More than 5 million people in the United States play pickleball. The sport grew by 40% from 2019 to 2021. Pickleball is also growing as a professional sport. Major League Pickleball has become so popular that big-name sports stars, such as Tom Brady and Lebron James, are investing in teams. What is pickleball, and why is everyone so excited about it?
What Is Major League Pickleball?
Pickleball is a sport that resembles tennis. Participants play the sport on a smaller court and use paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball. The sport has gained popularity as a recreational sport because it is easier to learn and less physically demanding than tennis, making it ideal for older and less athletic players. In 2021, MLP became a league for people who have turned the sport into a professional career.
What Is the Purpose of the League?
The league’s mission is to elevate the sport of professional pickleball and bring as many people to the sport as possible. The MLP wants to become the leading authority in professional pickleball.
Major League Pickleball is also committed to helping professional players maximize their earning opportunities. To accomplish this, it increased the overall prize money in 2022 and plans to offer more tournaments and more prize money in 2023.
As part of MLP’s efforts to elevate the sport, it has partnered with the pickleball statistics company 002Stats to provide live statistics and insights to tournament broadcasts. Player and team standings are updated on the MLP website to allow fans to follow along in real time. The inclusion of statistics helps bring the game on par with other professional sports leagues and makes it easier to capture the sport’s history.
How Does Major League Pickleball Work?
The MLP currently has 12 coed teams consisting of two men and two women each. The league will expand to 16 teams in 2023. MLP tournaments resemble the Davis Cup tennis event. Each team matchup includes a men’s and women’s doubles match and two mixed doubles matches. If there is a tie, the tiebreaker is a singles match.
There are currently three tournaments per year, but the league plans to hold six in 2023. The total planned prize money for 2023 is $2.4 million.
How Does Team Ownership Work?
Billionaire and former hedge fund manager Steve Kuhn is the founder of the league. He and the 12 team owners have equity in MLP. Interested investors can sign up on the MLP website for potential 2024 expansion teams.
Why Are Celebrities Investing in Major League Pickleball?
The league has actively recruited high-profile team owners as a way to publicize and grow the sport. There are two main reasons multiple high-profile sports stars and other celebrities are investing in the league.
Opportunity To Grow the Sport
Many of the investors are current or former athletes and pickleball enthusiasts who want to get in on the ground floor of a growing sport. Pickleball has rapidly increased in popularity and both the league and investors hope household names purchasing teams will further popularize the sport and attract sponsors.
Investors in MLP teams have a chance to get into a growing sport while the cost of teams is relatively low. It can cost millions or billions of dollars to purchase a team in one of the established sports leagues, such as MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL or MLS. While buying a pickleball team is not inexpensive, it is more affordable, and there is a substantial opportunity to realize a gain in value as the league grows in popularity.
Who Are Some of the Famous Major League Pickleball Team Owners?
In addition to some high-profile investors, a variety of popular sports stars and other celebrities are currently team owners.
Tom Brady and Kim Clijsters
NFL star quarterback Tom Brady and four-time Grand Slam tennis champion Kim Clijsters, along with Knighthead Capital Management, purchased one of four expansion teams set to enter the league in 2023. Clijsters is a friend of Brady’s and a pickleball enthusiast who wants to help grow the sport.
Lebron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love
NBA stars Lebron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love partnered with LRMR Ventures and SC Holdings to purchase one of the four 2023 Major League Pickleball expansion teams. James is an avid pickleball player, and his passion for the sport motivated him to invest.
New Orleans Saints legendary former quarterback Drew Brees joined the ownership group, led by Good Alpha Industries, of the Austin, Texas, Mad Drops Pickleball Club. Co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers Jim Buss and reality television star Ryan Serhant are also part of the ownership group that founded the team in March 2022. Brees is an avid player and fan of the game. He hopes to increase fan engagement.
Marc Lasry and James Blake
Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry and former professional tennis player James Blake co-own the Lions. Lasry, one of the largest distressed debt investors in the world, is close friends with Blake and presented him with the idea of purchasing an MLP team as an investment.
NBA star Kevin Durant partnered with his fellow Thirty Five Ventures investors to purchase one of the 2023 Major League Pickleball expansion teams. The ownership team has a track record of investing in emerging sports teams and leagues and hopes to find the same success with pickleball. The league and 35V plan to make introducing pickleball to the community part of the investment group’s Build It and They Will Ball initiative.
What Are the MLP Teams?
There are 12 teams that played in the 2022 MLP season:
- The 5s
- ATX Pickleballers
- Mad Drops Pickleball Club
- Clean Cause
- Florida Smash
- The Bus
- Hard Eights
The names of the incoming teams have yet to be announced.
What Is the 40 By 30 Project?
The 40 By 30 Project is an initiative with the goal of increasing pickleball participation to 40 million players by 2030. Major League Pickleball supports this mission because of its belief that pickleball is an inclusive, welcoming, equitable and fun sport that is suitable for players of any skill, age or background. The MLP hopes that its efforts to attract famous athletes and other celebrities as owners will help achieve the goals of the 40 By 30 Project.
Are There Other Professional Pickleball Events?
While Major League Pickleball aims to be the most well-known opportunity for professional players, it is not the only one. There are two main pickleball tours with about 20 to 30 stops each. Unlike the MLP format, these tours are more similar to tennis and golf and feature singles and doubles events rather than a team format.
Many of the top players, including Ben Johns, belong to the Professional Pickleball Association. Many of the PPA’s top players have contracts that prevent them from playing in MLP tournaments or on other tours.
The other main tour is the Association of Pickleball Professionals Tour. The APP does not restrict its players from playing on other tours and is the primary source of professional players that the MLP draws from.
How Can You Become a Major League Pickleball Player?
In 2023, there will be 16 teams with four players each for a total of 64 players. Much like other sports leagues, if you want to play in Major League Pickleball, you need to be one of the best of the best professional players.
If you are trying to go from a beginner to a pro, it is best to break down your journey into a series of steps.
1. Join a Pickleball Club
Before you start entering tournaments, it is a good idea to improve your skills through recreational play. Joining a pickleball club will give you a chance to learn from and play against experienced players. It is also a good place to meet other pickleball enthusiasts who may want to play doubles matches with you once you start playing tournaments.
2. Work With a Coach
Playing matches will help you improve, but if you want to become a pro, you probably need professional instruction. You can either work with a private coach or attend clinics and workshops.
3. Enter Some Tournaments
When you and your coach think you are ready, start entering tournaments to prepare for Major League Pickleball. Your club and your coach can probably point you toward tournaments to enter, or you can look for tournament announcements on Pickleball Portal.
4. Improve Your Skill Rating
Players earn points toward their skill rating by playing in tournaments and attending coaching clinics and workshops. Skill ratings range from 1.0 to 5.0. You need a 5.0 rating to become a professional player.
Where Can You Learn More About Major League Pickleball?
Whether you are completely new to Major League Pickleball or have been a fan since the start, Pickleball Portal is your source for news, tips, product reviews and strategy. Visit us online for the latest MLP news and information.