Two young men who are out to become the Aces of indoor pickleball

Al Urbanski
The first Ace Pickleball Club recently opened in Fort Wayne, Ind.

This is the story of two young entrepreneurs engaged on a relentless mission to define and lead the fast-building business of indoor pickleball centers. 

Jay Diederich and Diego Pacheco were both in their early 20s when they first met in 2012. Diederich was the real estate director of Sky Zone Franchise Group and Pacheco was a newbie on CBRE’s national retail team. Their mission: get mall and open-air center landlords to backfill empty anchor space with trampoline parks.

“We’d approach landlords with our idea and they’d say, ‘Are you crazy?’” Pacheco recalls. “So Jay and I built a playbook on how to make Sky Zone an important draw in retail centers. Over a four-year period, we did 103 deals.”

In 2022,  Diederich made a call to Pacheco. Pickleball had burst upon the world and was quickly developing into a participation sport sensation.

“Jay said, ‘I have an idea.’ Why don’t we use all the experience we earned with Sky Zone to put indoor pickleball centers in retail centers?” Pacheco recalled.

He bit. Diederich and Joe Sexton, who was the director of franchise development at Sky Zone, founded Ace Pickleball Club. The first thing they did was recruit a team made up of corporate executives from Disney, Nike, and REI that began engaging multi-unit owners of franchises the likes of Orangetheory, Papa Johns, and Crumbl Cookies. 

Unlike other indoor pickleball franchises such as Picklemall and American Pickelball Association, Ace is all about pickleball and not pickles.

“People can grab over the counter snacks, but we have no plans at this time for food and beverage programs,” said Pacheco, who is the franchise's chief growth officer. “Our core business is the pickleball experience.”

Ace claims to have sold 100 licenses for its 22,000-to-45,000-sq.-ft. pickleball centers across the U.S. The first two of them are in operation in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Roswell, Ga. An opening in Voorhees, N.J., is expected this spring and another 12 are in development. 

“With the speed the indoor pickleball industry has caught on,” Pacheco observed, “we look at this as a real estate race.” 

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