Major League Pickleball (MLP) and the PPA Tour, the two largest professional organizations for the fast-growing US-based racket sport, have agreed to merge, creating a unified pickleball company.
The merger is backed by a $50 million investment led by private equity firms SC Holdings, PPA Tour owner Tom Dundon, and various MLP team owners. It will combine the individual and team-based professional pickleball formats into a single parent company, providing equal support and promotion to both the MLP and PPA Tour.
Along with Kuhn and Dundon, the board of directors for the new company will include Jason Stein (SC Holdings), Al Tylis (DC Pickleball), and former Goldman Sachs partner Brian Levine.
In a statement, MLP founder Steve Kuhn said: “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.
“This merger will expand and improve opportunities for current and future players, creating a united experience and a better future playing professional pickleball.”
Dundon added: “Over the past few years, we have seen ever-increasing interest from investors, sponsors, fans, and players who understand the immense value in the future of professional pickleball.
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“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.”
The deal ends months of negotiations over terms of the agreement, having first been announced in November. Prior to that, the two competing leagues entered into bidding wars to secure the top players in the world.
Pickleball, which combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis, can involve either two or four players and can take place indoors or outdoors, is growing rapidly in popularity in the US.
The PPA Tour has a traditional bracket-style tour format similar to tennis, which determines the best individual pickleball players in the world, while MLP has a team-based, co-ed league format. The combined leagues will comprise 150 of the leading players in the world.
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, last November. However, a week later, MLP agreed to merge with the VPL.
Under that deal, the combined league continues to operate under the MLP brand name and format.
Investors and owners in the MLP so far include American football icons Tom Brady and Drew Brees, NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant, as well as tennis' Kim Clijsters and brewing giant Anheuser-Busch. Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk have both made investments in MLP.
The MLP's tournaments are currently spread across a range of broadcast partners, including YouTube, ESPN, and the Tennis Channel.
The PPA, founded in 2019 and officially sanctioned by USA Pickleball, has 16 events scheduled for 2023, as well as an international and collegiate series. In May, it secured Amazon Prime Video as a broadcast partner, which shows coverage of the tour alongside ESPN and CBS.