Major League Pickleball (MLP) has taken the world by storm, providing an exciting and challenging game that is as much fun to watch as it is to play. With teams valued as high as $10 million and the potential for players to earn around $150,000 per year, it’s no wonder this up-and-coming sport is gaining so much attention.
What is Major League Pickleball (MLP)?
Pickleball, a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, has gained significant popularity over the years. The Major League Pickleball (MLP) is the highest-tier competitive League in professional pickleball. It was established with the mission to inspire and connect the world through pickleball by creating an exciting, entertaining, and inclusive pro pickleball play format that elevates every level of the game for players and fans alike.
The average pro pickleball player makes around $121,000 annually, although some make significantly more. The two biggest competitive leagues include the PPA Tour and the APP Tour, as PPA’s Vibe League merged with MLP in 2022.
The MLP has ambitious plans for the future, aiming to bring the joy of pickleball to 40 million people and communities by 2030. The stakes have been increased with up to $5 million in prize money, attracting top-ranked pro players and influential team owners in any professional sport.
When Did The MLP Start?
It was founded in 2021, with its inaugural draft taking place in Dripping Springs, Texas. The draft happened in December 2022, and the following teams were announced for 2023. The League was the innovative idea of businessman Steve Kuhn. Since its inception, the MLP has seen significant growth, with team values increasing by 100 times over the past two years, as reported by the new MLP CEO, Julio DePietro.
What Is The MLP Leadership?
Julio DePietro is the current CEO, a position he assumed on July 7, 2023. Prior to this role, DePietro had a successful career in finance, becoming a partner at Citadel Investment Group before transitioning into the independent film industry. His appointment as CEO of MLP was part of a strategic move by the League to capitalize on the surging popularity of pickleball, America’s fastest-growing sport.
DePietro and Bruce Popko, the newly appointed COO, are tasked with steering the League during a period of explosive growth at the amateur level.
Their responsibilities include:
- Growing MLP sponsorships
- Building the media rights business
- Developing licensing and merchandising strategies.
- One of the challenges the League faces is positioning its players as household names. This task involves finding a consistent media partner.
- As of July 2023, MLP is in advanced talks with a top-tier broadcast partner interested in carrying their season live and all of their content for 2024.
Major League Pickleball, headquartered in Austin, Texas. The League has seen a significant increase in team valuations under DePietro’s ownership, with teams now going for as much as $10 million. The League has attracted high-profile athlete owners and investors, including NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant, NFL stars Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and beer maker Anheuser-Busch.
Popularity of Major League Pickleball
Since its inception, the MLP has seen a surge in popularity, with fans flocking to watch the high-intensity matches and support their favorite teams. The sport’s engaging gameplay and competitive nature makes it a thrill for spectators and players alike. Furthermore, the potential for significant earnings has attracted top–level athletes to the League, further raising its profile and appeal.
How the League Works
The 2023 calendar was released. It features six events across Arizona, California, Florida, and Georgia. The 2023 year will be divided into two “seasons” of three events. Season 1 will have 12 teams compete in the MLP Premier Level (48 players that were drafted first), and 12 teams will compete in the MLP Challenger Level (the next 48 drafted players). After the first season, teams will flip levels and re-draft players for the second season.
The MLP has seen a significant expansion in 2023, with the League now comprising 24 teams. These teams are divided into the Premier Level and the Challenger Level.
In the Premier Level, some of the notable teams include the Atlanta Bouncers, Arizona’s AZ Drive, Bay Area Breakers, Brooklyn Aces, Chicago Slice, Columbus Pickleball Club, D.C. Pickleball Team, and Dallas Pickleball Club. Each team is associated with a specific geographical area and competes at a high level within the League.
On the other hand, the Challenger Level serves as a platform for the next crop of players looking to make their mark in the League. There are 12 teams in this level. The first overall pick for the Challenger Level was tennis icon Sam Querrey, who was chosen by the D.C. Pickleball Team.
The ownership of these teams is diverse, with many teams being owned by groups comprising celebrities, athletes, and entrepreneurs. For instance, the Dallas Pickleball Club is owned by Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki, while the Arizona team, AZ Drive, counts Larry Fitzgerald and Devin Booker among its owners.
Partnerships and Sponsorships
The MLP has also announced partnership agreements with several national companies, including Toyota Prius, OS1st, Sunday Swagger, and Imperial, bringing the total number of official brand category partners to 16.
The 2023 season promises to be exciting, with the League featuring six events and offering $10 million in prize money. The teams will compete in two seasons, with the rosters being cleared after each season. The teams with the best records at the end of the year will comprise the Premier Level to start 2024.
The Major League Draft
Season 1 – Outcomes
The MLP 2023 Season 1 draft saw several notable outcomes and trends that influenced the performance of various teams. The LA Mad Drops, for instance, emerged as a successful team, having adopted an effective draft strategy. They were led by Julian Arnold, who significantly contributed to their victory in the super-final title.
Season 1 Draft Strategies and Trends
Securing a top 5 pick
Teams led by top draft picks, such as Ben John’s Seattle team, Catherine Parenteau’s L.A. Mad Drops, Anna Leigh Waters’ New Jersey 5’s, and Anna Bright’s New York Hustlers, ended up ranking at the top of the League at the halfway point.
Drafting female players early
Another significant outcome was the importance of drafting females early. The men’s game was found to be deeper than the female game, allowing teams to secure quality male players later in the draft.
Teams that employed the “draft two females first” strategy, such as the L.A. Mad Drops, New Jersey 5’s, Milwaukee Mashers, and Florida Smash, fared well in season one.
Drafting left-handed players
The draft also highlighted the value of left-handed male players. Teams with lefty males, like Seattle with Loong and New York with Hewett, finished 1st and 4th, respectively. This was attributed to the advantage of having both forehands in the middle during doubles games.
However, not all strategies paid off. For example, the D.C. Pickleball team’s decision to spend its #1 overall pick on Sam Querrey for publicity purposes did not yield the desired results.
Similarly, teams that focused on singles-heavy players or failed to consider personal relationships between players faced challenges.
Overall, the 2023 Season 1 draft for Major League Pickleball revealed valuable insights into team building and draft strategies, setting the stage for future seasons.
Season 2 Strategies
The MLP held its draft for the second season of 2023 on July 12 in New York City. The draft saw a number of notable picks and surprises, with Ben Johns being the first overall pick by the Chicago Slice. Other significant picks included Anna Leigh Waters by Utah Black Diamonds, Riley Newman by D.C. Pickleball Team, and Catherine Parenteau by Brooklyn Aces.
The draft also saw some players rise significantly from their previous positions. Federico Staksrud, for instance, was picked 12th, up from 34th in the first season. On the other hand, some players experienced a drop in their positions. Jay Devilliers fell from the 7th pick last League to the 40th this season, marking the biggest fall.
The draft also saw some strategic moves, with Orlando Squeeze making two trades during the draft. They moved down in the third round to move up in the fourth by trading with Atlanta. The team also featured trades for all four of its spots and managed to secure one of the top three females, Anna Bright.
The draft also saw the rise of new talent. Tyra “Hurricane” Black became the first player picked that was outright undrafted last season, marking a significant rise in visibility for the up-and-coming player.
In terms of payouts, MLP is set to hand out $5 million in prize money across its six events in 2023. Buying a Major League Pickleball team costs around $1 million as an expansion fee for new franchises.
The draft concluded with Utah, Dallas, Bay Area, and Chicago emerging as the favorites for the second season of 2023.
Rules and Regulations
MLP operates under a promotion and relegation system. This means the Top 12 performing teams are in the higher-tier MLP Premier Level and the Bottom 12 performing teams into the up-and-comer MLP Challenger Level for the following year.
This system ensures the highest caliber of competition while providing opportunities for the next generation of pro pickleball stars to break through.
Major League Pickleball Events In 2023
Season 1 Events
Mesa, Arizona – January 26 to 29th
The first pickleball tournament of the 2023 MLP season is set to take place at Legacy Sports USA in Mesa, Arizona. This event will kick off the season and provide the first opportunity for teams to showcase their skills and strategies.
Daytona Beach, Florida – March 23 to 26th
The second pickleball tournament will be held at Picton at Holly Hill in Daytona Beach, Florida. As the season progresses, this event will be crucial for teams looking to secure their positions in the standings.
San Clemente, California – June 15th to 18th
The third and final event of the first season will happen at Life Time Rancho San Clemente in California. This event will determine which teams will secure a spot in the MLP Premier Level for the second half of the season.
Season 2 Events
Peachtree Corners, Georgia – September 21 to 24th
The second season will be held at LifeTime Peachtree Corners in Georgia. With new team formations following the mid-year draft, this event is guaranteed to be an exciting start to the second half of the season.
La Quinta, California – November 2 to 5th
The second season’s middle event will occur at the LaQuinta Resort & Club in California. This event will be vital for teams to solidify their standings before the season finale.
San Clemente, California – December 7 to 10th
The final event of the year and the second season finale will again be held at Life Time Rancho San Clemente in California. This event will determine the final standings and crown the Major League Pickleball 2023 season champions.
Major League Pickleball Teams and Investors
There has been a surge in interest from high-profile investors, with several teams being purchased by celebrities and famous athletes. The League, founded by Steve Kuhn in 2021, has expanded from eight to 24 teams and is the premier team-based professional pickleball league in the United States.
LeBron James, Draymond Green, and Kevin Love are among a group of investors who have purchased one of the four expansion teams in the upcoming season. Similarly, Anheuser-Busch, a major beer brand, has been named as the newest owner of a Major League Pickleball team, set to begin playing in the 2023 season.
Kevin Durant and entrepreneur Rich Kleiman’s 35V have also purchased a Major League Pickleball expansion team for $1 million.
They join other athletes like Tom Brady, who have stakes in the League. Durant’s team will start competing in the 2023 MLP season.
The rapidly growing sports league has also attracted social media influencers Dude Perfect, who own the Frisco, TX franchise. Their investment values the team at about $5 million.
Other new owners include star pro athletes Jayson Tatum, Haley Jones, and Josh Allen, who are part of the Los Angeles Mad Drops ownership group. Jewell Loyd and Zach LaVine are part of the Miami Pickleball Club ownership group.
Other notable investors include Heidi Klum, Eva Longoria, Michael Phelps, and Tom Ricketts. The expansion fee for new franchises is $1 million, but some franchises have sold for as much as $6 million.
In addition to these, the Dallas Pickleball Club boasts Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki, John Isner, Robert Herjavec, Chandler Parsons, and Todd Wagner as its owners. The Miami Pickleball Club has attracted investments from Naomi Osaka, Nick Kyrgios, Patrick Mahomes, Rich Paul, Darius Garland, Mardy Fish, and others.
The League is attracting significant attention and investment, with many seeing it as the next big thing in sports.
MLP match format for 2023 is an innovative and inclusive gameplay structure known as MLPlay™. This format brings together both men and women on an equal playing field.
Team: comprising two men and two women.
Matches: divided into four games, requiring 21 points with a win-by-two rule.
- Game 1: Women’s doubles match
- Game 2: Men’s doubles match
- Game 3&4: Mixed doubles (if a team wins the first three games the fourth is not played and the match declared over
The teams initially compete against each other in a group round, from which the top six teams advance to the quarterfinals. This format is set to be implemented across six events in 2023, split into two seasons with three events each. The first season championship is scheduled for June, while the second will take place in December.
Basic Match Rules
1. Best-of-Three Sets:
Major League Pickleball matches are typically played in a best-of-three-sets format. This means that the first player or team to win two sets wins the match. Each set is played to 11 points, with a two-point advantage required to win. If the score reaches 10-10, a tiebreaker is played until one player or team has a two-point lead.
2. Serve Rotation:
At the start of each set, a coin toss or another method determines which player or team serves first. The serving player or team must start from the right-hand side of the court and serve diagonally to the opponent’s service box. After the initial serve, players must alternate serving between the right and left sides of the court without changing their position.
3. Side Switching:
In Major League Pickleball, players switch sides of the court after each set. This ensures that any potential advantages or disadvantages from factors such as wind or lighting are balanced between the players or teams.
4. Rally Scoring
In contrast to the conventional scoring system, where teams can only earn points while serving, rally scoring introduces a different approach.
Here, a point is awarded following each rally, regardless of which team served. Nevertheless, once a team reaches twenty points, they transition back to the traditional format and must secure a victory with a two-point lead.
Rally scoring in pickleball offers numerous advantages for fans, including accelerated gameplay, heightened intensity, and simplified scoring comprehension. It makes it exciting!
Each player or team is allowed two timeouts per set. A timeout can be called to strategize, regroup, or take a breather during intense moments. Each timeout lasts for a predetermined duration, usually around one minute.
5. Match Tiebreakers:
Doubles matches: If the match reaches a deciding third set and the score becomes tied at one set each, a match tiebreaker is played to determine the winner. The match tiebreaker is similar to a regular set tiebreaker but is played to 15 points instead of 11. Again, a two-point advantage is required to win the match tiebreaker.
It is a unique singles tiebreaker with rally scoring to 21 win by 2. One team first discloses its 4-person singles rotation order. Then the opposing team, with that knowledge, counter-designates its singles rotation order. Each player then rotates in for four singles points until the tiebreaker has a winner.
6. Official Referees:
In Major League Pickleball matches, there are official referees who oversee the game and make important calls regarding faults, foot faults, and other rule violations. These referees ensure fair play and uphold the integrity of the game.
The MLP presents an exciting opportunity for both players and fans. With stakes high and competition fierce, there’s no doubt that this sport is set to continue growing in popularity.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro, an aspiring athlete, or a dedicated spectator, MLP promises to deliver high-intensity action, dramatic storylines, and unforgettable moments.
Keep an eye out for the upcoming events in 2023 and witness the evolution of this thrilling sport firsthand. Major League Pickleball is here to stay, and it’s only getting better with each passing season.
Featured Image: Credit Business Wire