LeBron James and Maverick Carter Headline Ownership Team Buying a Major League Pickleball (MLP) Team
The PPA Tour dropped a hammer a couple of weeks ago with their announcement of a partnership with DraftKings and subsequent partnership with MGM for a big event in Las Vegas later this year. Well, Major League Pickleball (MLP) raised the PPA’s gambling announcements with a celebrity ownership announcement of massive proportions. The news released this morning is that an ownership group headlined by Lebron James and his best buddy business partner, Maverick Carter, are purchasing an MLP team. Other notable names included in the ownership group are NBA players Draymond Green and Kevin Love. LeBron and Maverick Carter will own the team through their family office, LRMR Ventures.
This is getting crazy.
While the viewership numbers for pickleball remain low, the goal for these ground floor investors for pickleball is likely an extremely long-term return on investment play. It’s a small gamble with potential big return for investors that believe pickleball is the sport of the future and they are the ones ahead of the curve. If pickleball doesn’t blow up, no big deal. Move on to the next venture.
From MLP’s standpoint, it’s another major win that continues to legitimize their product and business model. The LeBron led team purchase has created the most mainstream media coverage we have seen for any single pickleball story so far. It’s the type of article you send out to your family group chat and the person who has zero interest in sports responds with a “Wow!”. LeBron James is one of the few superstars in sports that transcends the game he plays. The fact that LeBron and his team see enough in pickleball to make it worth investing has the power to bring the type of exposure and eyeballs to pickleball that could take years to generate organically.
We have heard about documentaries being filmed around pro pickleball, including one spearheaded by Randall Emmett at a point in time. The PPA may have something cooking too as Tyson McGuffin has posted some social media content in the past couple of days about a documentary being made. It’s unclear what the status of any of those documentaries are, but if LeBron and Carter ever decided to put any of their production company, SpringHill Company, resources into pickleball, it could change the course of the sport.
There are not too many individuals in sports who have the influence to have a pickleball documentary get picked up by an outlet where people would watch it. Look at what Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix has done to skyrocket the interest of F1 racing. SpringHill currently has shows on NBC, HBO, Netflix and Disney+, demonstrating their reach and pull is far and wide.
We had a lot of skepticism about MLP moving to a 12-team and now a 16-team model for 2023, but it is more understandable when you have the opportunity to bring in an owner with the name recognition of LeBron James. Commissioner of MLP, Brooks Wiley, posted on Twitter this morning that this was the first of more big news to come – not “bigger” than LeBron but still big, nonetheless.
The question then arises as to what MLP will do going forward if there are other big-name owners that want to join the ranks of MLP beyond this group of 16-teams. In our view, 16 teams is a problem from a product standpoint. You can’t keep expanding with the limited pool of quality talent out there in pro pickleball. As great as it is having LeBron, MLP is putting itself at risk of having a watered-down product for 2023. The bottom line is that the product needs to be good if MLP is going to be a long-term success.
On the first episode of the Inside Major League Pickleball podcast last week, Wiley revealed that existing team owners will likely be able to franchise (i.e. keep) 1 or 2 players next year. Without any explanation as to how the franchise system will impact the lottery and draft, it’s tough to say what franchising players means for the new ownership groups when a lot of the best talent will be unavailable to be drafted. It potentially creates competitive balance questions, especially if MLP wants to expand beyond 16 teams in the future, unless they are able to pry away some of the top PPA talent. Adding some of those top PPA players to the talent pool in combination with the influx of new players to the game (Sam Querrey, anyone?), could keep the level of the same, or actually improve it next year and beyond.
At the end of the day, MLP is in hyper-growth mode, and it does not look like they are stopping anytime soon. Tyson McGuffin went on the Dink’s podcast earlier this week and, in discussing MLP, he shared that he was not happy about not being able to play MLP – he specifically named Ben Johns as being unhappy as well. Although many have surmised that PPA players are disgruntled about being cut out of MLP, McGuffin is the first PPA-contracted player to go public with those type of sentiments. Tyson went on to say that the PPA-MGM event will be an MLP “equalizer” for PPA contracted players, but those comments were provided before this LeBron James announcement, which probably makes it harder to accept that the MGM event can be a true equalizer to the fear of missing out with MLP.
It is also hilarious, and completely by coincidence (wink wink), that this evening the PPA announced their celebrity pro-am event at the made to take eyeballs away from MLP event in Frisco, Texas the weekend of October 13th. The pro-am will feature real names in Tony Romo, Jordan Speith and John Isner, but the announcement can’t hold a candle to MLP’s announcement from this morning.
We expected more big news would be coming after the PPA broadcasted their partnership with MGM, but we can’t say we expected this big of a mic to be dropped by MLP. If MLP can get gambling figured out quickly, the sky’s the limit for their organization. Gambling is the real equalizer in pickleball currently and you have to think that MLP is furiously trying to get that part sorted out as soon as possible.
So, LeBron James is officially involved in professional pickleball. When we say the game is changing fast, it’s pretty clear sometimes we don’t have any idea what that really means.
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17 thoughts on “LeBron James and Maverick Carter Headline Ownership Team Buying a Major League Pickleball (MLP) Team”
Fascinating to watch. Thanks for breaking it down for us.
Some of the comments sections on posts in The Kitchen are… Interesting. A presumably small yet vocal group are not enthusiastic that an internationally famous politically outspoken black man is investing in the sport. It’s a bummer to see this side of pickleball when so much of its character is built on Everyone Can Play. Here’s hoping that Lebron investing, even if he’s not involved with the day to day, brings a lot of new and diverse eyeballs (and participants!) to the game who may not have known otherwise.
We had one on our post. It’s completely ridiculous to think that about LeBron. His presence is beyond just about anyone in sports right now
Pissing off the nontrivial number of racists in pickleball is just another reason why the LeBron news is so cool!
Agree that the negative posts about LeBron (and Serena, too) show a less than welcoming side of the pickleball community. I’m hoping that today’s announcement is a prelude to more and would love to see a PPA/MLP deal whereby Dundon gets to buy an MLP team in exchange for allowing PPA players to play in MLP events going forward. It would be a win-win for pickleball and could work if MLP agreed to a cap on its number of events. Maybe go all the way and have APP leadership buy another MLP expansion team. Dare to dream.
This would be nice to see
I’d rather see MLP and APP merge and the big PPA names leave the PPA in 2 years and have Dundon left out in the cold.
Is Dundon really such a bad dude he needs to go to Siberia? Sure, I’m no fan of the tactics employed to expand the PPA, but if the need for Pickleball long term is eyes from current players and non-players, he’s keeping it “spicy.” Maybe Spieth, Dirk and company are a response to Lebron, but let’s not discount the effect those names will have on bringing eyes/$$$. The tournament directing side of pickleballtournaments.com is really old tech and it appears Dundon is bringing that technology forward and easier for tournaments to be organized. The NBA/ABA, PGA/LIV, NFL/AFL… it seems every major sport has had controversy and competing leagues, why should Pickleball be different? I don’t think the PPA will be the last tour standing (let’s go APP!), but keeping the APP and MLP on their toes drives innovation and certainly has us talking on NML!
Dundon is killing it with major sponsors, TV contracts and the top pros. I believe that the long term outcome is PPA for the headlining pro tour, MLP for team events and APP for up and coming pros and amateurs.
I believe it would be good for the sport if PPA stopped having amateurs play tournaments at its events. I think it would be better to have festival-type courts available for open play at the PPA events. They could charge something like $40 per day for a player wristband that got you hours on the courts and admission to watch the pros play. To get more money from players and provide sponsor benefits, the PPA could copy the PGA and have pro-am play on Wednesdays.
It’s still tough for pro tours to survive without amateur participation. The PPA treats it as a necessity and it is. You eventually need pro tourneys without amateurs for sure though
It may not actually be Dundon too even though he is the direct head honcho. A certain segment of people clearly don’t like how PPA has gone about its business and that’s something they have to grapple with whether the market is concerned enough about it
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First. Is it Dundon or Connor? Second. All those PPA players signed contracts when there was no money elsewhere, and nobody thought about maybe the future. Now that there is money elsewhere, they are bitching and complaining. You signed a contract, suck it up until the contract is done, and then don’t sign another contract. I’m pretty sure everyone at the time knew of the low standards PPA had and still has.
Exactly it may not be Dundon, although the buck atops with him. It’s a fair point about the contract aspect of things, but they have leverage just as the PPA did when they signed them. They are also free to use that leverage now as they please even though they signed
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