Pickleball continues into 2023 as the fastest-growing sport in America, with approximately 4.8 million players taking to pickleball courts across the nation. The pickleball craze brings with it considerable financial investment opportunities, and pro athletes from a wide variety of sports backgrounds are jumping on board to see where this exciting new game will take them.
It’s no surprise that professional NFL players have taken notice of pickleball’s meteoric rise in popularity. NFL superstars like Patrick Mahomes, Larry Fitzgerald, Rob Gronkowski, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady have all become serious investors in pickleball.
Major League Pickleball (MLP) is one of the biggest investment factors for these NFL pros, as the league’s 2023 season now hosts 24 all-star teams in two division levels: MLP Premier Level and MLP Challenger Level. Many of pickleball’s top athletes, including Anna Leigh Waters and Ben Johns, were just drafted into the league, thus bringing an even bigger national spotlight to the sport.
Of the 24 MLP teams, Arizona Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald is now a part owner of the AZ Drive. The Drive will start their 2023 season at the Challenger Level and then eventually transition to the Premier Level halfway through the season.
Fitzgerald is clearly passionate about pickleball, having even taken to the court at a PPA Tour Celebrity Pro-am event last year against Anna Leigh Waters in a singles match. He’s confident that pickleball is more than just a flash-in-the-pan fad, and that it will be a long-lasting American pastime.
“Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It’s only right that we give this game a home in Arizona at the highest level. #AZDRIVE”Twitter, @LarryFitzgerald
Former NFL quarterback Drew Brees is also all in as an MLP team owner, as he joined the ownership group of the Los Angeles Mad Drops Pickleball Club back in July, 2022.
In the Mad Drops PC press release announcing Brees’s co-ownership, Brees discussed why his athleticism and deep interest in the sport of pickleball pushed him to become more firmly involved at the pro level.
“I look forward to helping raise awareness around the incredible players and competitions in MLP, helping grow the sport of pickleball and fostering overall fan engagement. As a long-time professional athlete and competitor, myself, I look forward to working with the Mad Drops PC team in our relentless quest to win many championships in the years to come.”Drew Brees, Co-Owner of Mad Drops Pickleball Club
Beyond the excitement of investing in the MLP’s promise of bringing pro-level pickleball to the masses, NFL players have also started buying into pickleball businesses. Pickleball venues and entertainment complexes are popping up across the nation, and they often combine the promise of court space with connected restaurants and bars.
Former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski has just recently invested in Crush Yard, a pickleball club and restaurant that is set to open in Mt. Pleasant, SC in early 2023. The venue will feature multiple pickleball courts, offer private and group lessons, have a full self-serve beer bar tap system, and feature an “elevated pub fare” dining service.
Pickleball complexes like Crush Yard appear as highly lucrative investments, for they both fulfill the growing need for pickleball court space while also offering food and beverage services that are naturally desired for pickleball social gatherings.
As pickleball continues to grow as a sport, expect to see more and more professional athletes from other sports begin their journey into the world of pickleball.
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