Setting The Gold Standard

Setting The Gold Standard

USA Pickleball reinvigorates Golden Ticket events and pathway to Nationals

Deborah Lew
|
February 28, 2024
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Since childhood people have been enamored with the idea of golden tickets, perhaps most endearingly so by Willy Wonka and his famous chocolate factory. Their lure and elusiveness, not to mention their color, are enough to make people go out of their way to obtain one.

USA Pickleball has been using this idea of golden tickets as a way to qualify players for the National Pickleball Championships, but now, new leadership is making the experience even more golden.

Jose Moreno is the chief marketing officer at USA Pickleball, and being in the role for less than a year, Moreno and his team are finding ways to enhance the Golden Ticket experience for everyone involved. The feeling at USA Pickleball was that previously, the system was confusing, complicated, and unclear, so the mission was to recreate a more simple process, which is currently being rebranded.

“We want people to play in our Golden Ticket events, and not just in our owned and operated ones at USA Pickleball, but through our third-party partners in APP and UTR,” says Moreno, who was formerly the chief marketing officer for the Fiesta Bowl. “We want people who play in them to feel like they’re part of an ecosystem that truly means something and this is the path to get them to Nationals.”

Someone who is looking for information on how to qualify for Nationals can visit the USA Pickleball website, where there is a page dedicated to explaining how one qualifies. There is also a page that specifically lists all of the Golden Ticket events, including APP and UTR events. On the APP website, Golden Ticket events are clearly marked with the USA Pickleball Golden Ticket logo on the events list.

Put simply, anyone who wins a gold medal in their bracket at any of the designated Golden Ticket events receives a Golden Ticket, or the pre-registration opportunity to compete at Nationals. Once all the Golden Ticket players have registered for Nationals, the lottery of all eligible players is utilized to fill all remaining spots within the divisions. Any player who participates in a Golden Ticket event is eligible to enter the registration lottery.

“We’re building this brand equity in Golden Ticket, and the name “Golden Ticket,” the marker, the logo, the brand,” explains Moreno. “You’re going the see the brand fully integrated in every tournament that is a qualifier, like APP, UTR and ours.”

Jewell Loyd with a hard-earned Golden Ticket to Nationals

In addition, players can expect to be treated with first-class hospitality and service at all Golden Ticket events. At each Golden Ticket event, USA Pickleball will have a full activation, including a player lounge, and commemorative gifts.

“Our staff is going to be there and when you walk in it’s ‘hey, how’d you do? Hey, can I get you anything? Can I get your water? How’s your day shaking out?’ We’re not selling you anything. You’re a member and we want you to feel like you’re part of this membership,” explains Moreno, who has a full event team in place. “We’ve cut our Golden Ticket arch that we’re bringing with us, we’ve got some real cool inflatable Instagrammable moments that we’re doing with giant paddles. For us it’s just about how can we get in front of the members and how can we appreciate them for being a part of our system?”

The lounge will be present at all Golden Ticket events, including those put on by the APP and UTR, and will feature music, comfortable seating, snacks, beverages, and a fun environment where players can feel like they’re among community. Players who participate in the USA Pickleball owned and operated tournaments, of which there are four, will be gifted with a swag bag consisting of a commemorative shirt, a lunch cooler, and a USA Pickleball branded speaker. Commemorative lapel pins that feature the year will be given away at each Golden Ticket event, and this will continue for each year to come.

Moreno says that based on the positive feedback already received from players, he is looking forward to seeing the vision come to life.

“Now it’s just delivering,” Moreno states. “Marketing is really about a promise of what’s to come, so how can we deliver on that? Also, we know we’re not going to be perfect in every way, we want to learn at every step of the way. Every tournament that we do, we want to get better and better and better.”

Golden Ticket events are a special treat for those loyal to the APP Tour, as the APP is currently the only professional league in which tournaments are sanctioned by USA Pickleball.

“The APP has been a magnificent partner for us for many years,” Moreno affirms. “They have a vision much like our mission, which is ‘how can we grow this sport together?’ Let’s rise the tide together. Egos aside, this is about the players, this is about the sport. We want to align ourselves with partners like APP and others along the way to say ‘how can we grow this sport together?’”

The APP kicks off the first of its Golden Ticket events next week in Sacramento, followed by Miami at the end of the month, then Cincinnati, New York City, and Southern California later in the year.

Unlike in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” acquiring a Golden Ticket to the USA Pickleball National Championships will take more than a little luck. It requires hard work, dedication, and of course, some pickleball skill.

But going forward, Moreno, USA Pickleball, and their partners at the APP and UTR will see to it that those efforts are even more rewarded.

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