Austin sports enthusiasts are sure to consider the formation of a new major league brand a pretty big “dill.”
Officially launched Tuesday, September 21 at Dripping Springs entertainment venue Dreamland: Major League Pickleball, an elite consortium of 32 of the world’s best pickleball players, who will vie for glory in a four-day competition in November.
The players will compete for the Pritchard Cup (named after the founder of pickleball, Joel Pritchard) in a livestreamed and nationally broadcast coed team competition at Dreamland November 5-8 in what promises to be the cure for dull fall days.
In a pickle about whether this sport could be your new bread and butter? If you’re a true sports fan, you’ll likely relish in the competition. And you won’t be the only one, with the sport gaining popularity in Austin and worldwide in recent years.
In June, pickleball-themed entertainment complex Electric Pickle announced it would open three Austin-area locations starting next year, and pointed to a USA Pickleball Association claim that the sport has grown by 650 percent in the past six years. And the newly launched Major League Pickleball highlights reporting from The Economist, which called pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America, with more than 4 million people playing the sport in 2021, also noting a 21 percent increase in pickleball participants from 2019 to 2020.
Pickleball — a racket sport that combines attributes of tennis, ping pong, and badminton — may become even more popular with the rollout of the MLP.
Prior to the season one event at Dreamland, MLP will stage its inaugural draft in Dallas on Friday, October 1, with the eight MLP team owner groups — including some big names in Austin business — each selecting four players to compete at the MLP event in early November in Dripping Springs.
MLP season one, the entirety of which will take place at Dreamland, will feature a team-competition format that’s new to professional pickleball, with the eight teams competing in women’s and men’s singles and doubles, as well as mixed doubles, the outcome of which will lead to the crowning of the inaugural season championship team.
Every game throughout the four-day event will be livestreamed, with details to be announced prior to the tournament.
Players from each team will receive equal prize money (depending on where their team finishes), with a total prize fund of more than $150,000 — one of the largest prize pools for any professional pickleball competition to date, according to MLP. And season one players can earn equity in MLP, giving them an ownership stake and an investment in the future value of MLP as it grows in 2022 and beyond.
“Major League Pickleball is going to be excellent for our sport,” says professional pickleball player Irina Tereschenko. “MLP is bringing a new format, a team event that will bring people together, and a draft that I expect to be epic. … Overall, I think this is going to be huge. I know I can’t wait for season one to start, and that’s how a lot of my fellow pros are feeling.”
MLP is the creation of investor and entrepreneur Steve Kuhn, and the MLP operating team will be led by renowned Austin educator, entrepreneur, and investor Mellie Price, founder of Front Gate Tickets and co-founder of Austin’s Capital Factory. Additionally, Brooks Wiley will work as director of operations of MLP and is CEO of pickleball-ratings system DUPR, which is quickly becoming the most widely adopted pickleball ratings program for professional and amateur players worldwide.
MLP’s first commissioner is Jenny Klitch, professional tennis player and current Team USA captain at the 2021 World Tennis Championships. And well-known pickleball commentator Dave Fleming will act as MLP’s official brand ambassador.
The list of the eight 2021 MLP team owner groups features an impressive lineup of Austin, Texas, and U.S. business, sports, entertainment, and industry pros, including:
- Internationally recognized researcher, storyteller, author, podcaster, and all-around awesome encourager Brené Brown.
- Navdeep Sooch, chairman of Silicon Labs.
- C3 Presents co-founders Charles Attal and Charlie Walker, creators of Austin City Limits Music Festival and the organizers of Lollapalooza.
- Bryan Sheffield, owner of Austin FC.
- Tim Klitch, founder and chief fun officer of Austin Pickle Ranch.
- Charles Kiley, CFO at the Brené Brown Education and Research Group.
- Dr. Steve Alley, a pediatrics specialist based in Houston.
- James Blake, former world-ranked professional tennis player and current TV commentator.
- Marc Lasry, co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
- Hollywood talent agent Jim Toth.
- John Raymond, CEO and co-founder of The Energy & Minerals Group.
- Fuel oil trader Eric Kuo.
- Mike Meldman, CEO of Discovery Land Company and co-founder of Casamigos Tequila.
- Wes Hurt, founder and CEO of Clean Cause.
- Tim Berry, founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software.
- Ritchie Tuazon of Capital Group.
Following the official launch of MLP, the inaugural MLP draft will take place as a livestreamed event in Dallas October 1 from 7-9 pm. The eight MLP team owner groups will each select four players – two women, two men – to compete as a team at the MLP tournament at Dreamland in November. This will mark the first time in pickleball history that a draft event of this type will take place.
“I’m so proud of our team and everyone who has helped make the dream of Major League Pickleball become a reality today,” says Price, MLP president. “Our founding team, athletes, investors, and owners are united by our love of pickleball and passion for entrepreneurship. We have a truly unique, highly qualified, and dedicated founding group invested in the success of Major League Pickleball. Our goal is simply to inspire more people to take up pickleball and to give professional players the platform they deserve when showcasing their talents to the world.”