Municipal officials say they’ve seen a steep increase this fall and winter in the number of people playing platform or “paddle” tennis on New Canaan’s town-owned courts at Waveny Park.
Revenues generated through selling permits and guest passes for the outdoor sport already have surpassed $70,000 for the paddle tennis season that started in early-October, compared to anticipated revenues of about $46,000, according to Recreation Director Steve Benko.
In the past two paddle seasons, which run through mid-April, the town has taken in a total of about $56,000 (fiscal year 2020) and $46,000 (fiscal year 2019) in revenues, Benko told members of the Board of Finance Park & Recreation Budget Subcommittee during a regular meeting Monday.
“Paddle is going crazy,” he said during the meeting, held via videoconference.
“We’ve had an outstanding year so far in paddle tennis. Our revenues are way up in paddle. People are playing in a COVID year, it’s amazing. People want to be outside.”
The comments came as Benko discussed the Recreation Department’s proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2022 with Subcommittee members Amy Murphy Carroll, Michael Chen and Tom Schulte in advance of Thursday’s regular meeting before the full finance board.
Benko noted during the meeting that the town is seeing strong interest in court use and reservations, as well as clinics and lessons for another outdoor sport, tennis, at Mead Park and New Canaan High School. The Subcommittee members urged Benko to bring hard numbers about the rising popularity of both sports, and other programs from the Recreation Department, to the budget hearing this week.
Town funding bodies would be eager to fund the expansion of popular programs that benefit residents—particularly those that pay for themselves—and improvement of associated facilities.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for you to profile what the Rec Department does and how it provides services,” Murphy Carroll told Benko of Thursday’s full finance board meeting.
Chen said there are “huge opportunities for additional revenue with paddle.”
He said that paddle-only clubs outside of New Canaan cost $500 to $900 to join (the town charges residents up to $140 for a season pass, and the guest fee is $10 per hour per guest).
“We charge such a low price for playing paddle, I think people would pay more under one circumstance,” he said.
Rather than limiting use of the stone-clad paddle hut to when an attendant is on-site, Chen suggested the town “invest in security cameras.”
“You pay for security cameras so you can see who goes in and out of the hut, give a combination—this is what other clubs do—give a combination for the members to use it, and they use it whenever they want,” he said. “They have a membership and it costs double—let’s say $200 instead of $100. You could pay for the security cameras, you could make the members much happier because they could use it any time of day. There doesn’t have to be an attendant there. It’s a win-win and you could make more money from the club. Because that’s what other clubs do.”
Benko responded that Chen was referring to private clubs, “which are different” from the Waveny paddle hut and courts.
“We are in a public park, where you’ve people all over the place coming in,” Benko said.
He added that the attendant is on site from the morning through early afternoon and then off for a few hours until 5 p.m.
Yet “you don’t have it all year round, Steve,” Chen responded.
“People play paddle all year round now,” he said. “You only have it in the fall, it shuts down.”
Chen suggested that New Canaan offer a year-round permit.
Murphy Carroll noted that New Canaan residents contributed to the rebuilding of the paddle hut “so we should get it open for people.”
“I want to make sure that New Canaan residents have the opportunity to use it first,” she said.
When Benko voiced concerns about leaving the paddle hut unmanned by an attendant, saying that people could steal things from it, Murphy Carroll said that’s what the security cameras are for. Schulte added that the Rec Department paddle court attendants aren’t hired or trained to intervene in the event of criminal acts such as larcenies.
Benko said that the town perhaps could have an attendant staff the court on the three most popular nights throughout the summer from 6 to 10 p.m.
Chen said, “Ideally, if you have a combination of security cameras, then they can use it all the time.”