What a crazy time for pickleball. I likely speak for many of us when I say that never did I think I would be so entrenched and interested in the dynamics and inner-workings of the various organizations in our sport.
A lot has happened in the micro-universe of pickleball over the past couple weeks, so if you aren’t up to speed, here (Tom Dundon buys the PPA) that will get you partially up to speed. If you want to hear a more in depth breakdown featuring pro Zane Navratil, check out the PicklePod Podcast to listen to our most recent episode where we discuss it all.
In the most recent turn of events, newly formed and investor backed Major League Pickleball and the APP Tour have announced a strategic partnership to expand and grow pickleball. Here is the official language from MLP President, Brooks Wiley:
MAJOR LEAGUE PICKLEBALL AND ASSOCIATION OF PICKLEBALL PROFESSIONALS STATEMENT
Austin, TX (January 8, 2022) – The Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) and Major League Pickleball (MLP) today announced the establishment of a strategic partnership between the two organizations. Details of the partnership, including an exciting, new 2022 competition and events schedule, and financial structures and appearance fees for professionals, will be released during the APP’s 2021 season-ending tournament in Boca Raton, January 18 – 23.
After the news broke that Billionaire Tom Dundon had bought the PPA, Pickleball Central and pickleballtournaments.com, and after we learned that the PPA had presented many of the top pros with 3 year, 100% exclusive contracts that would prevent players from participating in non-PPA competition through 2024, we started to see a number of responses:
- The APP launched an emergency wildcard process to fill vacancies left by newly signed PPA players who had to back out of their APP commitments given the restrictions presented by the new PPA agreements
- The APP announced, in conjunction with the Senior Pro Council and USA Pickleball, that the “Association of Pickleball Professionals is entering into strategic partnerships that will profoundly enhance the APP’s reach and business model and result in the largest tour in Pickleball history.” – Many of us weren’t sure what to make of this announcement, though it was clearly a direct result of the recent PPA news. I personally wondered, do they even have an actual announcement?
- The APP added: “The 2022 APP Tour, with 32 scheduled domestic and international stops, will offer nearly $2 million in prize money, increased professional player stipends, and will be hosted at some of the country’s best and most historic venues while keeping with its voice of reaching all the regions in the US. It’s important to note that the APP Tour will continue to be the most professional and welcoming in the country and will not require any exclusive commitments from participants.””
At this point, there’s tons of speculation around who has and who has not signed the new 3-year PPA contracts. We do know that the PPA recently announced a pretty significant slate of new signings, but it is unclear whether these new signings were the old (1 year, limited participation in non-PPA events) or new (3-year, exclusive) contracts.
The 3-year contracts state that players will need approval from the PPA to participate in outside competition, but the PPA had initially said that players CAN participate in Major League Pickleball, specifically. Keep in mind that any player who was drafted in Major League Pickleball was awarded equity in the league, meaning they are fractional owners. It would be pretty odd if they, despite being owners, could not participate, but who knows what will happen.
From The Dink Newsletter’s Jan 5 issue: In addition to taking a majority investment from billionaire Tom Dundon’s private equity firm, the PPA went all out in signing pros for the 2022 season and beyond. Just before the new year, it was announced that Lea Jansen, AJ Koller, Thomas Wilson, Jay Devilliers, Lauren Stratman, Callan Dawson, Pat Smith and Rob Nunnery had all signed with the PPA. Yesterday it was announced that veteran Steve Deakin and Utahn Spencer Smith have signed as well.
This new announcement from Major League Pickeball and the APP is HUGE. The initial reaction to the Dundon news was that the PPA would essentially takeover given their new owner’s access to capital and willingness to make aggressive moves. How could anyone compete? But Major League Pickleball has plenty of billionaires in their corner as well. It is also rumored that the APP has taken a major investment themselves – in fact, Ken Herman alluded to just that in his recent announcement.
Now we know that both of these organizations are entering into a ‘strategic partnership’, creating quite the juggernaut. Will they counter with their own restrictive agreements? Where does USA Pickleball land in all of this? What about the senior pros?
To keep tabs on all the developments, make sure to subscribe to The Dink Newsletter and check our blog and social for updates. We got ya covered!
Get ya popcorn ready.