Steve Kuhn, the founder of Major League Pickleball, stated that pickleball will grow a large enough audience in the next five years to rival the MLB, MLS, and NHL.
While pickleball continues to grow as the fastest-growing sport in the nation, many people are speculating whether or not it has enough appeal to foster a massive audience at the professional level.
Steve Kuhn, the billionaire founder of @MajorLeaguePB, said on today’s @Sporticast with @soshnick and @novy_williams that he believes pickleball will “easily” be a top five sport in terms of viewership within the next five years.— Sporticast Media Network (@sporticast) March 14, 2023
He says it will challenge @MLS, @MLB and @NHL. pic.twitter.com/OaKfkMNAqC
Pro pickleball is still in its infancy when it comes to being a source of nationally televised entertainment. Until this year, few of the sport’s pro leagues consistently streamed their tournaments, and most of the fanbase curation was focused on boosting attendance at in-person events.
However, we’ve recently seen the PPA Tour, APP, and MLP all shift their focus to gaining a broader audience through streaming platforms and television broadcasting.
This year, the APP signed a deal with CBS Sports and ESPN that guaranteed the league over 200 hours of live gameplay footage and recap telecasts. The MLP currently has a partnership with the Tennis Channel for their events, and the PPA Tour broadcasts all of their tournaments live through their PPA TV service on YouTube.
With all of these big moves to push pro pickleball as a spectator sport, how has the fanbase received it? According to studies done this year by Morning Consult, the U.S. population still needs some convincing. Only 24% of all US adults show interest in watching televised pickleball, while 32% of sports fans specifically have any interest in watching the game on TV.
Additionally, many people have pointed out that pickleball also has a lot of tight competition from other well-established sports that already have international fanbases. Pickleball is still relatively new and may still need to achieve a level of prestige in the sports community before it’s embraced by the general public.
Surpassing the MLB and NHL already feels like a stretch, but one must also consider that pickleball will also be competing with the likes of Formula 1, the UFC, and the PGA Tour.
The American population’s current indifference to televised pro pickleball does have the potential to change. Pickleball’s entertainment value could rise significantly through format and presentation changes, making the game more palatable as a spectator sport.
Some might believe that Kuhn’s confidence in the MLP is rooted in his obvious bias as the league’s founder, but there’s clearly more to it than simply hope. The MLP has taken the pickleball world by storm in its inaugural 2023 season by shaking up the game with an exciting new take on the pro pickleball league format.
There’s a lot to unpack regarding the MLP’s format, but at its core, the league is all about the excitement of having 24 different teams split between its Premier and Challenger Levels. Each team drafts four pickleball pros at the beginning of each season, with there being two seasons every year.
The multi-season format is genius, at least in the league’s early stages, as it allows viewers a chance to see some of their favorite pros pair up with multiple other athletes throughout the year. This has the potential to add a lot of entertainment value, as there will always be new matchups seen at every tournament.
MLP is also backed by some of the biggest names in sports. From Tom Brady’s recent investment in the league to Drew Brees’ love of his Mad Drops PC, many NFL players and other pro athletes see the possibility of huge commercial success in the MLP.
If there’s a pickleball league that can succeed on television, it’s the MLP. Steve Kuhn believes in his vision for the league’s future, and it will be interesting to see if the league can meet his expectations of being a top 5 sport in the next five years.
The next major MLP event will be MLP Daytona, March 23-26. Tickets for the event are available on the MLP’s website, and the event will also be live-streamed on the Major League Pickleball YouTube Channel.
Stay tuned here at Pickleball Union for MLP Daytona tournament previews and recaps!
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