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RacquetX Panel: Pickleball's leading organizations share insights on what's next

by Jason Flamm on

Back in March, leaders from pickleball’s top organizations gathered at the RacquetX Conference in Miami to discuss the future of the game.

The Dink’s own Thomas Shields led a panel that included:

  • Anne Worcester - Strategic advisor, MLP
  • Bryce Morgan - President, PPA Tour
  • Tom Webb - Chief Marketing Officer, APP
  • Mike Nealy - Chief Executive Officer, USA Pickleball

Pickleball Avengers assemble. Let's go!

Welcome to the Wild West

After a brief introduction, each panel member expressed what brought them into pickleball. A common theme among them was that pickleball is like the "Wild West," and the rapid growth appealed to them the most.

Amateur participation fuels pickleball's growth

"Pickleball is here to stay because so many people are playing," said Tom Webb, CMO for the APP. He continued that the "average age of a player is around about 35, which dispels the myth that it's an older person's game."

These data points drive everything the APP Tour does and explains why it focuses so much of its business on appealing to the amateur player.

Challenges to build the next great pro sport

Growing any sport has its challenges. Some well-established sports, like professional football or baseball, went through these growing pains years ago and are now considered the pinnacle among spectator sports.

What challenges does professional pickleball face currently? And how do the powers that be overcome them?

According to Bryce Morgan, President of the PPA Tour, the thing that has to happen is "sponsorship happiness."

The growth of pickleball internationally

When Tom Webb was on the PicklePod back in February, he talked about how pickleball is growing internationally, saying, "When America sneezes, the world catches a cold."

PicklePod: How America Gave the World Pickleball Fever
Tom Webb, CMO of the APP Tour, joined Zane and Thomas this week on the PicklePod to discuss global pickleball, how pickleball viewership can grow, and why the APP doesn’t believe it’s competing with anyone.

At RacquetX, he discussed how he believes "the rest of the world is maybe 2-3 years behind the USA in terms of participation numbers." However, he expects them to catch up thanks to programs they've developed, including international events and youth-focused programs.

Is there room for two tours?

Early in the conversation, Anne Worcester, Strategic Advisor for MLP, mentioned that one of tennis's biggest struggles has been the divisiveness caused by having too many governing bodies.

How does pickleball avoid this divide or continue to grow even with two tours going in separate directions?

Of course, this was recorded in March, and little did we know that the UPA (PPA and MLP) would announce their new governing body, the UPA-A, just a few months later.

Major League Pickleball & PPA Tour Announce USA Pickleball Competitor, New Governing Body
The United Pickleball Association announced that it has severed ties with USA Pickleball and will create its own governing body, which will oversee rules, regulations and equipment standards, among other things.

An interesting quote came from Mike Nealy, CEO of USA Pickleball, "It would be great if we all got along and there was one unified professional sport if you will. At the heart of it, I want to make sure we're staying neutral, delivering the growth for the sport and the support for the sport for all."

The rest of the conversation got a little tense as the APP speaks of the importance of non-exclusivity for pro players while the PPA representative reiterated the importance of delivering a "repeatable experience" to continue growing sponsorships and TV ratings.

If you're interested in the development of professional pickleball, this panel conversation is a must-listen.

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Jason Flamm

Jason Flamm

Jason is a writer from St. Louis. He’s been a coach in several sports and is currently working on his pickleball coaching certification. He loves to teach and share his passions.