Pickleball is experiencing major growth and taking the world by storm! However, with such rapid growth has come growing pains and drama. In early 2020, two professional pickleball tournament tours were launched (PPA and APP). These two tours offer “traditional” tournament events – including singles and doubles. The tours travel across the United States providing tournament play for amateurs and showcasing professionals.
Major League Pickleball on the Scene
Another professional tournament tour came on the scene in 2021 – Major League Pickleball (MLP). MLP is different from the other two tours in the sense that it is team-based. Since coming on the scene, MLP has created a growing base of players and fans, offered exciting competition, large money prizes, and plenty of opportunities for team owners and sponsorships.
At the end of 2022, the PPA Professional Tour created VIBE – a team-based league similar to, and a competitor to, Major League Pickleball. Within days of announcing the launch of VIBE, however, both leagues agreed to a “strategic merger.” In doing so, the opportunity for more sponsors, greater prize money, more teams, and celebrity ownership groups grew. It also assured that the best players in the world would be competing against each other.
For a better understanding of the league that is taking pickleball by storm, let’s dive into MLP’s history, rules, draft, owners, and more!
What is Major League Pickleball?
Major League Pickleball is an exciting professional team-based competition. Each team has four players – two men and two women.
In 2023, MLP is comprised of two levels – the Premier level (the top 48 players drafted [12 teams]) and the Challenger level (the next 48 players drafted [12 teams]).
History of MLP – The First Event
MLP was founded in 2021 by Steve Kuhn. In its first year, the league had eight teams comprised of 32 players. The first player draft was held in Dallas, TX on October 1, 2021.
The first event was held at Dreamland in Dripping Springs, TX on November 5-8, 2021. Capturing the first-ever Pritchard Cup in MLP history was team BLQK consisting of Ben Johns, Rob Nunnery, Irina Tereschenko, and Andrea Koop.
Major League Pickleball Draft
In an effort to create competitive balance, MLP utilizes a dual snake-style draft format. MLP partners with DUPR to provide real-time player ratings to assist owners in draft selections.
MLP held a 2023 Premier Level Draft Reveal live at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas on December 15, 2022. It was televised on the Tennis Channel. The Challenger draft followed a few days later.
MLP Format and Rules
For the 2023 season, Major League Pickleball will offer a total of six events. These six events are divided into two separate seasons with each season having its own draft. The first end-of-season championship will be held in June and the second end-of-season championship held in December.
During each event, teams compete against each other in pool play followed by the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and finals over the course of four days.
Matches consist of four games to 21 (win by 2) followed by a tiebreaker game if necessary. The four games are as follows:
- One women’s doubles Game
- One men’s doubles Game
- Two mixed doubles Games
If the two teams are tied after the four games, a tie-breaking, “DreamBreaker™” is played. The DreamBreaker, unique to MLP, is a fan and player favorite. In a Dreambreaker, all four players play singles and rotate after four points.
Games are played to 21, win by 2. Games use rally scoring until the first team reaches 20 points. Once a team reaches 20 points, they are frozen on rally scoring and must score all future points while serving.
Once the trailing team reaches 18, they will also be subject to a freeze on rally scoring and must score all future points while serving. Players change sides once a team reaches 11 points.
Since rally scoring is used, players do not switch serving sides after winning a point.
Time Out and Replay
Each team is allowed one, 1-minute time out per game. Each team is allowed one instant replay challenge per game. A successful challenge will result in the team keeping that challenge. An unsuccessful challenge results in a loss of that challenge. No more challenges may be used by that team for the rest of that game.
The 2023 year is divided into two “seasons.” Each season consists of three events.
In the first season, 12 teams will compete in the MLP Premier Level and 12 teams will compete in the MLP Challenger Level. “The teams will then flip levels and re-draft players for the second season.”
Following is the 2023 schedule:
- Jan. 26-29 – Mesa, AZ – Legacy Sports USA
- March 23-26 – Daytona Beach, FL – Pictona at Holly Hill
- June 15-18 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente
- Season One Championship: Monday night, June 19
- Sept. 21-24 – Atlanta, GA – Life Time Peachtree Corners
- Nov. 2-5 – La Quinta, CA – LaQuinta Resort & Club
- Dec. 7-10 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente
- Season Two Championship: Monday night, December 11
For the 2023 season, Margaritaville joined the MLP as their Title Sponsor. In addition to Margaritaville, the following are MLP sponsors:
- Michelob Ultra
- Grillo’s Pickles
- Knockaround Sunglasses
- ProXR Pickleball
- Pickleball United
- Fromuth Pickleball
Major League Pickleball Teams and Owners
Did Tom Brady buy a pickleball team? Why yes he did. He is one of the owners of the Las Vegas Night Owls. In addition to Brady, other famous sports owners are Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Lebron James, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Rip Hamilton, Dirk Nowitzki, Justin Verlander, James Blake, Kim Clijsters, John Isner, Nick Kyrgios and Naomi Osaka.
It’s great to see players from other sports come together and support pickleball!
The teams for the 1st half of 2023 consist of the following:
Players: JW Johnson, Jackie Kawamoto, Jade Kawamoto, Gabriel Tardio
Owners: Brene Brown, Charles Kiley
California BLQK Bears
Players: Andrea Koop, Dylan Frazier, Federico Staksrud, Maggie Brascia
Owners: Ritchie Tuazon, Justin Watson
Players: Jessie Irvine, Jorja Johnson, Travis Rettenmaier, Collin Johns
Owners: Travis Rettenmaier, Molly Joseph, Graham D’Amico
Frisco Clean Cause
Players: Zane Navratil, Matt Wright, Yana Newell, Lina Padegimaite
Owners: Brad Beckworth, Nav Sooch, Tim Berry, Wes Hurt
Las Vegas Night Owls
Players: Vivienne David, Dekel Bar, Lauren Stratman, Kyle Yates
Owners: Tom Brady, Kim Clijsters, Tom Wagner, Matt Alvarez, Callie Simpkins, Kaitlyn Kerr
Los Angeles Mad Drops
Players: Catherine Parenteau, Irina Tereschenko, Julian Arnold, Thomas Wilson
Owners: Zubin Mehta, Drew Brees
Players: Callie Smith, Lucy Kovalova, Andrei Daescu, DJ Young
Owners: James Blake, Marc Lasry
New Jersey 5’s
Players: Anna Leigh Waters, James Ignatowich, Lea Jansen, Hayden Patriquin
Owners: Gary Vaynerchuk, Ryan Harwood
Players: Anna Bright, Tyson McGuffin, Rafa Hewett, Lacy Schneemann
Owners: Lebron James, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Mav Carter
Players: Ben Johns, Etta Wright, Meghan Dizon, Tyler Loong
Social Hard Eights
Players: Riley Newman, AJ Koller, Mary Brascia, Lindsey Newman
Owners: Kevin Huang, Timothy Parks, Rick Chan
St. Louis Shock
Players: Jay Devilliers, Simone Jardim, Allyce Jones, Erik Lange
Owners: Richard Chaifetz, and Ross Chaifetz
Players: Hunter Johnson, Brooke Buckner, Ben Newell, and Christine McGrath
Players: Wes Burrows, Sarah Ansboury, Andreas Siljestrom, and Sarah Burr
Owners: Larry Fitzgerald, Devin Booker, Dierks Bentley, Doug Hirsch, Sheila Gulati, John Merwin, Sam Fox, Brian Frakes, Mark Dalton, and Richard J. Schnall
Bay Area Breakers
Players: Pablo Tellez, Ewa Radzikowska, Christian Alshon, and Rachel Summers
Owners: Jeremy Lin, Mimi Mercado, David Mercado, Geoff Nguyen, Stacey Nishi, Jeff Nishi, Wayley Louie, and Kathleen Louie
Players: Cierra Gaytan-Leach, Rob Nunnery, Corinne Carr, and Greg Dow
Owners: Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s 35V
Players: Susannah Barr, Emily Ackerman, Connor Garnett, Ryler DeHeart
Owners: Ron Saslow’s 35 Capital, Heidi Klum, Tom Ricketts, David Justice, Doug Ellin, Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport, Tracy Austin, Gigi Fernández, David Dobrik, Joe Bonamassa, Ted Foxman, and Steve Bellamy
Columbus P. C.
Players: Milan Rane, Becky Ryan, Yates Johnson, and CJ Klinger
Owners: David Kass, Doug Ulman
Dallas Pickleball Club
Players: Megan Fudge, Chuck Taylor, Brandon French, and Christa Gecheva
Owners: Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki, John Isner, Robert Herjavec, Chandler Parsons, and Todd Wagner
D.C. Pickleball Team
Players: Sam Querrey, Stefan Auvergne, Shelby Bates, and Monica Paolicelli
Owners: Al Tylis, Sam Porter, Eva Longoria, Justin Verlander, Mesut Ӧzil, Kate Upton, Shawn Marion, Odell Beckham Jr, and Rip Hamilton
Miami Pickleball Club
Players: Alix Truong, Regina Franco, Jeff Warnick, and Matt Manasse
Owners: Naomi Osaka, Nick Kyrgios, Patrick Mahomes, Rich Paul, Darius Garland, Mardy Fish and Alex Davis at Disruptive Sports Group, Alex Cohen at Heights, Stuart Duguid, The Palm Tree Crew, Prakash Amritraj, Matthew Pritzker, Mark Ein, Romie Chaudhari, Swimmy Minami
Players: Bobbi Oshiro, Callan Dawson, Rachel Rettger, and Todd Fought
Owners: Ryan DeVos
Players: Lee Whitwell, Pat Smith, Genie Erokhina, and Steve Deakin
Owners: Tim Klitch, Dan Ferreri, Bryan Sheffield, Kit Sheffield, and Richard Veitenheimer
Utah Black Diamonds
Players: Michelle Esquivel, Spencer Smith, Olivia McMillan, and Rob Cassidy
Owners: The Pardoe Family
Major League Pickleball Salary
After years of players having to foot the bill if they wanted to play in a tournament, 2023 plans to offer a big payoff. Major League Pickleball players can make quite a bit of money over the course of a year.
The MLP boasts the highest payout schedule in pro pickleball. In 2023, they are offering a player prize pool of up to $5 million.
In addition to prize money for winning an event, players earn money from being offered a Gold or Silver card. In order to participate in MLP, players have to have a gold or silver card, commit to 2 years, and also play in some PPA events. Gold cards give the player an appearance fee, benefits, and double their earnings if they win an event.
Growing the Sport
Major League Pickleball is exciting and will continue to grow the sport. As MLP Founder and Chairman Steve Kuhn says, “We’ve expanded from eight teams and one event in 2021 to an astounding 24 teams, six events, and $5 million+ in prize money and payouts in 2023.” He’s expecting 2023 to “be chock-full of exciting matches, dramatic storylines, beautiful venues, and memorable moments.”
Kuhn has stated his vision is to grow the sport to 40 million players by 2030. If the recent changes and growth in Major League Pickleball are an indicator, 40 million players by 2030 seem very achievable.
Be sure to check out Major League Pickleball in person, or on TV in 2023!
See you on the court!