decreased. Neighbors started coming to the park again. Even better, they started playing pickleball. When we presented to our local council, these neighbors showed up and spoke up. It truly means more coming from someone that lives 5 houses away vs. 5 miles away. Another tip that I can offer- invite the Mayor and council members to any events. Let them see the impact that pickleball has on the local community. If you are seeking private funding, invite board members to learn to play the sport.
Outside of the neighbors, ask others to attend. If you can fill seats and have a strong representation for your organization, that speaks volumes. The day we were able to present to our City Council, the room was packed. Some people wanted to get up and talk during the Q & A portion and some wanted to sit quietly. Either way, having the numbers in the crowd helped our cause. Don’t go out and recruit strangers to fill seats, but give your pickleball playing friends some advance notice as to when the meeting will be held and they will come.
We have a board member for our association who just spearheaded the installation of two beautiful designated courts in his neighborhood. I asked how he drove this campaign. He attended THIRTY TWO meetings- both county council and parks and rec. How is that even possible? Being retired helps, but if you can’t make it- send a friend in your place. Be seen!
Show nearby pickleball communities as a model
This was a selling point in our presentation. I explored courts within a 90 minutes drive. If you are an avid pickleball player, you know that jumping in your car and driving 1.5 hours for good competition is not a huge deal. Travel to these other courts if you can so that you have first hand experience about how they organize recreational play and tournaments. Surprisingly, I found communities that are MUCH smaller with WAY more pickleball courts. For example, a local park an hour away from my home has six beautiful courts in a community of 1,800 people. REMEMBER- We have TWO courts for nearly 100,000 taxpayers. When you put that up on the big screen in front of a council, it’s basically embarrassing. Now if you are on the flip side and want six courts for 1,800 people, stand your ground and fight the good fight.
As I say time and time again, pickleball players are the BEST people in the world. We don’t want to just take from our parks, we want to give back. Offer suggestions of how your pickleball association can aid the parks. Some quick ideas I offered up- a Lending Library, Butterfly Garden, Community Vegetable Garden, Pickleball Pick up Day once a month (players play and then clean up the park). I also suggested having a “Paint and Play Day” when neighbors and players could participate in painting the park trash and recycle bins. Maybe even decorate the walkways leading to the courts. When people are invited to contribute to their community, vandalism and crime decrease. Plus, it just makes the space even more inviting.
Work together to find funding as well. Be willing to contribute “x” amount of dollars to the project; if possible and if necessary. Hold fundraisers- tournaments, raffle tickets, pickleball apparel. Anything that will generate some revenue. Seek out big donors who love pickleball. Apply for grants- there is money out there for park revitalization, try to find it!
Be known, not annoying
When we met with local council members, they knew certain people from our association by name. This can be good and bad. You want to voice your opinions, but you also want to know when to stop. I’m very lucky to have some connections with “heavy hitters” in the pickleball world. If I need a question answered, I have these people on speed dial. That is more influential than me offering my personal opinion. Reach out and gather the data you need to make your case, present this information, and then give the decision makers time to process. If you do not hear back within 4-7 days, follow up. Is calling the next day and asking why the courts are not done yet a good idea? NO. What if you are fighting the good fight and do not have many people backing you? Reach out! Use social media to gather intel as to what other communities have done. Basic social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, You Tube (and I’m sure many others) have pickleball content that you can utilize. Find pickleball leaders in nearby communities and ask them for advice- how did they go about securing funding? Then go back to your local council with some solid data.
Show them the MONEY
Explain how having pickleball courts in your area will draw in tourists. Tournaments generate revenue. In doing my research, I found that the average pickleball player going out of town for a tournament is spending $130-155 per day on expenses outside of the tournament- hotels, restaurants, attractions. As a pickleball super fan who travels to watch such tournaments, I think this stat of $130-155 is LOW! Once you’ve paid for an average hotel and one lunch, you’ve already hit that price point**.** But even so, imagine drawing in 100 players over a weekend using $140 as an average expenditure per day in a two day tournament… your local community is looking at $28,000. Hold a few of those bigger tournaments a year and you are bringing a nice cash flow into your area.
When I was presented with the daunting task of proving the value of pickleball courts to my local city council, I was discouraged at first. I thought, “WHY do I have to fight for something that should be an absolute no brainer?” Then, I flipped my mindset and saw this as a challenge that I was up for- what pickleball player doesn’t LOVE a challenge? I thought to myself- do your research, ask for help from your normal go-tos, and knock this presentation out of the
ballpark pickleball court!
One final thought- be prepared to help others. After I presented on a Wednesday, I was invited to two other suburb council meetings within the next week. Share your information and/or show up at meetings in surrounding communities. The more courts, the better. Let’s break away from taped lines on tennis courts and make a place for ourselves in our local parks!