If the merger between Major League Pickleball (MLP) and the Professional Pickleball Association’s (PPA) Vibe League was the proverbial shot over the bow of the Association of Professional Pickleball (APP), then the APP returned fire in a manner that clearly says, we are here to stay!
APP is Alive and Well
In a not-so-subtle open letter to the pickleball community, the APP wastes no time with niceties. The very first line reads, “The APP is here to stay.” As if to say, we see you MLP/PPA and you have it all wrong.
The letter continues with additional ammo aimed directly toward all the hype surrounding the recent merger of the other professional leagues. Reading between the lines, the letter draws attention to:
- The APP’s longer history of contributing to building the participation and reputation of pickleball.
- An undercurrent in the ether for one professional pickleball organization means the APP should just roll over and get out of the way.
- Being inclusive vs being exclusive in the target pickleball audience (targeting elite-level current pros only).
- A business strategy that is short-sighted (read money grab) vs. built for the long haul.
The letter is short, but highly impactful, and seemingly delights in poking at their competition by saying things without saying them. The message received is you might have all the pop and sizzle, but we have all the brains.
APP Believes They Have Winning Formula
The letter is clear about their feelings for the future, “The APP’s business plan is sustainable, responsible and is built to support the growth of our organization, the players who compete in our events, and fuel the dramatic increase in participation in pickleball throughout the USA.”
Perhaps, said another way, don’t just glom on to a bunch of millionaire celebrities who want to capitalize on the unbelievable trajectory of this wonderful game. Instead, be a game for all people.
APP exemplified this commitment with the recent announcement of “The Champions Tour”. This will be a tour for those 50+ and directly corresponds to their commitment to inclusivity, noted above.
MLP/PPA Calmly Scrambling
There is no telling what MLP/PPA is thinking when it comes to this strike by APP, but they should be paying attention because while they have a lot of interesting things going, it is clear they do not have it all figured out.
This is evidenced by their recent MLP draft. This newly created two-level league, with high-profile owners, held their draft for their highest-level players (Premier Level) on TV in Las Vegas. Yet, at the same time, the tier-two teams (Challenger Level) draft was nebulous at best, with teams, owners, and players trickling out after the original splash. Followers noticed.
The MLP teams are now associated with cities, with my very own Milwaukee being the namesake for the Mashers. So, we have a team. YES! However, the closest competition to Milwaukee is in Georgia? How can we be the Milwaukee Mashers if we only play in Arizona, California, and Georgia?
Follow the Money
It isn’t rocket science to say that initially, the best players in the world will follow the money. Recently the #12 pick in the MLP draft, Zane Navratil, shared that he will be leaving the APP for MLP and the PPA.
Zane doesn’t come right out and say this is a money play, but one can speculate with the money being thrown around inside of MLP/PPA right now that it must be tempting for APP Tour players to jump ship. This is clearly something that the APP is going to need to contend with on a regular basis.
Is there room for Two or More Professional Tours
Only time will tell how the fight for pickleball players, viewers’ eyes, sponsors, and ultimately the almighty dollar will play out.
Clearly, each organization is confident in its direction, and this open letter from APP works to quell the rumors that it is a foregone conclusion that APP will be absorbed by the PPA. They believe in their formula.
Or, maybe it is nothing more than a red herring negotiation tactic. The question remains, does the average pickleball player A. understand all these gyrations and B. care? That is a topic for another day, but right now it would seem all sides are planting their flags and defending their positions.
More to come in the day, week, and months ahead.
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