Pickleball, the fast-growing US-based racket sport, is set to receive a significant profile boost next month after major sports broadcaster ESPN secured rights to show the finals of the top-tier PPA Tour Team Championships tournament.
The deal, struck with organizer the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA), will see ESPN’s free-to-air sister channel ABC broadcast the tournament’s final round live across the US on December 18.
The event is being held at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s convention center and will feature four teams competing over three days, starting on December 16 and culminating with a two-hour finals round on December 18.
The semi-finals on December 17 will be shown on the Tennis Channel, the US network dedicated to the sport.
During the event, more than 1,000 amateur players will also take to the court as part of the weekend’s action.
Tim Bunnell, ESPN senior vice president of programming, said: “We are thrilled to offer fans coverage of the PPA’s inaugural bubly Team Championships and give them an opportunity to watch what has become one of the country’s fastest-growing sports.
“Our commitment is to serve sports fans anytime, anywhere with innovative content, and we are excited to be part of this sport’s growth trajectory.”
A mashup of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, Pickleball has seen sudden growth domestically and internationally after becoming popular as a recreational sport during the Covid-19 pandemic. The PPA claims there are now more than 5 million active US players.
Since then, professional leagues have been formed in the US, including the PPA and the popular Major League Pickleball (MLP).
Connor Pardoe, PPA commissioner and chief executive, said: “The PPA Tour has a fantastic partner in ESPN, and we’re very excited to showcase our sport at the national level.
“We look forward to working together to tell the story of this exciting event and growing the fanbase of pickleball around the world.”
The PPA and MLP have operated independently and under different formats, with the PPA focused on an individual format similar to tennis and MLP featuring co-ed teams.
MLP has recently announced several new high-profile team owners including basketball’s LeBron James and Kevin Durant, American football’s Tom Brady, and tennis’ Kim Clijsters, as well as brewing giant Anheuser-Busch. Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk have both made investments in MLP.
Earlier this month, the PPA launched a rival to the MLP, the team-based Vibe Pickleball League (VPL), with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as its first team owner. However, a week later (November 9) MLP agreed to merge with the VPL.
Under the deal, the combined league will continue to operate under the MLP brand name and format.