As the fastest-growing sport in the United States, pickleball mania is sweeping the country and attracting thousands of participants of all ages. It was only a matter of time before someone became the leader of the burgeoning sport through franchising. “Someone” is Ace Rodrigues, an entrepreneur in Chandler, Arizona, and CEO and founder of Pickleball Kingdom, which is one of the largest indoor pickleball facilities in the country. How he landed in the pickleball franchising business can be described as a fortunate stroke of serendipity, or as Ace prefers to say, “I was the right person at the right place at the right time.”

Ace Rodrigues owned a financial services business that employed more than 300 agents and brokers in three states before selling the business in 2007. Describing himself as a “serial entrepreneur and investor,” his next big business idea happened when he and his friends became avid pickleball players and encountered all the same problems “pickleballers” face. Finding places to play was often frustrating and further complicated by long waits because they were unable to reserve court time. When they were able to find a court, it was often either too hot, too cold, or the courts were too dirty. Worst of all, even a tame wind would spoil games, as the light wiffle balls would blow away and make playing pickleball games impossible.

On January 9, 2021, Ace and his friends were standing outside on a pickleball court and realized they could not play because it was too windy. At that moment, he had an epiphany. What if he could take weather conditions out of the equation? What if he could build indoor, climate-controlled courts where people could play comfortably all year long?

And just like that… Pickleball Kingdom was born.

Barely a year later, Ace opened the massive club in Chandler. The state-of-the-art facility offers 15 immaculate indoor courts, professional instruction, equipment rentals, free classes, a snack bar, pro shop, and a mezzanine viewing area. Drop-in Play is offered every day, and players benefit from a customized experience. All skill levels and ages are welcome, and tournaments are held frequently throughout the year. Pickleball Kingdom was immediately popular with players and investors, which prompted Rodrigues to introduce a franchise model in 2023. By his own admission, he explained that owning a pickleball facility is no small undertaking.

“We all know how much fun pickleball is,” Ace said. “What’s not fun is waiting for a court, playing in the cold or in the heat with the sun in your eyes, or having the wind affect your game. We’ve solved all those problems in Arizona. Our team learned from trial and error, but now we have a successful playbook that will help any potential franchisees who are interested in starting their own Pickleball Kingdom. We call the operations manual the ‘Keys to the Kingdom,’ and this blueprint is enabling us to expand nationwide.”

Franchising will help ease the challenges of owning and operating a pickleball court, according to Ace. Real estate is usually the first step, but building a facility can be daunting when it’s a large space of 30,000 – 45,000 square feet.

“There are so many layers of thinking that go into putting together a club that flows and will provide the user experience that players want,” he said. “But after it’s built is when the real issues will appear.”

Challenges to consider include how much to charge for court rentals, what technology to use, how to deal with suppliers, where to order equipment, advertising, marketing, and how to run leagues and tournaments. Ace noted this is just a partial list leading up to Day One.

“No matter how proactive and intentional anyone is, they will make a mountain of mistakes,” he said. “The good news for our franchisees is that we’ve made the mistakes on our dime, and they will get the benefit of the iterations we’ve made to our system before they launch their Pickleball Kingdoms.”

Pickleball Kingdom recently announced the awarding of a five-unit franchise deal in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the first in a lengthy list of cities targeted for indoor pickleball courts across the country. The first Dallas unit is slated to open in the first quarter of 2024. Dan Jenkins, the newly appointed franchisee, said he is honored to join forces with Pickleball Kingdom and bring the indoor pickleball experience to his home city of Dallas. With Pickleball Kingdom’s proven track record and commitment to excellence, he is confident that Dallas club members and visitors will agree with Pickleball Kingdom’s value statement of, “Life is better with Pickleball.”

Since the announcement of the Dallas locations, Pickleball Kingdom is receiving interest from potential franchisees throughout the country. Ace predicts Pickleball Kingdom will have 120 locations by the end of 2024 and 320 by the end of 2025. At the heart of the business is the company’s core belief that playing pickleball is good for you physically, socially, and spiritually.

“We see the fruits of this every day,” Ace said. “Another one of our five Core Beliefs is that our greatest asset is our community. We believe the most rewarding thing about owning a Pickleball Kingdom is to help grow a community of vibrant people who love life — because after all, life is better with pickleball!  And that’s another one of our Core Belief statements.”