Pickleball is becoming more than just a fun way to socialize and stay in shape. It’s also proving to be a sound business model, especially at the professional level.
Since its inception in 2021, Major League Pickleball has seen a 100x growth in its team values, according to the league’s new CEO Julio DePietro. Front Office Sports reported that after being initially acquired for as low as $100,000, MLP team valuations have skyrocketed to as high as $10 million.
DePietro, a former partner at Citadel Investment Group, purchased a stake in the Florida Smash MLP team last year. The league has also attracted a number of celebrities who recognize the profit value of pickleball and are investing in team ownership. Several sports stars, from NFL and NBA greats to Olympic swimmers and tennis icons, have purchased part-ownership in MLP teams over the past two years.
Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Michael Phelps, and Naomi Osaka are just a few of the celebrities who stand to profit from the rapid growth of pickleball at the professional level. NFL executive Bruce Popko, former Buffalo Bills chief revenue officer, was also hired as MLP’s new chief operating officer.
The financial figures shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Over 36.5 million people in the United States played pickleball between August 2021 and August 2022. About 14% of Americans played at least once during that time period, while over 8.5 million played at least eight times, and that growth shows no signs of slowing down.
In 2023, MLP increased its appeal to both players and fans by adopting a unique format split into two seasons. It’s about to host its player draft for Season Two of 2023, where players compete on 24 teams for up to $5 million in prize money.
Billionaire financier Marc Lasry surprises sports world: investing in upstart sports like pickleball may yield higher returns than NBA teams.— InvestHub (@InvestHub_Kc) May 26, 2023
He plans sports fund, sees Major League Pickleball team value soar, but doubts Bucks' future growth due to mild recession. pic.twitter.com/w7x9rIpvzj
Why are so many celebrities and other wealthy power brokers flocking to invest in professional pickleball teams? Billionaire Marc Lasry, co-founder of Avenue Capital Group, recently sold his 25% stake in the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks in a deal that valued the team at $3.5 billion. Lasry said in an interview on Bloomberg Television he believes smaller leagues in sports like pickleball could offer a higher rate of return for investors than leagues like the NBA.
The 63-year-old Lasry is living proof of how lucrative pickleball can be. Before MLP’s launch in 2021, he and tennis star James Blake purchased a team for $100,000. “Today, it’s worth $10 million.”
Since professional pickleball is still considered a ground-floor opportunity, celebrities and investors are realizing it’s a perfect time to get in on the action while the price of buying teams is relatively low compared to teams in other major professional sports. They are also banking on their own name, hoping this will attract more exposure to the league while reaping the financial benefits from sponsorships, revenue-sharing and licensing.
Another potential revenue source in the coming years is the rise of television and streaming viewership. While sports like baseball, golf, tennis, and other sports are seeing a ratings decline, viewership in pickleball events is rising.
Last month’s MLP Premier Level Super Final was reportedly viewed by over 975,000 people on ESPN2, while viewership of the league’s YouTube channel rose 500% over last year.
DePietro is looking to take advantage of this growth in viewership, telling CNBC the league is working with a production company to create a docuseries focusing on MLP players. He also hopes to have a single broadcast partner in 2024.
“The good news is we are in advanced conversations with an A-plus-type broadcast partner who is interested in carrying our season live and all of our content for 2024.”Julio DePietro, CEO of Major League Pickleball
Not bad for a sport that was once considered popular mainly among older people. As its popularity continues to rise in both participation and viewership, revenue is sure to follow. Expect to see more celebrities and wealthy business executives from all walks of life get into the investment game.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?