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MLP & PPA: Player Pay Cuts & Leadership Changes

by Adam Forziati on

On Tuesday, November 28, pro Jill Braverman sounded off regarding pickleball player compensation within Major League Pickleball (MLP) and the PPA Tour (PPA):

The tweet left all of us collectively asking: "What?"

But soon after, we spoke to a number of key figures and eventually came into possession of an email from MLP to its roster of talent.

It became clear that Braverman was referencing this email, but even she was unclear on some of the details around this latest shakeup in pro pickleball.

So, let's lay out the key takeaways:

  • PPA & MLP are requesting that players consent to compensation reductions (it turns out $15m per year in salaries isn't exactly sustainable for either organization)
  • Ben Johns & Anna Leigh Waters have both agreed to six-figure pay cuts, and other PPA-contracted pros have agreed to lesser pay cuts
  • The proposed MLP pay reduction is 40% and will reduce work obligations proportionally. Current MLP contracts stipulate 200 days of work (ex. player salary is $100k, new salary would be $60k with 120 work days).
  • MLP players who consent to the pay reduction will be guaranteed 10 "slots" in PPA events
  • MLP players who don't consent will not be allowed to participate in PPA events and will instead be placed in a 'development program', which consists of clinics, camp and appearance requirements that will count toward their work day obligations (no competition outside of MLP events)
  • MLP has parted ways with Commissioner Brooks Wiley

Leadership Change

The doozy of an email delivered to MLP-contracted talent via the League's executive committee was packed with new information regarding pro pickleball's path forward.

One of the most surprising pieces of information:

We have parted ways with Brooks Wiley, MLP Commissioner, effective today. We appreciate Brooks’ contribution to MLP and the sport of pickleball and wish him success in the future.

No additional details are available yet regarding the change in leadership.

Wiley has been instrumental in MLP's growth since its inception two years ago. His departure, along with Steve Kuhn's recent resignation, signals the end of an era for the no longer nascent league.

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Pay cuts: MLP's options, PPA players accept

The email suggests that officials from both sides have been working to close the ongoing merger between MLP and PPA, citing the "considerable time...spent analyzing and discussing the best way to move forward."

The MLP execs say they have determined that certain changes need to be made to ensure a sustainable business after studying the economics of the business:

The most immediate and pressing change is to adjust MLP’s (and PPA’s) expense structure, including (but not limited to) player compensation.

Here’s what we propose: your 200 annual days get reduced to 120 days and your guaranteed annual compensation is proportionately reduced by 40%.

This proposal – not a mandate – suggests that if a player's current agreement provides for 200 days and compensation of $200,000 annually, it would be modified to 120 days for $120,000 annually, if the player agrees.

Players who accept the proposed reduction will be guaranteed a minimum of 10 slots in PPA events in each year of the contract. What is a slot, exactly? Not quite sure.

Again, MLP contracts are based on work days. Each MLP player is committed to 200 days of work, whether that consists of competition or otherwise. A 40% reduction would shrink the obligation to 120 days.

If players don’t take accept the pay cut, they'll be placed in a development program. That means they'll spend their work days in camps, clinics, event appearances and MLP events. They won't be able to play in PPA Tour events.

The Dink spoke with multiple decision makers and pros and has learned that some PPA players have already accepted pay cuts after three days of negotiations.

Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters, the top two players on the PPA Tour, have agreed to six-figure pay cuts. It is unclear what other PPA-contracted players have a agreed to a reduction in compensation.

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Takeaways

After both sides entered a spending war to sign players earlier this year, it's no surprise that the financial burden needs to lessened.

Zane Navratil & Thomas Shields of the PicklePod Podcast frequently speculated (49:00) that both the PPA & MLP would ultimately seek to renegotiate player salaries heading into the new year.

But that speculation wasn't unique to PicklePod. It doesn't take a financial guru to recognize that allocating $15 million per year for extremely inflated, well above-market salaries isn't the most fiscally conservative strategy for a startup that's burning cash.

Theoretically, this move paves the way for a more sustainable model and makes the organizations less reliant on raising more capital.

But how will the players respond?


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