The pickleball news cycle keeps churning. The Dink reported on Tuesday morning that the (famous?) Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, are in “serious talks” to sign with MLP and the PPA. The Bryan brothers are the winningest doubles tennis team in the history of the sport. They are 45-year-old identical twin brothers, who have often been considered by pickleball fans as two of the most interesting tennis players we could see on a pickleball court. The pair retired from tennis in 2020 and may now be looking to pick up a new racquet sport.
The first reaction that we had to this report was that it was interesting. As hardcore pickleball viewers, we’re always going to be intrigued when extremely high-level tennis players who express a desire to play pickleball at the pro level. The prevailing wisdom is that doubles players in tennis have an easier transition to pickleball because of the similarities with doubles pickleball.
While Jack Sock cracked the top 10 in singles in his career, he has also been the #2 doubles player in the sport. Even though the Bryan brothers are middle aged men, pickleball is a sport where they could theoretically compete at the highest level in doubles. We have no idea how much pickleball experience the Bryan brothers have, if any, but the intrigue is, well, intriguing enough to take notice of the news.
We are curious why the PPA and MLP are exploring this avenue with the Bryan brothers. Although there is intrigue that surrounds the Bryan brothers in the pickleball community, they are not very well known outside of the more dedicated tennis fans. Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, Eugenie Bouchard and possibly Donald Young are more well-known than the Bryan brothers to the more casual observer. With all the money that has already been thrown around, how does an under the radar, mid-40s doubles team move the needle for pro pickleball? Does it really make sense to spend money on a couple of tennis players that not that many people care about?
The Tour Wars are supposed to be over so one entity isn’t trying to fight for the right to have players like the Bryan brothers sign exclusively with them. We would have to expect that the Bryan brothers aren’t going to come out of competitive racquet sports retirement for an insignificant amount of money. There has to come a time when reasonable spending starts to take place or there won’t be any money left to spend.
Conversely, the infusion of the Bryan brothers into pro pickleball could be a play to help create more legitimacy in the tennis community. If you’re wanting to make tennis players and fans less skeptical of pickleball, one way to make that happen could be to demonstrate that some of the best tennis players in the world don’t think it’s a joke.
The news of the Bryan Brothers potentially signing with the PPA and MLP is somewhat at odds with a different announcement Thursday morning that the Tennis Channel and the PPA forming a commercial joint venture to broadcast the “vast majority” of PPA events and create “Pickleballtv”, which would be a standalone pickleball channel. The report on the Bryan brothers references the MLP and the PPA working together to sign the duo, but the announcement with the Tennis Channel is not consistent with the recent PPA-MLP merger announcement.
The fact that the PPA is striking major deals with other entities seemingly without MLP’s direct involvement is quite weird. Frankly, we just don’t understand it. One thing we have to note is that the press release says that MLP will also receive broad coverage on Tennis Channel’s platform and that Tennis Channel’s parent company will have the option to invest in the parent company of the PPA Tour, Pickleball.com. Whether this means anything, positive or negative, about the announced merger remains to be seen, but it can’t be ideal from a merger standpoint that this was announced today.
At the same time, the PPA’s deal with Tennis Channel is generally consistent with the Bryan brothers discussions. The press release highlights that Jack Sock, Genie Bouchard and Sam Querrey have plans to play on the PPA Tour and that tennis names like Naomi Osaka, Chris Evert and Nick Kyrgios are part of MLP ownership groups. The interest surrounding the sport of pickleball from well-known tennis people has the potential to further legitimize the sport and that may be what the PPA and MLP are banking on with the Bryan brothers or any other negotiations that could be happening with other known tennis players.
We’ll be monitoring what happens with the Bryan brothers as it is clear the purported merger is not slowing anyone down from pushing the envelope in pro pickleball.
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