Pickleball Kingdom founder franchising his concept

Mike “Ace” Rodrigues is CEO/founder of Pickleball Kingdom in Chandler (Courtesy of Pickleball Kingdom)

The founder of an indoor pickleball facility in Chandler says his business has been so successful that he’s franchising it.

Mike “Ace” Rodrigues opened the 15-court Pickleball Kingdom last May on the northeast corner of Ray and Rural roads, touting his facility as not only air-conditioned and wind-free but also an ideal spot for corporate events, birthday parties and other celebrations.

Now, he’s hoping his idea will catch on statewide and across the nation – if not the world – because he considers it “with a proven successful working model.”

“We all know how fun pickleball is. What’s not fun is waiting for a court, playing in the heat or cold with the sun in your eyes, and having the wind affect your game. We’ve solved all those problems in Arizona. Now we’re exporting it, first to the rest of the country… then the world,” said Rodrigues, founder and CEO of Pickleball Kingdom.

A recent report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association called pickleball the “fastest-growing sport in America, reporting that it has attracted 4.8 million players nationwide and has grown in popularity by 40% since 2020.

The association tracks the popularity of sports through the sale of related merchandise.

“It is almost a cliché at this point that the pandemic did not so much create trends as much as accelerated them. Pickleball has grown in popularity for the past five years and did not miss a beat during the pandemic. Pickleball’s growth trajectory gives every indication it will be a significant part of the American sport landscape for the foreseeable future,” said Tom Cove, President/CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

Municipalities have had a tough time meeting the demand for public pickleball courts.

For example, the pickleball complex at Pecos Park in Ahwatukee at the southern end of 48th Street, draws players from as far south as Casa Grande, according to some local residents who are lobbying Phoenix to create more courts.

Rodrigues said his idea for Pickleball Kingdom was born two years ago on a dirty public court while standing in the sun waiting to get onto a court on a windy day.

It took a year to build the Chandler arena and now he and his team put together an operations manual they call “The Keys to the Kingdom.”

“It would have been irresponsible of us to have launched franchising earlier,” Rodrigues said. “Indoor pickleball is a brand-new industry. It’s not a gym, it’s not a giant playground. There was so much to learn and mistakes needed to be made and fixed.

“The heavy lifting is done. I didn’t want franchisees paying us while we were still figuring it out. That learning curve happened on our dime.”

Rodrigues said his team “checs all the boxes” for the five elements of a successful franchise: a market that desires the product or service, working proof of concept, a plan, franchising experience and industry-specific knowledge.

His team includes: Jon Brovitz, who has over 20 years as a large multi-unit franchisee with Massage Envy and Amazing Lash; David Haynie, a professional pickleball player and coach and general manager of Pickleball Kingdom; and Steve Holmes, whose business serves franchisees.

“One of our core beliefs is, ‘Life is better with pickleball,’” Rodrigues said, saying his concept includes a free introductory lesson, courts without waiting, and “a better environment to play in.”

Information: PickleballKingdom.com or ladyj@pickleballkingdom.com

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