Major League Pickleball (MLP) has reached out to all of its contracted pro players via email to explain that pay cuts are required for the MLP and the PPA Tour to survive in 2024. Players’ “guaranteed annual compensation is proportionally reduced by 40%” in the new proposal for the MLP-PPA’s 2024 season.
We’ve seen the email. Things do not look good. Our name, Pickleball Union, has never been so apt: pro players need to band together and determine their worth as pro pickleball continues to evolve.
MLP players have been asked to reduce their next year’s salaries by 40%. PPA players have not been asked yet. Will they? Few things:— Jillian Braverman (@jillybpb) November 28, 2023
1.) Aren’t there collusion / anti-trust issues with this?
2.) Like we said on our last pod, players need to leverage collective bargaining ASAP.
Jill Braverman, a pro pickleball player in both the MLP and PPA, has been one of the leading voices for players’ rights throughout the chaos of the merger between the organizations. She’s called out the PPA’s “moral bankruptcy” with the handling of their paddle testing standards and lack of transparency with its players, and she continues to question the systems in place on her podcast, This Pickleball Life.
It’s without surprise that upon receiving an email from the MLP about the salary cuts, Jill didn’t shy away from a response. She points immediately to the thoughts that crossed all of our minds when word of the pay cuts began to spread: collusion within the orgs, lawsuits over the rushed merger contracts, players being betrayed by one or both tours, and the list goes on!
Braverman is just one of many players who now have to contemplate their futures due to this nightmare scenario and all of the factors that go along with it. Essentially, this will affect all of your favorite PPA and MLP players, and some might have to pivot their careers in a different direction altogether because of the loss of income.
It also should be noted that the PPA allegedly has been calling their contracted players with similar amendments to the contracts. Because the PPA and MLP started a player-signing war before ultimately deciding upon a merger, I’m sure merging player contracts has been a legal/logistical nightmare. So, while the contents of the MLP email were directed at MLP-signed players, it can be assumed that the same applies to PPA-signed players as well.
The PPA and MLP dug themselves into this situation, as the great bidding wars led them to set unrealistic, multimillion-dollar budgets for player contracts, some of which eclipsed 7 figures. Yes, pickleball is growing at an astronomical rate, but the leagues didn’t fully realize that pro pickleball is still in its infancy as a spectator sport in their haste to sign top pros.
You can’t spend tens of millions of dollars if your viewership isn’t even close to that yet. The PPA Tour, which has arguably the biggest streaming pro pickleball platform on its YouTube Channel, averages 30-50k viewers during a tournament weekend, with about 100-120k viewers for Championship Sunday streams. Solid numbers for sure, but not quite in the millions like other pro sports.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the MLP’s letter to its players:
- The MLP has parted ways with Brooks Wiley, its former commissioner.
- MLP players will be contracted for 120 days instead of 200, which reflects the 40% reduction in salary.
- Players are allowed to “monetize the other 245 days on the calendar any way they choose” – Basically, go get another job.
- Players can reduce their days by more than 40% upon the consideration of the MLP.
- Players that accept the proposal are guaranteed a minimum of 10 slots in PPA Tour events during 2024.
- MLP players who don’t consent to the reduction will have to earn their keep for the MLP, meaning they’ll have to “maximize their value to MLP” by participating in what the MLP deems to meet their 200-day existing contract value.
Basically, players’ hands are tied into signing this contract, as prize money from PPA events is a massive driving factor for supporting a full-time pickleball career. If you want to play pro pickleball on its biggest stage, you’ll have to take the cut.
However, it’ll be interesting to see if any big-name players opt to keep their current contracts to just work MLP events and clinics, and make other MLP-cosigned event appearances. Depending on the salary a player signed on for, and the actual intensity of that 200-day obligation, some players might have had enough of the drama of the merger and settle for whatever comes their way in the MLP in 2024.
That scenario is highly unlikely, as most of these athletes have been grinding for the last few years to position themselves as pickleball’s top athletes. Yes, pro pickleball is still young, but it’s more than just a game to the athletes at this point. It’s their brand, their lifestyle, their passion, and, ultimately, it’s their livelihood.
Imagine being told on a whim that your company was cutting your salary for next year by 40%. The corporate climate needs to change within pickleball for the sustainability of the sport at the professional level, especially for the players that make this game so special. Without them, there is no pro pickleball.
It’ll be interesting to keep tabs on how players move forward into next year. December is going to be a big month for pro pickleball; expect a LOT of change. If it’s changed for the better or worse, only time will tell. Stay connected with us here at Pickleball Union for more updates about the future of pro pickleball!
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