‘This is us’ with Pär-Gunnar Jönsson
CROATIA. Once one of the world’s best badminton players, Swedish legend Pär-Gunnar Jönsson has put his badminton rackets on the shelf and is now slowly but surely becoming a force to be reckoned with in another racket sport: Padel. Together with his two business partners Peter and Magnus, he’s recently set out on a new adventure building padel courts at holiday resorts in Croatia. We had a chat with PG to hear more about his transition from one racket sport to another and how he went from playing badminton at an elite level to building padel courts in a foreign country.
Being part of the badminton elite
For 17 years, PG was a given part of the Swedish national badminton team and for 15 of those years he was at the very top of the world elite. His list of merits is as long as it is impressive. Between 1984 and 2000, Pär-Gunnar played 8 individual, 9 team and 6 mixed World Championships. Add to that, 3 Olympic Games, 20 World Grand Prix-titles including 2 Grand Slam titles,13 European Championships medals and it’s not difficult to understand his significance for Swedish badminton. At the top of his career, he was ranked world number one in the men’s doubles together with his partner Peter Axelsson. We wanted to know more what it was that drove him forward during his career and why he’s so passionate about badminton.
“Alongside my wife, badminton is the love of my life. The reason I even started playing badminton was mainly due to my coaches. They dreamed of big things and had a vision for the club which wasn’t very common at that time. It was all about daring to dream big which I found very inspiring”.
After his long and remarkable career, he played less and less. Instead he started to venture into other sports, where padel eventually caught his interest.
“For me, playing badminton after my career didn’t feel like much fun. Partly because it’s a pretty strenuous sport and then of course the less you play, the worse you get. But I still think it’s a great sport! Quite soon after I stopped playing, I worked with golf in China for 5-6 years together with golf manager Johan Elliot. After that I became the managing director for Fyrisfjädern Uppsala”.
Padel and the dream of Croatia
Like many other racket sports enthusiasts, PG came into contact with padel through tennis.
“I started to play more tennis and as my tennis friends started to play padel it caught my interest. In a way, padel is closer to badminton because it’s a bit faster, you really have to think a lot and make fast decisions and so on”.
When an opportunity opened up to build padel courts in Croatia together with in-laws Peter and Magnus, it didn’t take long for the trio to take action.
“The opportunity in Croatia pretty much came from Peter. He owns properties down in Croatia around Split. I visited him a few times and it always felt like more activities were needed down there. Since all of us were kind of hooked on padel we thought it would be interesting to see if we could actually build a business out of it”.
In a more visionary perspective, they’ve been focusing on creating a sustainable business model where they have the resources needed to both expand their business while at the same time being able to fund any upkeep needed.
“We wanted to make sure that we didn’t end up in the ‘club-trap’, where there’s normally not enough money and resources to keep up with maintenance and stuff like that. Instead, we’ve focused on making sure that we have the right conditions that would allow us to both expand and maintain the different facilities”.
Since their main target is holiday resorts with a lot of tourists coming from Scandinavia, they wanted to find a low barrier booking system that’s easy to use. As such, MATCHi was their top choice. PG elaborates their decision to go with MATCHi further:
“Clearly we see a great value in being a part of such a big network that MATCHi provides. Since padel players in Scandinavia, and in particular Sweden, use MATCHi almost exclusively it wasn’t such a difficult decision to make. When these players go on vacation to Croatia it becomes very easy for them to book a padel court. We looked at other alternatives as well but none of them felt as natural to us as MATCHi did. And of course it helps that you are very easy and pleasant to deal with”, he adds with a laugh.
Plans for the future
Just like the rest of the world, the Croatian tourism industry has been badly hit by the pandemic. We asked PG what the near future looks like in the wake of the global Covid-19 outbreak and it’s obvious that things didn’t turn out as planned.
“In Croatia, they estimate to probably get no more than around 30% of the normal revenue derived from tourism. It’s clear that it’s not expected to really boom this summer so we might as well see it as a bit of a learning project for us you could say.”
However, there’s not been a lack of media interest in Croatia. When their first three courts opened last week, several newspapers were there to cover the event.
“There’s been some media stir surrounding this which of course is very exciting. There were three different newspapers present at the opening and last week there was a short TV coverage about us which is fun”.
When asked about what lies ahead in the future, PG said there are a few different paths forward that they see possible but that they’re still in an early stage of their journey.
“We’ve just started our journey so we’ll see how we can take our concept further in the future. It might include expanding into other parts of the Balkans but not necessarily. Either way, there’re quite a lot of tourist resorts throughout Croatia so we’ll definitely have our hands full there.”
All of us at MATCHi look forward to getting the opportunity to follow them closely on their journey. You can find their first facility here.