More and more information is coming to light as pro pickleball players continue their contract negotiations with Major League Pickleball (MLP) and the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) for the upcoming 2024 season. Players have united to preserve their own interests, forming what is now known as The Players Collective.
For those just learning of the messy PPA-MLP merger, the PPA and MLP announced a union of their organizations at the end of the summer in what was supposed to form a unified and definitive pro pickleball entity. However, the merger was brought on following a signing war between the two, in which both organizations hoped to sign exclusive contracts with pickleball’s top pro athletes.
Thus, in their haste to best one another, both tours overcompensated in the contracts, embellishing unreasonable budgets that were destined to fail. Now that the organizations are merging, the MLP is attempting to renegotiate contracts with its players by asking them to take 40% pay cuts with reported amendments within the contracts that seem intentionally vague, causing players to question their position.
According to the MLP & PPA Tour, in response to an inquiry made by The Dink, these contract negotiations with the MLP’s 103 players are going smoothly in their eyes, and apparently, “Of the 43 Premier Level players who have made a decision, 40 of them have agreed to a salary adjustment.” However, we reached out to players and player agents, who have confirmed our suspicion of this statement: It’s estimated that over 80% of the 103 contracted MLP players have not agreed to terms with the MLP’s pay cut proposal and are still determining the right course of action with their contracts.
Simply put, pro players are unhappy with the MLP or the PPA and feel betrayed by these entities as they neglect player interests. In order to protect these interests, as the professional athletes who are the foundation for why these organizations even exist, pro players have formed The Players Collective, a currently informal players association that represents the MLP player population.
The collective was first founded simply through WhatsApp, where all 103 MLP players were invited and joined. It gave them a public forum amongst their peers, where they could communicate with each other about their ongoing issues regarding PPA, MLP, and contract renegotiations.
Eventually, a group of leaders heading the collective sent out an anonymous survey, where players were given a chance to reflect on some key points regarding the player base’s relationship with the PPA and MLP. It’s important to point out that many players understand the reasoning behind the pay cuts and are willing to accept them; however, the conditions surrounding the cuts feel unfair and inequitable to pros who signed PPA contracts.
We talked with one of the players in a leadership role of the collective, who currently wants to remain anonymous as they continue to fight this legal battle against the MLP-PPA. They explained that the stipulations presented in the renegotiation make it seem like MLP-contracted players would be obligated to 200 days worth of work with a 40% pay cut, while PPA-contracted players could potentially be making 2-3 times the salary for a 20-tournament obligation, which typically equates to about 80 days of work.
As it stands, MLP players feel as though they are being disadvantaged in this merger and that the MLP’s lack of transparency, refusal to honor written addendums and agreements, and overall unwillingness to communicate with its players is proof of the MLP-PPA working in a monopolistic fashion to push down player wages in an unfair manner.
Let’s break down some of the survey stats as presented in the email sent to MLP Stakeholders, provided by one of The Players Collective leaders:
- 89% of respondents believe they were not treated fairly during the pay-cut negotiations.
- 94% of respondents feel that MLP staff has been unable to answer most of their questions.
- 88% of respondents think that they are being punished for their loyalty to MLP.
- When asked: “Do you think the PPA is of high moral character or integrity?” 79% said “No,” 21% responded “No opinion,” and no one answered “Yes.”
From these four stats, the conclusion we’ve drawn is plain and simple: From their perspective, players haven’t been treated fairly during these negotiations and feel as though they’ve been stabbed in the back by the MLP despite their loyalty in signing the original contracts during the signing wars.
We’ve seen the rest of the survey results, and while we can’t speak on it right now, they make it evident that most pro players want a sense of autonomy over anything else at this point. Players feel taken advantage of, and if we are to see a successful year of pro pickleball in 2024, they need to have more authority over their own contracts and, at the very least, be listened to and treated fairly by the PPA and MLP.
Ideally, we see player representation on the MLP-PPA’s board of directors if the merger goes through, which would ensure the players’ voices are heard and impact the organization’s culture. For pro pickleball to continue to grow with the rest of the sport in 2024, we need to see a complete overhaul of the ethical practices of these pro organizations, which starts with upholding integrity during the ongoing contract negotiations.
If any MLP players, team owners, or investors would like to speak on/off the record with us, please email us at [email protected]. Our goal is to hear all sides of this story and ensure that everyone engaged in this conversation is heard. We stand with the players and want to see pro pickleball succeed fairly and honorably. To conclude, here’s an anonymous quote from the email by a player who outlines the purpose of the Player Collective perfectly:
“I’m not upset about pay cuts specifically, and I am willing to do anything to support the future of the sport and play the game I love. But, I am not willing to accept bad treatment and feel disrespected and taken advantage of by the organization I chose to join. We all love pickleball, all pro players want to help the sport grow, and we should work together with the principles of any strong organization – respect, transparency, community, etc.”
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