October 15, 2022 3 min read 2 Comments
The big money is flowing into Pickleball, which could mean less court time for Geezer Jocks at public facilities. Organize, push back, says a national leader in seniors playing PB. Photo courtesy National Senior Games Association.
By Ray Glier
The stratification of Pickleball got some jets with the news Tom Brady, the Super Bowl quarterback, has bought a team. The NBA star LeBron James has ownership in a team, too.
What was a game for retirees and older Americans now has a layer of $$$$. That professional level of the sport is now a free-for-all with the requisite ill will that goes with ambition. You can read about that ill will here.
The major domos of Pickleball, which grew modestly in mobile home communities, now want it in the Olympics. That should further fuel the killer-instinct.
I wonder what this means for the people who play the game for fun, the Geezer Jocks?
I wouldn't typically care, except I saw what happened with, for instance, "travel league baseball."
Youth baseball got turned on its head.
Community ballparks started to be rented out by professional coaches and ambitious parents of 11-year olds who formed a team. The less-ambitious players were shunted aside as practice times were gobbled up. High school fields were booked by travel-team tournaments who were getting $2,000 entry fees, per team.
Aluminum bats soared in price. It was harder to find a cheaper glove. The travel ball market, with parents paying $4,000 to $10,000 for their children to be on "the" team, not only raised the rates on equipment, but costs of coaching, and facilities went up. I know. I was caught up in it.
Little League Baseball, Inc., had to cave in and allow 12-year old "stars" to have one foot in the local community Little League, and one foot in the travel sphere. It was that or lose the stars to travel ball and Little League couldn't let that happen with its TV master, ESPN, paying so much to televise the Little League World Series. The "stars" wanted a chance to play in the hallowed Little League World Series so LLB Inc., had to accommodate them.
Over-55 and over-60 communities can keep the high-brow Pickleball tournaments off their courts, but several Pickleball players have told me the cost of paddles is starting to reflect the trend of "more money."
"The face of pickleball is rapidly changing as money enters the sport," said Alice Tym, a Pickleball champion on the senior tour. "The shift from senior recreation to young players pursuing prize money has already begun. Better quality paddles with high price tags, fashionable clothes, and new courts everywhere."
We should let the pros do their thing, right?
That might be ok, but at some point there could be some competition for courts.
It might be that seniors, who are retired, get their playing in during the day and allow the still-working crowd to have the public courts at night where they chase their dream of being a pro.
Many older rec players use the morning hours to avoid the broiling sun were reserved for the "intense" players who would drill their best friend with a shot to win a point. Less intense, but still serious players, would have the evening time when it cooled off. What happens to early evening players if the pros descend with their intensity?
Money is going to start factoring into these court grabs. A tournament organizer is going to pay a municipality to stage a tournament with prize money, complete with ticket sales and concessions, and recreational players are going to have to take a few days off.
"I think that seniors will have to fight harder than ever for their place in the sun," Tym said. "Organize, plan, and be a powerful presence. We are the ones who get the courts built."
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