Authored by Slim
What the hell is Major League Pickleball?
Major League Pickleball (“MLP”) is a new team pickleball league. However, it’s not so much a league in the true sense that we think of as a league like the NFL, NBA or MLB.
The inaugural MLP season will feature 8 teams of 4 players — 2 men and 2 women. Each team plays in a round robin format, playing all 7 other teams, with a “match” against each team consisting of 1 men’s doubles, 1 women’s doubles and 2 mixed doubles match-ups. An MLP season tournament spans 4 days. Every match is 1 game to 15. A 2-2 tie triggers a singles format tie breaker. Teams play 2 matches a day the first 3 days and their 7th match on the 4th day. The top two teams then advance to the Picklebowl on the final day. All of the matches are going to be played and streamed on a central stadium court.
Rumors are that most, if not all of the top players in the game today, will be playing in the inaugural season of the MLP, and rumors of the team owners range from billionaires to celebrities. We’ll see who the owners end up being but it is setting up for the MLP to have plenty of star power.
The teams will be chosen through a draft with a lottery ball format. The format for the draft is set out below:
The way it works is that if an owner gets the first lottery ball choice, they have the first pick of any one of the 8 slots available. For example, if an owner wants Ben Johns then they would (almost certainly) take “Team 1” and that means they get to pick the 1st guy, 16th guy, 8th woman and 9th woman. There is a lot of potential strategy and debate about where a team should want to pick from in this lottery style format. The draft is tentatively scheduled to be broadcast live on August 5th, from the PPA Takeya Showcase in Newport Beach, but we understand this date may be pushed pack.
The inaugural tournament is tentatively scheduled to take place at Dreamland, in Dripping Springs, Texas, just outside of Austin, on November 5-8th, 2021. Steve Kuhn, the founder of Dreamland and DUPR, is the brainchild behind MLP.
Is the format good?
It seems good and the fact that it is different, in itself, is good. We now have so many pro tournaments which all run in roughly the same format, so just having an event that actually adds some variety is great.
Personally I would prefer that it be best 2 out of 3 games instead of games to 15, as I think that allows for a little more strategy to take place in the different match ups. Particularly when we will be seeing a lot of new partnerships and match ups, I would love to have seen them go with best 2 out of 3 format to give teams more time to make adjustments, but I imagine they want the matches to be a certain length and also may have been worried about too many games for the players.
I also think the ability to create extra intrigue and excitement for the event with the draft is awesome (as you likely know, we here at NML love our drafts). The draft itself will be its own event and pickleball fans will have tome after the draft to argue and debate which teams are the strongest and which potential partnerships should be the strongest etc. How good a pick looks between the time of the draft and the event could change substantially as we continue to have more players entering the sport.
A bonus of the format is this singles tiebreaker where players are rotated out every 4 rallies and all 4 players from each team have to rotate out. There will be a home team in each match that gets to choose their order after seeing the rotation chosen by the away team. Again, we have no idea if this is going to work but different is fun to think about!
Will the players care?
The short answer is probably yes. There is legitimate money in this event, and like in almost all things in life, money talks. The total prize pool is $150,000 of which $112,500 is cash and $37,500 is equity that players will be given in MLP based on their draft position (the Players total portion of the equity in MLP is 3%). This is a pretty significant prize pool for pickleball, one of the largest ones to date.
I think it is always a valid question to ask whether players will care as much when individual titles are not on the line, but I think with a fair amount of the prize money being allocated based on wins, it is safe to assume that the players will certainly be playing to win. The event will also lend itself to a fair amount of trash talk, which should ensure that pride and egos are definitely on the line as well.
Is MLP good for pickleball?
We think so. Pickleball is still a growing sport, and anything that brings attention and eyeballs to it is good in my mind. As I said earlier, I think the variety is also good. We already have a number of large tournaments where we can see all the top players to compete, but getting to see them in a different settings and in different match ups, creates a lot more intrigue and excitement for fans.
The thing is that in other sports it’s hard to get people to care about anything other than the playoffs. In golf and tennis, it is all about the four majors. In basketball and baseball, it’s all about the playoffs. Although, in tennis and golf, things like the Ryder Cup and Davis Cup do drive interest as nationality driven team. The NBA has talked about doing a mid-season tournament type thing and there seems to be some very legitimately interest with that. Could the MLP bring that kind of interest to pickleball?
Also if rumors of potential owners are true they could potentially help drive more eyeballs to the game of pickleball which is obviously a good thing for the sport.
Should you care about MLP?
Yes, at least to the point to give it a shot. I think Major League Pickleball will offer a potential opportunity to see many of the different match ups that pickleball fans want to see. For example, I think one of the questions many pickleball fans have had, is who wins when you separate Ben and Simone? This event should hopefully allow us to get that answer. It will also likely have us see Matt and Lucy separated as well.
One issue right now in pickleball, is that fans are starting to getting tired of seeing a lot of the same match ups over and over in the bigger tournament finals and this format will almost certainly provide us with new match ups which should be exciting.
If you care about pickleball at all, at a minimum there should be some intrigue with the MLP that is enough to tune in and see what it is all about. Taco Bell can’t force you to like the Flamin’ Hot Doritos Locos Tacos, but they can still get you to give it a try.
As I said earlier, the draft and idea of teams also should create lot of great debate and interest among pickleball fans as well. We haven’t spent much time with it yet but I know we at NML will certainly be diving into the field and spending time debating best strategies for the draft and subsequently the potential strengths and weaknesses of each team.
This could end up being a gimmicky tournament when all is said and done, but there is a lot of positivity over here at NML for MLP. We understand that our insane fandom of pickleball does not necessarily represent the masses but when people are trying to do new and interesting things, we are going to take notice.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org