Sweden Holds Grim Warning for the $4 Billion Padel Craze

Padel, the racket sport craze currently sweeping across much of the planet, has turned into a cautionary tale for investors in one of the countries that first fully embraced it: Sweden, Bloomberg News reported. Padel centers in the biggest Nordic country are being converted to warehouses and budget grocery stores after the racket sport’s pandemic boom turned into a bust. Almost 90 padel-related companies have filed for bankruptcy this year, according to data from credit reference agency Creditsafe. Thousands of courts are also being closed down after operators were hit by a triple whammy of ballooning competition, surging inflation and waning interest from a middle class whose appetite for the sport previously seemed insatiable. “So many things went wrong,” Andreas Ehrnvall, a veteran of the sport in Sweden, said. “This country rapidly went from having 300 padel courts to 3,500. It was just untenable.” Padel, usually played in doubles at an enclosed 20 by 10 meter court, seemed an ideal pastime for Sweden, a country with a proud tennis tradition. Investors jumped on the opportunity, including private equity group Triton Partners and the country’s biggest soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The number of courts in Sweden ballooned between 2018 and 2021, but it soon became clear that the expansion was overdone. Ehrnvall, a former tennis pro who helped bring the sport to Sweden, saw early signs that something was out of order. Having run a padel club in the town of Uppsala since 2012, he was horrified at the development as too many people trying to make a quick buck piled in. “In one, year Uppsala went from having a total of 14 to 100 courts,” he said of the boom. “I’d say that in a city of Uppsala’s size, with some 200,000 inhabitants, there is room for no more than 20 courts.” Operators are now shuttering their facilities at a rapid pace. We Are Padel, a key part of private equity firm Triton’s investment in the sport, has closed around 50 clubs in Sweden, leaving only 13. Its owners recorded a 716 million Swedish kronor ($65 million) loss in 2022, driven by a major writedown. Another firm, PDL United, which was backed Coeli Private Equity, has gone bankrupt and its assets are now controlled by creditors. Read more.