Forget those young whipper snappers! With a reputation for being the passion of a more senior set, the game finally has its own league.
New League Formed
In an announcement earlier this month, the National Pickleball League (NPL) firmly planted a stake in the ground, claiming their part of the pickleball pie.
This league is looking to focus on the crowd that made the game famous, those players 50 years old+. In a partnership with the food, beverage, and pickleball-centric entertainment centers known as Chicken N Pickle, this new league plans to hold a total of six events for this selective group of players.
Player Commitments and Non-Conflicting Schedules
In the press release, the newly formed league claims to have commitments from some of the game’s most notable in the senior category. It also seems to suggest that players will align to cities, and by mid-2023, there will be a draft of the lead players in this category. Sounding familiar?
The league events, to be held at Chicken N Pickle facilities throughout the country, have been carefully planned to not conflict with the APP, PPA, and MLP schedules. The event dates are:
- June 2-4
- June 30-2
- July 28-30
- August 11-13
- September 15-17
- October 13-15 (League Championships)
In addition, the NPL is clear in that it does not require exclusivity to be eligible for their events.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Now for a little bit of looking under the hood at this newly targeted pickleball offering.
For those pickleball enthusiasts that love to play, watch, and are north of 50 years old, this marks both an opportunity and an alternative lens through which to enjoy the game.
The game of pickleball, particularly when it comes to leagues and dollars, has quickly evolved. Like it or not, admit it or not, the game, at the highest levels and getting the most attention, is suddenly skewed to youth.
So many of those fantastic shots we love watching on social media are produced by athletes under 30 years old.
Can those players older than 50 produce amazing shots? The simple answer is, of course. This new league offers an older target audience the chance to compare their game to those that might be much closer in age than the best of the best players, like Anna Leigh Waters.
For some, it might even inspire them to try and raise their play to try and compete in a pro league that is meant just for them. In this way, it has similarities with the PGA Senior Tour.
In preparing for this article, a simple Google search of the National Pickleball League returned very confusing results.
Many links were returned, but none led to the official NPL site. Only when National Pickleball League, LLC was searched did we find the properly associated website. The official site is www.nplpickleball.com.
Evaluating the site tells us that this press release was very early in the evolution of this league. While visually pleasing, the site doesn’t even contain its own press release. It is basically a pretty placeholder, with a summary of the announcement of the home page.
It’s good to move fast and be agile, but it feels like a desperate grab to claim ownership of a ripe segment without the infrastructure adequately developed to support the endeavor. In fairness, that could be a byproduct of the warp speed in which the game is evolving.
It’s a good idea, but it feels like surfing the pickleball popularity and money wave right now.
Is adding another league into the mix helpful to the sport right now?
Let’s keep developing and adding new leagues that target specific segments while other leagues join forces, and the more significant leagues swallow up yet others. This feels chaotic and not a winning formula for pickleball in the near term.
This all feels like the creation of something that was almost designed to be swallowed up by the PPA or APP. The concept is good, but the other leagues can do the same thing when ready. This is just another confusing twist in what is already foggy at best.
The pickleball league landscape is currently equivalent to the gold rush, and the league landscape evolution, while hopeful, is not necessarily something that is helping to clear things up for the average Joe.
Time will Tell
The only thing that will tell us who is a contender vs. a pretender is time. The concept of a targeted senior league has merits, but the form and successful formula are clearly under development. Time will tell if the NPL has the right formula, can execute, and clear the landscape for this segment of players.
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