The Quest to Become the Pickleball Capital of the World | Naples, Florida

The Quest to Become the Pickleball Capital of the World | Naples, Florida

-ANNOUNCER: Last time on “I Heart Pickleball”
we met 5.0 player Jack Munro. This time, we travel to Florida to discover how one
community is working together to put Naples on the map as the
Pickleball Capital of the World. [upbeat music] [upbeat music] [upbeat music] [music fades]
-ANNOUNCER: “I Heart Pickleball” is powered by Hyland’s Leg Cramps. Proud supporter of
pickleball players everywhere. -CHRIS: I’m Chris Evon. -TERRI: And I’m Terri Graham,
and we’re the co-founders of the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships. -CHRIS: And we’re
right here in Naples, FL. I think Naples is the Pickleball Capital of the world 1) because of this
world class event. But 2) because there’s thousands of pickleball players that are here. There is
nothing like the energy you get when you come into this park and everything starts humming
throughout the day. -TERRI: We’ve worked in sporting goods a long time, and
we’ve gone to a lot of different US Opens for those sports. The enthusiasm
here is like nothing else. Four years ago I was working for Wilson Sporting
Goods, and I was running around the country doing product presentations at
Dick Sporting Goods, Sports Chalet, Sports Authority. And everybody was asking me, “When are
you going to do pickleball?” And I’m like, “Pickleball? What the heck is pickleball?” I was intrigued
by the sport of pickleball from a playing standpoint and really from
a business standpoint. -CHRIS: So, she started looking into pickleball
and producing a product for it. And then she went to the Nationals in Arizona
and had this brainstorm that pickleball could use a really big event.
-TERRI: My mind’s going crazy, you know. And get on the laptop and I just type
in “US Open Pickleball Championships” to see if there was a trademark available on
it. And it was. So that’s when I called Chris and said, “Hey! I’ve got this brainstorm
idea. What do you think if we do the US Open Pickleball Championships?” -CHRIS: So,
over the course of the next couple weeks, we talked about it and we thought, yeah, you know,
maybe this could be something good. -TERRI: And, we started thinking where are we
going to do this event? My first thought was someplace out west. And then
the more we talked about it, we thought The Villages may be a good place to do it.
You know, a lot of pickleball at The Villages. So, we went down and we did a presentation. We did
a whole business plan of why we should do it there, and it just didn’t work out. So, then we
came down here and we had a meeting with Collier County a couple of days
later. And we were down in Marco Island and some people down there said, “If
you want to know pickleball, go up to Naples.” So, we walked in here. And I turned to Chris and I
said, “This could work.” And then we met Jim Ludwig. -JIM: I’m a local boy down here
in Naples. I’m sort of called the Pickleball Guy down here in Naples. About
3 1/2 years ago we had about 48 people playing pickleball. Courts were filled up.
You were sitting waiting for 20-25 minutes. And I realized how fast the sport
was growing. So what I decided to do is approach the county and convince them
that we needed a couple of more courts. It took me about 8 months to
get them to finally approve to get 4 courts. And then, along came
Terri and Chris. They were walking by and said that they were interested in
running the US Open Pickleball Championships. Which actually multiplied the factor
that we needed more courts because we all decided that the US Open needed to
be here. -TERRI: So we end up going to the Collier County Visitor’s Bureau,
and we had a big power point presentation of why they should bring the US Open
here. And in walks this man. And he says, “Hi, I’m Jack Wert. I’m the
executive director of the CVB, and I kick her under the table and I thought, “All right!
We’ve got some attention here now!” -JACK: Well, originally I had heard about
pickleball, and I really didn’t know what it was. Our Parks and Rec folks started
talking about it a couple of years ago. -TERRI: So, he sits down and he says, “You know,
I’m not staying.” And he stayed the whole meeting! And he listened to the whole presentation.
And we knew then that we had something. And he asked a lot of really good
questions, a lot of really good business questions that related back to
tourism. How this was going to effect his tourism. -JACK: We
are looking for ways to grow sports tourism here in the community and
I thought, well, this might be a great opportunity for us to really
get in kind of on the ground floor of what sounds like a real
growing sport. We said, “We’re going to take a chance here. We’re
going to take some risk.” -TERRI: And we got the contract 48 hours later.
-JACK: The challenges that we faced in the first year
were convincing people in leadership that this
was a great idea. Our next stop after talking to Chris
and Terri and Jim was we took it to the County Commission. -DONNA: My name is
Donna Fiala, and you know, there was a day that some people called and asked if they could
come into my office. They said they had this great idea about pickleball. What the
heck was a pickleball? They said, “Why don’t you come down and watch?” So, I went
down to the park, and there were about 100 people playing down there. So, I thought
it was fascinating. And they were talking about having some tournaments here. And I
said, “Fine. You know, we’re going to assist you in any way we can.”
And then they said, “What we need is a sponsor.” -CHRIS: And Terri goes up to Donna, and
we’re standing and talking, and she goes, “Do you have any contacts with a sponsor that does housing
developments?” She goes, “Yeah, I know the VP of Minto. So, she
gets out her phone. She calls Bill Bullock at Minto, and she says, “He’s interested.
He wants to meet with you guys in the morning.” And we go home, and we put a power
point together, and we get back here at the park at like 10 in the morning.
And Bill comes over, we do our presentation. And really within about a
couple hours, he was on board. -TERRI: So, with our sponsorship
with Minto, they’re building a housing community which is literally right next door.
I could throw a rock and hit a house over there. And the first year that we did this
event, they sold four houses that weekend. And it’s just skyrocketed since then.
Chris had a contact at Zing Zang because they’re based out of Chicago.
We went to present to the founder of Zing Zang Bloody Mary Mix. He took
a gamble on us. He took a gamble on us because of Chris’s relationship with him. So,
we ended up calling this court the Zing Zang Championship Court. What better name
for a Championship Court? -JACK: So, the next discussion was, so what do we need to do
to really get ready? If we grow this, we need more courts. We went back to
Terri and Chris and talked about that. They reached out to the pickleball
community, and virtually every one was unanimous. We
want to play right in one location. We want to be able to walk
around and see our friends playing and so forth. We don’t want to have to
get in the car and go somewhere else. Well, that discussion really convinced us. Let’s
just make East Naples Community Park the best for pickleball.
Play, rec play, championships, tournaments, whatever
it might be, they’re going to be number one. -BARRY: Collier County Parks and Rec,
we have 74 parks, and this is one of our older parks. It was built in the late 80’s.
So, what we’ve done is re-purposed some of our recreational amenities for pickleball.
And what has grown is into something fabulous. And it’s good for the tourists, but it’s also
good for the locals. We have a lot of local play here. It’s been great. -CHRIS: One of the things we discussed
early on is wherever we go, especially in a park like this, is we want to leave it better
than we found it. The Minto pod over there used to be an old skateboard park. Our
vision as soon as we saw it was like, “Hmmm. This would make some really good pickleball
courts.” But everybody said you’ll never get that. You’ll never get the county to change
this into pickleball courts. So, we kind of let it go. So, we go to lunch one
day with a couple of county people and Donna, and we’re all just sitting and talking
about what our vision was. And all of a sudden Donna says, “You know? Maybe we
should change that skateboard park, take it out, put it in another park, and
change it to pickleball courts. So, again, we’re kicking each other under the table going,
“What just happened here? You know?” -JACK: The changes in East
Naples Community Park was a truly a partnership between
Parks and Recreation and Sports Tourism. -JIM: It really
has become a wonderful relationship because they see the value that we bring
to the county, but we need them to be successful. -CHRIS: The challenge was
really just the unknown. Is this going to take off? Could we make this work? Could we make it
profitable? Are the players going to back us up? We started traveling around so that we
could meet players. I went up to Wisconsin and I met Dave Weinbach. And Dave’s a
great guy and I liked him right away. But his first thing was, “I’m not coming unless
the west coast people come.” And I said, “But, Dave, there’s going to be prize money, and it’s
going to be the biggest tournament.” He said, “I don’t care.” He said, “You’re never going to get the west
coast people.” -TERRI: But once we started marketing it down here and really throughout the
country, you could just see the excitement build, the enthusiasm.
And we started getting emails about it. And then it was on Facebook.
And it just got bigger and bigger. -STEPHANIE: Well, I’m excited to actually have all
the great players come to my side of the United States. -YVONNE: Yeah, there’s a lot of buzz
about it. It’s going to be a historic event. -MATT: And I’m pumped because it’s the first big one on the east coast.
-KYLE: Rusty, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s going to be great. -TERRI: We had a three year business plan on
it. We were thinking, you know, maybe 500, 700 and 900 people. Well, the first year
we had over 800 people play in it. -CHRIS: The person who had the biggest smile on
his face the whole tournament was Dave Weinbach. -RUSTY: You guys, how are you
feeling? -DAVE: Unbelievable! -JACK: Pickleball turned out
to be a true home run. It brought so many people immediately the
first year. -DONNA: Who would ever think that 837 people would sign up
to play in a very first ever tournament. My goodness,
it was wonderful, from all over the US. I think there were 37
states at the time and I think it was 8 countries
coming in to play pickleball. -JACK: Right after the first year, Terri and
Chris came back and said, “There’s our vision for year 2.” -TERRI: County came to us
and projected that we build a shade structure. And then Jim ended up with his
vision working very, very closely with the County to put this up. -DONNA: We
talked to our tourist development people and said, “We have this shade structure. We
have a picture of it. Rather expensive though.” And they said, “It brought
us so much business this year, we’ll pay for it.” -TERRI: But it
ended up being a little bit over budget. So, we ended up going to our sponsor
Minto and asked them, “Hey, we would like to do a little bit. Would you do a
little bit so we can get this beautiful shade structure?” And Minto said, in a heartbeat, we’ll
jump on board with you. So they ended up, with our help, building this shade structure
and naming it the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships Arena.
I can’t think of any other place in the country that has this
many pickleball courts, all Deco-turf, with this many people playing on a daily basis.
Every morning there’s a few hundred people playing. You have to wait for courts here
to play even though there’s 40 courts right here. They want to come and play at the
US Open. So it’s a really big deal now. It isn’t just a 7-day event. -CHRIS: And now
what’s happening is we’ve created the US Open Pickleball Academy. So, we have the
best instructor in the world, Simone Jardim, who teaches here constantly year-round.
And she teaches lessons. They do leagues. They do destination camps.
-BARRY: Naples is known for a lot of things. The wonderful restaurants, the beautiful
weather, our beautiful beaches. But to be known as the place where the best pickleball
in the world is played is just the greatest feeling in the world. -JIM: Pickleball
has benefited not only the county but the local residents, the visitors and the tourists that come
in town. Tourists can come into this park any day of the week and get into a game of their
level, their skill level, and enjoy it. -CHRIS: Four years ago, I really knew
very little about pickleball. And now, I feel like I’m enmeshed in the sport. I really
enjoy it. It’s something that’s not only giving me a career, but it’s giving me a lot of new
friends and a lot of new opportunities. -TERRI: I get so much satisfaction walking
around this venue, and this is a lot of work. But walking around and having players
say, “This is the best thing that happened to them.” Or having the Pros come up and say,
“Thank you for doing this event.” It is so cool to look at these players
and see them smiling ear to ear. It’s very rewarding what’s going on in the
sport of pickleball now. We often think what’s the future of the Minto US
Open Pickleball Championships? And Chris and I were sitting in the bleachers the other day
just kind of looking around, and I said, “We can’t stop this now. We have a responsibility to
the history of the sport to keep this going.” And we went into this thinking
5 years. But when I sit here today and I look at people like Kyle
Yates and Simone Jardim playing on this court as well as all the
other athletes, we have a commitment now to the sport and to the players
of the sport to keep this event going, and to take
care of the name US Open. -JACK: And it really has now
become, not just one event, but multiple events leading
up to the US Open Championship. And now the year-round academy bringing
people literally from all over the world to learn about
this sport, has put real credence to the fact that we are
the Pickleball Capital of the World. [music fades]
-ANNOUNCER: No matter where you are, pickleball can bring us together to
celebrate community, learn new things, and have fun! If you know someone we should
feature on a future episode, we would love to hear from you. All you have to do
is send us an email and tell us your idea. This episode of “I Heart Pickleball”
has been brought to you by Hyland’s Leg Cramps, America’s #1 over-the-counter
leg cramp medicine. For more information, go to [upbeat music] [music fades] [music fades] [music fades]

Comments (2)

  1. Great Video once again and Awesome New intro!.

    Happy new year and best of luck for 2018 – Pickleball Channel. 🙂

  2. Hi Chris and Terri, Thanks to you both to have built up 'capital of pickleball' at city of Naples. I was impressed with the perseverance and hardworks both of you have went through to bring in local agencies/ commissioner/tourism board/private developers etc and not to forget the players and participants to Florida. We have a great group of pickleball players in Singapore and would like to explore the opportunity to participate in the upcoming Minto US PB Open either this year or next. Any further information could you provide here or contact we can reach out to? Thank you.

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