With the sport on a high, the professionalisation of padel continues apace.
In Spain, the clearest example is found in the management of clubs and schools, many of which have implemented automatic systems to turn their facilities into smart courts.
But what are these smart courts?
They are courts that have had their management processes automated. To give a few examples: reservations and payments, the opening and closing of doors, lighting and heating systems are all managed electronically. Everything works automatically.
And the so-called smart courts have found the perfect ecosystem at Padel Indoor Center (PIC), a club in Bizkaia that offers courts to its users 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
That is what Manuel Ozamiz, general director of PIC, aspires to. “Clubs don’t allow you to play at any time. We do, and we don’t increase expenses,” he said.
A smart court’s features range from booking and payment through a mobile app to turning lights or heating systems on and off.
The main reason why clubs install this kind of system is “to expand services for the users”.
“They book with their mobile, pay and receive a code. Users can access the court 10 minutes before the reserved time,” explained Ozamiz.
With the same code, “you can access the changing room, where the heating has already been turned on a few minutes before. The same goes for turning lights on and off.”
Streamlining of management expenses
It is a service that, until very recently, was unthinkable.
But these automatic systems not only make these kinds of features available to the players, but they also help the club to reduce expenses.
“If we had staff 24 hours a day it would be unfeasible. At 7 in the morning only two or three courts are reserved. This doesn’t cover the expenses of having someone at reception”, Ozamiz pointed out.
The other benefit brought by the automation of the smart courts is the streamlining of the club’s management expenses.
“We are interested in reducing reception hours. It’s like a trade. You reduce hours, reduce expenses and improve performance.”
In response to some fans’ fear that the human warmth that is prevalent in padel clubs today will disappear, Ozamiz assures that is not the intention.
“The idea is to redirect resources from reception to other areas of the club,” he said. Especially, towards “customer service and client relationships”.
Now the employees can go to the club to “be with the clients and attend to their needs. Not to be sitting at reception”.
“Dehumanising the club” is far from PICs intention. “There are still people,” its director told us, “What happens is that there are no longer employees who do work that doesn’t generate value.”
As with any change, users’ reactions to the automated systems can vary a lot.
That is why PIC has opted for a smooth transition between analogue and automatic processes.
“Changes are difficult. But we’ve implemented them little by little,” said Ozamiz.
In any case, the club’s experience indicates that people welcome these new dynamics.
“Today everyone has a smartphone, which they use to do a variety of things. 70-year-olds easily send payments by Bizum. They also use apps like Glovo or Uber,” he observed.
Ozamiz doesn’t believe, therefore, that the generational factor is an impediment. “Padel is aimed at everyone from 6 to 65 years old. And a person of 65 is more than used to this type of process,” he highlighted.
Although Padel Indoor Center’s experience hasn’t been bad in this sense, there have been times when it was necessary to develop a culture.
“It’s been a process of educating the client,” said Ozamiz, “but we had no doubt that it would end up being accepted. Why would innovations like prepayment be used in other industries but not in padel?”
Many of these services may seem futuristic, but the truth is that they are based on technology that has been around for a long time.
“We haven’t invented anything,” stated Ozamiz. At the end of the day, “technologies that we use at home and in other industries” are being applied to padel.
Research and development
What seems clear is that smart courts have come to padel to stay.
A trend that the CEO of PIC sees as “unstoppable.” And long may it continue since it is a great success for research and development in Spain.
Although there are other options, the vast majority of smart courts in Spain are handled using the PlayTomic application.
The Spanish platform is used to reserve all kinds of sports courts and is especially popular among padel players.
Ozamiz is very struck by the fact that other countries, especially Nordic countries, have been using these systems made in Spain for a long time while we are only now starting to use them here.
“The funny thing is that they use this Spanish technology in those countries but not here. The home automation panel used by most clubs is Spanish. The PlayTomic app is Spanish,” he pointed out.
It’s a situation that speaks to the strength of padel in Spain, beyond the successes of its players on the competitive scene.
Although Ozamiz believes that padel in Spain “has a lot of pull, if you look at the methods of Sweden, Finland, Norway… all the clubs are automated.”
The trend of smart courts is catching on among Spanish clubs ensuring they remain leaders in international padel.
“We export padel, but there are management methods in other countries that are very good,” stated Manuel Ozamiz, general director of Padel Indoor Center (PIC) of Bizkaia.