Described as a hybrid game of squash and tennis and backed with big investments by famous athletes like the soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic and tennis star Andy MurrayPadel, a racquet sport little known to Americans, is vying to oust pickleball as America’s fastest-growing sport.
Easy to learn and played on a smaller court than traditional tennis, padel shares a number of similarities with pickleball. now Private investors are spending heavily to build hundreds of courses across the country and are campaigning to make it an Olympic sport for Los Angeles 2028.
Padel was first invented by Mexican businessman Enrique Corcuera in 1969 and is a huge pastime in Spain, where there are over 20,000 courts. It has more recently caught on in the Middle East and other European countries, for example in France where it has been the fastest growing sport for the past two years. according to the country’s sports ministry. It has steadily made its way into the European mainstream and last month Roland Garros hosted a big padel tournament for the first time on his premises.
In the US, it is states with large Spanish-speaking populations such as Florida and Texas that are paving the way.
“You can’t get a place in South Florida without booking three weeks in advance. The facilities have a waiting list of 100 to get lessons,” said Marcos del Pilar, the President of the United States Padel Association (USPA). The association estimates that 25 million people in more than 170 countries play worldwide.
Although there are currently only about 180 courts in the United States, the USPA predicts exponential growth based on the uptake of the sport in other countries. It is expected that by 2029 there will be 25,000 to 30,000 seats in the US with 8 to 10 million players.
New York City recently welcomed its first padel club called Padel Haus. The Williamsburg venue, opened by Santiago Gomez, opened in July with four spaces, but the entrepreneur will open an additional eight in the city’s Financial District and ten in Greenpoint and Long Island City over the next year.
“In New York City alone, there’s enough demand for 50 spots right now and room to grow,” said Gomez, who is also considering expansion in Boston and Philadelphia. Although Gomez has been playing padel for years, he was inspired to invest in it after seeing his popularity soar during Covid-19.
“During the pandemic, European governments didn’t allow team sports, but they did allow padel,” he said. As a non-contact sport, there is less risk of germ contamination, but the distance between players is still close enough that people can still have a good conversation. “People did that as their only way to exercise and socialize.”
Padel versus tennis and squash
Although in the US it is pronounced “pa-DEL” to distinguish it from paddle tennis, another American racquet discipline, in other countries it is pronounced like “paddle”.
Compared to tennis, rallies are longer because padel only allows underhand serves, making it less likely to win a point on the first shot. Overall, there is less time for picking up balls and more time to play.
Then there is the social side of padel, say the promoters of the sport. It has the advantage over squash in that the net is between the players so they face each other; and it is almost always played as doubles. It’s also good mixed gender play as it balances out muscle differences in males and females. If you hit the ball hard to the other side, you have a good chance of seeing it bounce off the wall and go straight back to the player.
“With the dynamics of the tennis court, you talk to yourself and try to focus on getting the game right,” Padel Haus’ Gomez said. “But in padel with the glass walls and the smaller court, you can talk to your opponent, make jokes, talk about the point you missed.”
Padel fans also see it as a business
Gomez said he noticed big fashion brands including zara, Brunello Cucinelli, Slazinger, Adidasand head Start padel lines and point to Qatar sovereign wealth fund to announce the creation of a professional paddle course in February as proof of the momentum.
Christ Ishoo, who owns a company that makes padel courts, expects the sport to grow because it’s easy to learn. “You have to be good at tennis to have fun, but padel is just being good,” he said. “It’s psychology, people like to be good at things.”
Recently, Ishoo has gotten involved in venture capital with his firm EEP Capital, which is initially investing $15 million in the growth of the sport in the US. Padel, he believes, has more potential among young players than pickleball. Over half of regular pickleball players, defined by the US Pickleball Association E.g. play eight or more times a year, are over 55 years old.
It’s also harder to make money from Pickleball, which doesn’t require a lot of setup. A padel court requires glass walls and padded turf, all of which cost around $50,000 to build. Club owners collect a combination of game time and membership dues, which creates a revenue stream while Pickleball struggles to collect fees. At the same time, margins are more attractive to padel business owners than building a tennis court that costs twice as much.
“The biggest difference with Pickleball is that Pickleball is cheap, it’s a net. You can paint the floor and set up a net. People don’t have to pay you to play,” Ishoo said.