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    Rallying The Community

    How Pickleball Pop-Ups Is Bringing Pickleball To The People

    Pickleball has taken the U.S. by storm, quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation. As the popularity of pickleball surges, so does the need for more playing spaces, but the construction of permanent facilities can be hampered by high costs, long development times, and zoning restrictions.

    Enter Jakob Eliason, co-founder of Pickleball Pop-Ups, a visionary company dedicated to harnessing pickleball’s newfound popularity by utilizing temporary, mobile courts to create unparalleled pickleball experiences in communities across the country. Pop-up pickleball courts can be quickly set up in underutilized spaces allowing for a rapid expansion of access without the need for significant upfront investment.

    With a mission to make the sport as accessible as possible, Eliason and his team are transforming parking lots, parks, and underutilized spaces into lively pickleball events where friendships are forged and competitive spirits can thrive. 

    We sat down with Eliason to dive deep into the origins of Pickleball Pop-Ups, explore the challenges and triumphs of spreading pickleball fever, and discuss Eliason’s ambitious plans for the future. Pickleball Pop-Ups isn’t just about bringing a game to the masses, but about creating a community and a new way to connect in an increasingly digital world.

    leland orfield

    By Leland Orfield – 04/26/2024

    Can you share the origin story of Pickleball Pop-Ups and how it has evolved into a key player in organizing pickleball events?

    Eliason: So last March, Adam, my business partner, he called me, and he said, “I want to open a pickleball facility.” He plays at Lifetime Fitness, and realized that was the only three indoor courts within 45 minutes of Memphis. There may be some private clubs, like golf courses that I’m not mentioning, but as far as somewhere where anybody from the public could go play, Lifetime is the only indoor. 

    So he was like, man, there’s so much opportunity, so much empty retail space. It’s a clear lane that a lot of people are trying to take right now, which is go and bust out the old Bed, Bath, and Beyond and turn it into a pickleball facility, or pickleball club, or a franchise. And so that’s where we started. That’s what pickleball 901 was. 901 is the Memphis area code,  so there’s a lot of affinity for that here.

    We also knew there was this massive underserved community that had never gotten to play before; so that would likely be a part of our business, too. So that’s where we started. 

    We were looking at a couple of different places, getting into the real estate game, and we realized that this is taking forever. We’re just trying to get more courts out here, like supply and demand, that was it. Not even a cute brand name; 901 is just the area code, we’re trying to keep it simple. 

    We just wanted to provide more courts, but it was going to be $4 million. And this big indoor outdoor build-out. And then now we got food and beverage because the model has to look good for investors. It just became this beast that wasn’t sexy anymore, and we didn’t want to go, “Well, now we’re running it like a tennis club.” That’s not what we wanted to do.

    That’s where the pickleball pop-up came to be. It was actually the end of May, I overheard a buddy saying that he had taken a tape kit out to one of the brewery parking lots, taped down a court, snd they judy played in the parking lot because they knew the owner. And I was like, “Can I talk to the owner?”

    So they connected me with the owner of the brewery, I called him, and I said, “Hey, we want to do a series of pickleball parties pop up pickleball parties at breweries around Memphis, I think you’ve got enough space. Would you be interested in letting just take over your parking lot for a Saturday?” And the responding answer was hell yeah.

    We did it, and it crushed. At the very beginning of June, we got the confirmation for four different areas. Then we sold a sponsorship for the whole thing to a local orthopedic hospital, Campbell Clinic. They were about to start a pickleball Injury Research thing like a lot of these places did last year and we jumped in.

    How does the business model of the pickleball pop-ups differ from setting up a typical pickleball facility? How do you connect with businesses and organizations for hosting these types of events?

    Eliason: Some of our advisors decided that we needed to model out what this type of business looks like. Let’s consider what if we don’t do the club and instead, we look at the pop-up as a business model. So we started doing that, and lo and behold it’s way more attractive across the board. 

    We started with the bouncy house revenue model, which is just like basic court rental. And then we realized pretty quickly, doing more events ourselves and trying that model, that the essence of it is in the electricity that we bring – the energy, the programming, the activation, the people, and doing it in a cool place. 

    And so, Adam and myself, we have a background in B2B marketing and sales. So he’s been in software sales and enterprise software sales, selling million-dollar software to billion-dollar companies. And I’ve been running a marketing agency doing a whole lot of E-commerce work and doing B2B digital marketing work. 

    So we just kind of brought our expertise together and then decided that we were going to choose the B2B route. Instead of Grandma’s backyard, or instead of selling to individuals, or even selling to pickleball companies, we chose the b2b route. That’s where we’ve been focused. We’ve been focused on selling like multi-event contracts on the corporate event side.

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    Pickleball Pop-Ups Demo Activation

    How does Pickleball Pop-Ups select locations for its events, and what factors are considered to ensure the venues meet your standards?

    Eliason: In Memphis, we’re pretty lucky. All these breweries that we liked let us take over their parking lot and made people park somewhere else. If that’s the case, then pretty much everything will work. Any parking lot is usually big enough to put one or two of these things in for a day.

    Because of our ability to use these modular tiles type courts, we can fit into these weird spaces that you’d never have pickleball. Like, yeah, sometimes there’s a ditch right beside it, but people don’t care; they have fun. The ball goes in the ditch, they can just get it out. 

    That’s not ideal, we do our best to barricade that type of stuff, but we typically start with, “Is there enough space?” We don’t have to have four courts out, you know, two courts, and rotating and programming it well, could get a couple hundred people activated each in a six to eight-hour setting.

    But we also get a lot of good referrals. When we finish an event, we’ll send out an email, we’ll send out a feedback survey about how they thought it went. And then one of the questions that we’ll ask is, “What are some other places that would be good to pop-up?” And so we get a lot of inbounds like, “Hey, you should look at this place” and “They’ve got a big parking lot,” so we can kind of feed off of what the market thinks.

    Trust me, when we’re doing an event, anybody who thinks it’s a good idea will come find one of us in a Pickleball Pop-Up shirt, and they will tell us where we need to do this. “You need to do this in The Battery in Atlanta.” “You need to do this in Centennial Park in Nashville.” And it’s just like noted, you know. “Country Music Hall of Fame.” Got it. Grand Ole Opry: It sounds a little ridiculous, but sure.

    Community engagement is crucial for the success of local sports events. How does Pickleball Pop-Ups engage with the local community to encourage participation and support?

    Eliason: We have kind of just by default become the staple pickleball brand in Memphis. What we found is that we didn’t really have to create the community, we tapped into the community. We just tapped into the community and gave them a new fresh approach to play pickleball.

    It’s not like we’re trying to compete with public and free parks and stuff. We just listened to them. we surveyed them at the beginning of all this, and we took what they said and that drove a lot. 

    All I need to do is set the stage for these 12 people who haven’t met to play with each other in a round-robin format. And by the end of it, the community is created. Like I didn’t have to do anything to spark that other than have the pickleball court and tell them that they need to stay in here and hit the ball back and forth for 10 minutes. So, that’s been a great part of it. 

    I think a third part of it is we do best when we are hovering around or like being bolted on to an event that is already community-focused. So the community’s already there; we just know pickleball and we know how much pickleball accelerates that community. It’s a better outlet for engagement than a massage or a coffee bar or a phone charging station. Or even a happy hour, which is like the closest I think to what we do. But if you combine happy hour with pickleball, then now there’s a bigger draw; it’s a bigger magnet with a bigger space.

    I think that’s a really long-winded way of saying that the community exists, and we provide a unique means of engagement for those communities instead of having to both create the community and engage them.

    "All I need to do is set the stage for these 12 people who haven't met to play with each other in a round-robin format. And by the end of it, the community is created."
    FIXED New Pickleball Union 3
    Jakob Eliason
    Co-Founder - Pickleball Pop-Ups

    Looking forward, what are some of the challenges and opportunities that Pickleball Pop-Ups anticipates as it continues to promote and grow pickleball nationwide?

    Eliason: The biggest challenge by far is scaling our operation to be in more places at once. Right now, we’re being diligent about not double-booking on our calendar. Our calendar’s the ultimate scarcity.

    If you think about everybody wanting pop-up pickleball and only 52 weeks in a year and a small team – we have the ultimate scarcity play, which is great. Because we can kind of control our pricing and not get cut out. But being able to grow and have an event in Vegas at the same time that I’ve got an event in Miami, Florida, that are the same quality, same essence, the same experience being able to be duplicated at the same time is absolutely our biggest challenge. 

    I think you look behind that, and it’s not a logistical challenge; it’s a people challenge. It’s how can we find the people and build that team that can go and execute everywhere, and they can duplicate what we’ve done. I think even at a more fundamental level, it’s how do we standardize the experience and create a product that can be easily duplicated, and crushed over and over without a huge creative front end. Like, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.

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    Pickleball Pop-Ups Takes Over Beale Street In Memphis

    Finally, Can you share a memorable event or moment that highlights the impact of Pickleball Pop-Up’s work in the community?

    Eliason: This is what put us on the map, really. We took over Beale Street.

    I’d seen a pole vaulting event happening on Beale Street and I was like, “That’s ridiculous. If they can do that, then we can do pickleball.” I made a couple phone calls, they said yes, aand that was our first individual paid gig. Beale Street said, “Yes. We want you to take over Beale Street on a Sunday afternoon, leading up to the Memphis Grizzlies first home preseason game this year.”

    Beale Street is not only cobblestone, but it’s curved for drainage and stuff. And those are things that sometimes you don’t think about before you get into these events. So Beale Street, get out there 6 a.m., all my guys are on time; everyone’s there and they’re ready to work.

    They’re excited, but the power was out on Beale, and we have an event starting in like five hours with six courts to set up, so it was crunch time. We’re out there with my truck lights and someone else’s truck lights trying to get started. We’ve got these massive pallets with courts on them and it’s just a 26-foot box truck backed in. And finally, the lights come back on we get it set up right before we need to start, and the event just goes off. 

    We’re out there all day. The Grizzlies drumline comes out in parties with us. We’ve all the bars on Beale Street open. You’ve got tourist traffic that’s coming through that’s like, “What the hell is going on? Is this pickleball?” And you’ve got the local group that’s like, “What is this? I’ve never seen this before.” Then you’ve got our massive community that we brought out there. 

    It was free. We didn’t charge anybody anything. We wanted as many people as possible to come down to Beale Street, play pickleball, and bring something positive to downtown in an area that gets a bad rap. 

    So I still show clients the Beale Street imagery and footage and photos to show the type of scale of the events. I look at the drone shot with the lights on Beale at night, and I just remember being out there at 7:30 pm and tearing up the tiles. We’re kind of buzzed a little bit just trying to figure out how to tear these things down and get them stored back up. 

    I remember looking at myself and being like, first of all, we did it. We executed it, and we did it, and then we crushed it. And it was great. But also, if you’d have told me even a year before that I’d be skipping that Grizzlies game to be out here on my hands and knees for the pickleball event, I would have called you crazy. But sure enough, I was, and I was a huge part in it. And now we’ve taken that a literally across the country.

    Memphis is important to both of us. Even though the name of the company that we are taking nationally is Pickleball Pop-Ups, the 901 stuff just runs deep through us. Memphis is a really blue-collar city, and there’s a lot more community here that is felt when you’re here than what the news and the media wants to lead you to believe. 

    Yes, there are problems, but this is a very hardworking city, and we embody that every single day. Even to the party stuff; Memphians will find a way to turn up. We will turn up for freshly cut grass, right like we will get down and we’ll throw a party for literally anything and the family shows up. Everybody who knows anybody shows up. 

    So from the music that we play to the vibe that we bring, it’s Memphis. People get a taste of that with us, and then, hopefully, we can build the brand of Memphis in the process. Because everybody knows that’s where we’re from, and we’re not shy about it whatsoever.

    To learn more about Pickleball Pop-Ups, be sure to check out their website and follow them over on Instagram to see if they might be hosting an event near you!