Professional pickleball changed forever on August 24th. And it changed again on September 13th. We’re here to help make sense of the wildest 20 days in professional pickleball.
On August 24th professional pickleball leagues started signing players to exclusive contracts that pay six-figures annually.
Before then, the two most prolific pickleball leagues, Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and Major League Pickleball (MLP) cooperated with each other. The PPA uses an individual touring model, similar to professional tennis, where players receive points based on their performances across many tournaments. The MLP uses a team model, similar to the NFL, where players join teams, play fewer events, and conclude seasons with a team champion.
The leagues had a brief history of rivalry, but last November they came to an agreement to live and let dink. Pro players could play in a PPA tournament one weekend and a MLP tournament the next. The players who won tournaments won the prize money. Things got complicated on August 24th.
On August 24th, MLP fired the first shot of what Yahoo Sports called pickleball’s “Civil War.”
The league, founded by billionaire Steve Kuhn and funded by celebrities like LeBron James and Gary Vee, started contacting professional players and offering them multi-year, exclusive contracts. These contracts guaranteed players life changing money and benefits at the cost of committing to only play in MLP tournaments.
All hell broke loose when the PPA heard about the phone calls.
“I ran straight to the airport, no bag, no cell phone charger, no toothbrush, no clothes," said Connor Pardoe, the founder of PPA. "I flew to Kansas City and I tried to save my business.”
Connor and his team at PPA started calling pro players and counteroffering.
The PPA tournament in Kansas City that weekend turned into a bidding war. When players weren’t competing, they were on their phones with their families, agents, and other players.
Elite players signed deals worth as much as $1 million per year. Many others received six-figure contracts. The chaos created financial security for pickleball’s best players who have been working multiple jobs to fund their lifestyles. When the dust settled, the PPA retained the best talent in the world, Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters. But they lost a bulk of the talent to MLP.
Here’s where talent landed as of August 30th.
Graphic by @MaggieMaeRem on X (data as of 8/30/23)
For the fans, the Pickleball Civil War created outcomes nobody wanted: a splitting of the top talent. Gone were the days of seeing Ben Johns play Tyson McGuffin. Or Anna Leigh Waters team up with Anna Bright. The best players were divided between two leagues.
Graphic by @MaggieMaeRem on X (data as of 8/30/23)
For the players, the split was a historic win. The top few dozen players in the world are now making a living fully committed to the sport. The lucrative contracts also open the door for new and upcoming players to gain financial security.
The playing fields got weaker, but the payouts got stronger than they’ve ever been. While it hurt to see as a fan, you also had to be happy for the men and women who have been playing for years, waiting for this day when they could make a living doing what they love.
The break up didn’t last long.
On September 13th, just 20 days after their break up, the MLP and PPA announced their merger.
Like Bennifer 2.0, league owners were able to meet and work things out — again.
The leagues have merged under a unified professional pickleball holding company. The consolidation of the two entities is backed by a $50M investment. MLP and PPA are back to coexisting, while maintaining their unique formats.
“As professional pickleball continues to rapidly grow, we could not be more excited to provide both players and fans with the clarity and consistency of a unified professional pickleball organization,” said Major League Pickleball Founder Steve Kuhn. “This merger will expand and improve opportunities for current and future players, creating a united experience and a better future playing professional pickleball.”
For 20 days, we grieved the loss of electric matchups that are needed to grow pickleball on the professional level. Because while big names like Tom Brady and Jamie Foxx help get people’s attention, it’s the best players in the world competing against each other who keep us watching.
“The holding company unifying the PPA Tour and MLP will create a streamlined sport for fans and add more meaningful opportunities for player competition, broadcasting rights and sponsorship throughout the professional pickleball calendar.” — Tom Dundon, PPA Tour owner
The pickleball world can finally breathe, knowing our favorite players are back to competing against each other and earning life changing money. We can watch the best 150 picklers in the world compete in two radically different formats. And we can hope that this merger lasts longer than our high school relationships.
Now it’s time to root for the evolution of the game and get back on the court. After all, you can now make six-figures playing pickleball.