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    Evan Floersch

    An Owner's Perspective:

    Building 'America's Pickleball Team'

    Amidst jockeying for pro pickleball market share, the ongoing merger between the PPA and MLP has cast a shadow of intrigue and speculation, leaving fans and players in the dark. But, the 2023 MLP season showed us that team-based events are tentpole tournaments throughout the year, providing viewers and players with variety and drama.

    Additionally, MLP team ownership and management have begun to lean into the behind-the-scenes intrigue other sports, like Major League Soccer and Formula 1, have continued to capitalize on. From expanding team ownership with the power of celebrity, enhanced player fitness regimens, local and national brand-building exercises, partnering with top-tier sponsors, and introducing custom merchandise, teams are building for the future and bringing fans along for the ride. A great example of this leadership can be found in the heart of Texas. 

    At the helm of the premier-level Texas Ranchers, team co-owner Evan Floersch harbors grand ambitions not merely for on-court dominance but also for transcending the game itself. We sat down with Floersch for a wide-ranging interview to learn more about this vision.

    leland orfield

    By Leland Orfield – 02/14/2024

    Q: Before jumping into pickleball, tell me a little about your entrepreneurial background before co-founding the Ranchers?

    Evan: I grew up around sports, and I always wanted to own a sports team. I was an all-American soccer player and an Acumen fellow. I went to Emory University down in Atlanta to play soccer and built my first company there. It was one of the first black-owned marketplaces, so if you want to support black entrepreneurs and black business owners via e-commerce, we were one of the first to do that. 

    I built that with a friend of mine, the valedictorian of my high school. She, I, and three engineers basically built out one of the first e-commerce sites that users could shop black-owned. I sold that in college, and then when I graduated college, I built a men’s lifestyle digital media platform. So like a men’s health competitor, if you will, very generalist – Anything from fitness content to relationship advice. 

    What made us different was we brought something similar to Tom’s, the shoe company, to digital media, giving 50% of our digital ad revenue to a cause that the user chose when he signed up to be a part of our community. So, by just investing in yourself, as a young man, you can invest in a nonprofit and a cause that you care most about.

    Q: When did you first learn about pickleball, and what pushed you to invest in Major League Pickleball?

    Evan: I picked it up right as COVID was kind of coming into picture. For about six months, I played with a wooden paddle with my friend who I went to college with here in Austin. I’ve been in Austin since graduating college in 2019. 

    We thought with our athleticism, we could do some damage on the courts, but quickly got humbled by some of the older demographic here in Austin. And at one point maybe five or six months after picking up the game and falling in love with it, someone pulled us aside and was like, “Why are you guys playing with wooden paddles? You know, there are better paddles out there.” And we had no idea how big the pickleball equipment market was at the time. So we invested in some paddles, and I think that only added to the addiction.

    Like I said, I always wanted to own a sports team, and I actually went after one of the expansion teams in the MLP and got swept under the rug, as you can imagine, if you’re familiar with that period of time, in [pickleball’s] history. We thought we had a great opportunity to introduce a fan-owned model, something different, that the sport didn’t yet have. Something similar, analogous, if you will, to the Green Bay Packers. Actually, Steve Kuhn always used to joke that they would call it the Green Bay Picklers. 

    That, unfortunately, fell through when LeBron, Tom Brady, Kevin Durant, and Anheuser Busch all announced they owned teams. We kind of got pushed to the back of the line. 

    But everything happens for a reason. I knocked on Tim Klitch’s door through a charity event in his backyard, and the fall of 2022, and he saw the platform – That individuals with platform and resources investing in the league. 

    As a Texas gentleman, just him and Brian Sheffield, he thought it was a great opportunity to bring in a group of owners that could help him execute, help internationalize the Ranchers brand, and also take a lot of the responsibility off his plate and let him do what he does best. 

    That is kind of core to our ethos with the Ranchers is all of our owners offer their own superpowers. So Tim really has a great relationship with the players, really understands the game, and he’s still serving and engaged as our general manager of the team.

    Evan Floersch brand kick off meeting
    Texas Ranchers brand kickoff meeting.

    Q: As the owner of the Texas Ranchers, what are your long-term goals for the team, and how do you plan to distinguish your organization in the rapidly growing landscape of professional pickleball?

    Evan: We’re not shy about our ambitions. We’re believers in the sport, especially amidst the merger that’s going on between both leagues; we are still obviously firm believers and optimistic about the sport’s future. 

    We think if we’re the most aggressive movers and invest heavily into the sport and our brand, starting locally and then nationally and internationally as a sport continues to grow, our mission is to become America’s pickleball team. And having that positioning as the largest holder and market leader within pickleball in America as it continues to grow in popularity around the world.

    Q: Can you share some insights into what it’s been like establishing and invigorating the Ranchers brand as America’s Pickleball Team? What have been a few of your key focal points in your development strategy of the team?

    Evan: Our Northstar, I would say, is eyeballs. And so a part of our strategy is this idea that even if you don’t live in Texas, or if you don’t like pickleball, you will still see the Texas Ranchers everywhere. 

    We’re not reinventing the wheel with that. That’s something that we’ve seen with the New York Yankees in baseball, the Dallas Cowboys in football, is they continually turn heads. 

    We believe that inherently as the sport naturally gets people on board and into the game because it is such a great game, and it’s easy to learn, tough to master, a layered game, that if we are the ones investing in the sport and its growth, that we have an opportunity to become positioned as such. So that’s how I would describe, in an ambiguous way, how we think about where we’re spending our focus and spending our dollars.

    "...our mission is to become America's pickleball team."
    Screenshot 2024 02 13 at 4.11.21 PM
    Evan Floersch
    Co-Owner - MLP Texas Ranchers

    Q: The Ranchers brought on several professional athletes into your group of investors, such as CJ Stroud and Micah Parsons from the NFL and Scottie Scheffler from the PGA. What was it like bringing on these high-profile investors into the organization, and have they had any influence in the direction of the Ranchers?

    Evan: It’s important to note that our owners, the owners that you mentioned, and every owner that we brought on board, were hand-picked. They actually chose the Ranchers over other teams and other opportunities because what we’re doing is different.

    You have to be curious and excited about the sport’s growth if you don’t love pickleball as is. That’s the prerequisite for being a part of the Ranchers organization; we are not interested in an individual coming in and being a name on a headline, and then their interest and engagement dissipate over time. 

    Everyone brings a unique and impactful superpower to the table. Whether it’s Lil Wayne consulting and helping us drop fashion lines for Ranchers merchandise, or it’s Micah Parsons, Miles Garrett, and others helping build courts and underserved communities. Everyone is bringing something to the table beyond posting across social and beyond the buzz that comes from the press release.

    Texas Rancher merchandise is available for purchase at ranchers.com

    Q: Last year, your team had some top pro player talent, such as Dylan Frazier and Jorja Johnson. What was it like working with the athletes and integrating them into your organization?

    Evan: We learned a lot from that, even just in the two tournaments that we had in the second leg of the 2023 season – Who to draft, how to build a team. 

    But working with those players, I mean, we were fortunate we had a team chemistry weekend where we flew them down to Austin to get their bloodwork done one day, to have the practice in North Austin where they trained for about an hour and a half, and then we did some cold plunge and sauna, some contrast therapy, and just getting to know them. 

    It shows what I can imagine is a tough transition between the sport that no one probably knew about five or six years ago when they started playing it, when they picked up the paddle for the first time, to what it is today where they have to act as true professionals – As athletes that are on a pedestal and athletes that are inspiring young kids to take up the sport. 

    Now they’re asked to be a key part of helping grow and internationalize the sport. So, seeing them and hearing what they need to be successful, practice on the court, train off the court, and recover off the court, it’s pretty incredible to see how quickly they turned into professionals from what I can imagine was a lack of structure before PPA and MLP really took off.

    Q: The Ranchers recently hosted a pickleball fitness clinic in Austin. Tell me a little bit about your strategy for having the players connect with the pickleball community at large.

    Evan: I think if we don’t have real fans down here in Austin and in the major metro markets around Texas, we’re not going to be able to become positioned as league leaders at the national level. If we’re not building an iconic team and the on-court performance isn’t there, then we’re not going to go anywhere as a brand. 

    Those teams that I mentioned, the Yankees and the Cowboys, they are not positioned as such just because of the cheerleaders or the pinstripes; it’s because of the iconic performances that took place on the field of play. 

    So, that’s really what we’re focused on is how can we locally put our athletes on pedestals to really excite the community in Austin and around Texas before we start looking at other markets around the country or on the global level. We’re super excited for those days ahead of us, but we know there’s a lot that goes into making those dreams a reality.

    Texas Rancher pickleball fitness class held at East Side Paddle Club

    Q: Can you speak to the current state of the PPA and MLP merger? According to the original schedule released by the PPA Tour, we were supposed to see an MLP pro event this weekend in LA – Do you think we’ll see MLP pro competition return soon?

    Evan: I’ll say two things: We’re optimistic, and we’re focused on what we can control. That is core to what we’re doing in the interim while all parties agree on terms. 

    So, we’re focused on engaging and exciting our community here in Austin, and on preparing for a draft that we imagine will be coming pretty soon here. We’re optimistic as a team and for the future of MLP, the merged entity, and the future of the sport. I think it’s best for the sport just to get this deal across the finish line and begin growing a complimentary format that does the best of what PPA has to offer and does what MLP does best as well.

    Q: What are some of your short-term and long-term goals for the Texas Ranchers organization? What can MLP fans expect from the Ranchers when it comes time to kick off the 2024 season?

    Evan: I know I mentioned at the start that our North Star was eyeballs. But as I mentioned later on in the interview, it is important to win on the court. Our focus this year is winning an MLP championship and drafting one of the most exciting teams in MLP. That is a short-term goal of ours when we’re thinking about the 2024 calendar year. 

    Then, the other goal is to continually place the Texas Ranchers at the cross-section of pickleball and pop culture. We have a really fun SXSW week planned and a really exciting event calendar planned with our partners, which we’ll be announcing here soon, as well as some of our brand partners and sponsors for the 2024 year. 

    We’re eager to put the brand out there not just to the Austin and Texas community, but at some of the more culturally relevant events that occur in the US throughout the calendar year. We’re just excited for all the moments that are to come in the 2024 MLP season and the things that we have on our calendar for the Texas Ranchers.

     

    Follow the Texas Ranchers on Instagram or click here for more information.