Let’s play pickleball

One racket sport named after a salty, preserved vegetable has broken into the big leagues.

Catch-up: Pickleball — a combo of tennis, badminton, and ping pong — exploded in popularity during the pandemic owing to its ease, fun, and social distance between players. Earlier this year, Pickleball Canada estimated one million Canadians now play the game.  

What happened: Major League Pickleball (MLP), a pro pickleball league, is capitalizing on this sport’s popularity, expanding from 12 to 24 teams and spinning off into two seasons, each with three tournaments and a total of US$5 million in prize money up for grabs. 

  • Half of the teams will play in the top competitions (Premier League), while the other half will earn their spot in the upper ranks in the emerging tier (Challenger League).
  • At two years old, the league may be young but has big ambitions. CEO Brian Levine told Axios he’s confident pickleball players are all potential fans. 

Bottom line: With big names like LeBron James, Tom Brady, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Anheuser-Busch owning teams, the sport could have enough credibility to gain a sizeable audience. But there’s no proof yet anyone will watch it. In fact, a primetime CBS special that aired last month featuring celebs playing pickleball matches was a ratings flop.