Growth of Major League Pickleball
By: Daniel Atkinson
Pickleball is now the fastest growing sport in the United States for the second year in a row with a growth rate of 39.2% and over 4.8 million participants, according to USA Pickleball.
As pickleball continues this rapid expansion nationwide, Major League Pickleball (MLP) has caught the eye of many professional athletes with the most recent being seven-time Super Bowl champion, Tom Brady, and four-time Grand Slam champion, Kim Clijsters. This past Wednesday, October 12th, the MLP announced that Brady and Clijsters are the newest ownership group to invest and buy an expansion team for the upcoming 2023 season. In a collaborative Instagram post between Tom and @MajorLeaguePB, Brady discusses how he has been "trying to find a way to extend my professional sports career beyond my 40s. Even in my 50s, 60s, 70s. As long as I can, right? And I think I got the answer. Seems like everybody else has the answer too. Pickleball.”
The two will join star studded owners including NBA Champions, LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love and Super Bowl Champion, Drew Brees. The impressive list of MLP owners does not stop there as co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks Marc Lasry, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, and former tennis star, James Blake, all have a stake in their own team.
Led by Knighthead Capital Management, Brady’s and Clijsters new expansion team is set to be 50% female-owned promoting the league’s foundational mission of gender equality. Gender equality is demonstrated throughout pickleball as the categories of play include men’s, women’s, doubles, and mixed doubles that compete. The MLP has created a league where men and women are competing on equal footing. Tiebreakers can be determined by men and women facing off in a singles match. Pickleball demands more mental strength from the player rather than heavily relying on athletic ability. Furthermore, pickleball is accessible to all as it easily learn and the equipment to play costs a little under $20.
The new ownership group along with three other teams will be part of MLP’s latest growth plan which includes expanding from 12 to 16 teams. The teams will compete in six events with an expected purse surpassing $2 million. Although Major League Pickleball is still in its early stages, debuting in 2021 with eight teams, the expanision year after year is a testament to the growing popularity of the sport in the United States. The 2022 Major League Pickleball season came to an end last weekend in Columbus, Ohio as the teams competed for a purse of $319,000. The MLP 2022 Columbus championship ended in a Finals matchup between BLQK and Hard Eights, with the 3-time winner, BLQK, taking home the largest purse in professional pickleball of $100,000.
As pickleball continues to gain traction from the world’s top athletes, it is only a matter of time until we see the sport broadcasted and streamed in homes across the nation. Head over to your local retailer and pick yourself up a set of paddles to join the Pickleball craze that hopes to reach 40 million pickleball players by 2030.