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The State of Pro Pickleball

by Thomas Shields on

I'm fresh out of analogies to depict, and idioms to describe, the state of pro pickleball right now.

Maybe this will suffice: "Dude anything is possible" - an MLP Owner via text.

This article may seem like a rambling, stream of consciousness that offers more questions than answers...probably because that's exactly what it is.

So let's start with the Player Collective

Recently, we covered the newly formed Player Collective, and shortly after, CNBC picked up the story as well. 

But CNBC had an extra detail that most glossed over: 

"If the merger is not completed by Jan. 31, 2024, these new agreements will be null and void, and deals will revert to the contracts you signed with MLP or PPA, which will leave the future viability and sustainability of MLP uncertain,” the letter says."

"The letter" is an email, titled "Where We Stand", from Major League Pickleball to its players. It's an indirect response to the Player Collective's letter to MLP stakeholders in which they expressed their many grievances.

Interesting: so either the merger is done by next month, or there is no merger at all? Who created this deadline?

If the merger is moving in the right direction, and both parties are happy, I assume they would extend the timeline accordingly vs. abandon it altogether. Seems arbitrary. 

Pro pickleball players convene after a match.

A quick note on the Player Collective

Let's call it what it is: a subset of of a subset of players who are not happy. How many players, exactly?

According to one pro pickleball exec, 30 players, half of which were undrafted. According to a pro in the collective, it's more like 100 players.

The Collective at this point is really just a big group chat. Apparently, only two players have left this group chat.

So take that for what it's worth: the Collective is just a group chat, which players didn't opt into. They were added to it.

So how many players took the survey? We couldn't get an answer on that.

Am I criticizing the Collective? No. I support the Collective. It's insanely important for players to come together and use 'collective' leverage to secure a better outcome for all players. Especially given the volatility of the situation.

But purporting that this Collective represents the majority of players would be a leaps and I think it's important to acknowledge this. The survey results may very well represent what the vast majority of player opinions. But we don't know that for certain.

*Cue the accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pickle

That's why it's so important that players in the Collective are vocal and stand by it, without anonymity. Though it's understandable that any player would fear having a target on their back.

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The letter

The letter from MLP also included this line: “which will leave the future viability and sustainability of MLP uncertain.”

Sheesh…I imagine the email’s author isn’t happy this line ended up anchoring a CNBC story. It doesn't exactly paint the brightest future, does it?

On the flip-side, some optimism:

“In MLP’s Thursday letter, the league also touts that MLP owners have pledged an additional $10 million annually to fund operations and will be receiving another $50 million on Jan. 1.”

I assume the $50m is the previously announced infusion by executive board members Jason Stein and Al Tylis, and not in addition to. 

Extending the runway

Jan 1 MLP will receive $50m. They’ll also be allotted $10m for the year via owners, AND they raised $4.8m via the recent Dutch Auction that determined next year’s Premier Level teams. 

Between 85% of 2023 Premier Level players have accepted paycuts of 40-60%.

Sounds like they’ve extended their runway quite a bit. So these questions arise:

  1. If the merger does not happen: is that $50m withdrawn? We think so, but it's worth noting that the $50m will hit the newco's account on Jan 1, and the merger deadline is Jan 31.
  2. Is the Dutch auction that secured $4.8m also ‘null and void’ if the merger does not happen?
  3. What about the $20m (2 years, $10m per year), is that no longer on the table? 

One last peculiar note: we recently asked whether it would be possible that even after the merger, some PPA players may not be required to participate in MLP. That would be a pretty shocking detail.

We asked both PPA and MLP leadership whether this was true. One response was "no", one was 'that's less clear now', and one was "anything is possible."

We get into all of this on this week's episode of PicklePod, which will air Thursday.

Meanwhile at the APP

And while all of this is going on, the APP is making moves.

The APP is Expanding its Scope

From the get-go, they've foregone aggressive growth for a more methodical, profitable path.

Here's what they've been up to lately:

  • Launched international tournaments in England, Spain, Sweden, Australia and more to be announced
  • Delved into high school pickleball with its newly announced Midwest pickleball tournament
  • Expanded its college pickleball offering with the APP US Collegiate Championships which will include $50,000 in scholarship prize money and a chance to compete in a national broadcast on CBS Sports Network
  • Increased prize money for their pro tour: 'minimum prize fund of $150,000 per event, while primary events will feature funds of at least $100,000 per event'
  • Introduced a team-based format that will debut at five tour stops this year and offer a $100,000 prize pool
    • Notably, the APP's Jenny Klitch (SVP, Pro Player Relations & Competition) was the original commissioner at Major League Pickleball and even invented the dreambreaker

And so, the saga continues. As always, we'll keep you up to date with the latest right here and via pickleball's #1 newsletter read by hundreds of thousands of pickleballers everywhere:

Thomas Shields

Thomas Shields

Founder of The Dink & Upswing Sports. Host of PicklePod with Zane Navratil. Sometimes commentator and show host.

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