The War for Pickleball
Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. Partly driven by the pandemic, it has gained immense popularity in recent years.
In 2021, pickleball grew to 4.8 million players in the US. This is a 14.8% growth from 2020, after seeing a 21.3% growth from 2019.
All this growth has enticed big money and competition.
This has led to a struggle — there are three competing pickleball leagues in the US currently battling it out to be the top and only option.
Pickleball was invented in the 1960s to entertain a bored teenager on vacation. Frank Pritchard, the bored teenager, and his father, Joel Pritchard, along with a few other friends, created the game.
Frank's mother, Joanne, was the one to give the sport its name.
Pickleball became a popular pastime played for fun at the summer location they vacationed at. Eventually, it spread out to the greater Washington State area.
The game became prevalent in schools and retirement communities. By 2016, the US Amateur pickleball Association included 17,000 members.
Now, major celebrities are playing and owning teams.
The Pickleball Feud
Pickleball prides itself on being a friendly, enjoyable sport. But due to the growth witnessed over the last few years and the expected future growth, money is making the sport ultra-competitive.
There are two main entities adding fuel to the fire.
Major League Pickleball (MLP) was founded in 2021 by Steve Kuhn, a hedge fund billionaire. His goal is to bring pickleball to 40 million people by 2030. Kuhn believes pickleball can bring people together and promote inclusivity.
Another billionaire, Thomas Dundon (the previous chairman of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football), is aiming for the opposite. Dundon's sports investment firm purchase the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA). Dundon and the PPA aim to get the best pickleball players and make them sign three-year exclusivity contracts, so they can only play in PPA tournaments.