Leagues and Governing Bodies

Major League Pickleball looks to ride wave of sport's growing popularity

By David Rumsey
Pickleball is believed to have nearly 4 million participants in the U.S. this year, and USA Pickleball has over 40,000 membersMLP

Major League Pickleball officially launched this morning after earning backing from prominent sports, business and pop culture figures as the sport continues to gain popularity. Team owners include Bucks co-Owner Marc Lasry, former tennis player James Blake and author/podcaster Brené Brown, among others. Pickleball is believed to have nearly 4 million participants in the U.S. this year, and USA Pickleball has over 40,000 members. Founded by Austin-based businessman Steve Kuhn, MLP will be the sport’s first major team competition, serving as a complement to the Pro Pickleball Association Tour, which holds events year-round. Lasry, who has been an avid pickleball player for years, was introduced to the idea of MLP through Blake, his longtime friend who just picked up the sport in the last six months. “I thought it would just be fun and I think it's got the possibility of taking America by storm,” Lasry told SBJ. “Everybody I've talked to who I (told) I’m going to get involved in a new league is like, ‘Wow, that's so cool. I want to get involved in that. I love pickleball.’” For James, the appeal is the connection with tennis as another racquet sport reaching new people. “I'm excited about it starting that way and hopefully growing into the kind of events that we see in tennis,” he said.

BEHIND THE LEAGUE: MLP President Mellie Price, a fellow pickleball enthusiast and founder of investment firm Purposeful Capital, was originally pitched to be a team owner along with Kuhn, who she has worjed with before. However, they quickly thought otherwise. “(Kuhn) and I realized we were actually probably the least valuable team owners in the league,” she said. “And so, I opted to go operational and just help launch the league.” After Season 1, MLP plans to hold a spring and fall “seasons” each year, beginning in ’22. Potential expansion plans include growing to 16 teams and down the road the possibility of including more than one event in each season. MLP’s Ryder Cup-style team competition will prioritize equality for men and women, both on the court and financially. Eight teams made up of two men and two women each will compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, everyone earning equal prize money. “It's a fully and entirely equal environment where the men and women get the same treatment and count the same,” Blake said. “So I really respect and enjoy that aspect of it.”

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