Update 2:38 pm EST, August 31st – MLP announced this afternoon that the Johnson 5 have signed with MLP. We’ll try to get something up on the news specifically but the mailbag answers should still all be applicable post-Johnson 5 news.
We have been doing our best to keep up with the Tour Wars between the PPA and MLP. However, we are also aware there are a lot of lingering questions. This has been such a fluid situation with things changing minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day. The last couple of days have been less eventful. As we wait for the Johnson 5 shoe to drop, we asked you, the readers, on social media to send in your questions for our first ever mailbag. If you like what you see, let us know and we’ll do more of them periodically and try to incorporate it into our podcast once Gritty is back from galavanting the globe. Where there was overlap of questions, we added them as part of the same question.
“What’s the deal with all the stuff?”
We have written about a lot of the goings on. If you want to see our thoughts throughout the past week, go back through our blog articles. The biggest new story to come is where the Johnson siblings and Dylan Frazier will land. We’ll get an article up once that news come out, which will hopefully be before the end of the week.
“There is no way the lower guys [and gals] are getting 6 figures right?” “How exactly are players being chosen? A lot I’ve never even heard of and some aren’t asked”
Yes, players are getting 6 figures and it looks like this new wave some of them are getting it on an annual basis. This was said on the latest Tennis Sucks podcast and it does sound like at least the PPA is offering relatively unknown players 6 figure annual salaries.
In terms of who is getting deals, there was a time earlier this week where we could explain it, but we can’t anymore. Some of the newer announcements are even unknown to us on both the PPA and MLP side. Honestly, It doesn’t make sense to sign below replacement level players who would be happy to be a part of your tour without a contract anyway. We don’t know how this is sustainable at all and how the tours can expect to turn a profit with the Oprah Winfrey sweepstakes approach (this might be a dated reference).
“Who’s signing the biggest deal?”
Ben Johns has probably signed the biggest deal so far. Travis Rettenmaier said Ben only signed a one year deal with the PPA, if he even signed anything more than an LOI, and that would indicate he is keeping his options open. Ben has so much leverage because he provides legitimacy to a tour. We have not heard nearly as much about Anna Leigh Waters, but she is the other player who could be be up for signing the biggest deal too. It is not surprising that it is probably the two best players. The biggest deal to come, though, will probably be JW Johnson, as holding out has made the Johnson five very valuable – JW Johnson, Jorja Johnson, Dylan Frazier, Milan Rane and Gabe Tardio.
“Which players are going to flip from the PPA?”…”What are your predictions for which and/or how many players are going to flip?”…”What is critical mass for either league? Give us a few players that if flipped (besides obvious BJ/ALW to MLP) would really shake this up.”…”I’d love any more information on why players would switch at this point. Is it just re-thinking or trying to get a better deal? Or is it players at the top not wanting to play against 4.0-4.5 level talent in the main draw? Or is it MLP-signed players wanting to go back PPA?”
This will depend on where the Johnson siblings and Dylan Frazier go. If they go MLP, we could see some PPA players flip sides. Conversely, we have heard that MLP has told its signed players if they break the new contracts they will have a lifetime ban from MLP so we likely won’t see MLP players flip even if the Johnson 5 go the PPA way.
When it comes to the possible PPA flippers, many of whom may not have not signed a full written contract yet, Ben Johns is the most notable and likely flipper of the two GOATs. He may not come exclusive to MLP right away if he has signed a contract for 2024 as Rettenmaier said on his podcast, but Ben has been the player who sounds like he has been most involved in negotiating with MLP. The price tag for Ben to flip would have to be insane.
Outside of Ben and ALW, the reality is that MLP is in the driver’s seat and we could see a handful of their announced players turning to MLP. One name to keep an eye on is Jack Sock. There’s no way he quit pro tennis to not be in the spotlight or to be concerned with payment of his contract.
“Which billionaire is willing to hold out longer and spend more on pickle?”
Right now, you have to say it’s Steve Kuhn and the roster of billionaires they have in MLP. No one is going to lie down and die in this fight, but the prospect of spending a bunch of money with uncertain prospect for future return on investment cannot be too enticing for Tom Dundon at this moment. The profitable investments Dundon has on the amateur side means he won’t go easy so this one may not be done for a while. As we have seen, the tides can turn quickly in this war so nothing is a foregone conclusion, especially if the Johnson 5 go PPA. A merger is not out of the question and whether Dundon has leverage from a legal action standpoint will be interesting to monitor.
The tricky thing that we can’t understand right now are the wave of signings for literal unheard of “talent”.. What is the strategy for this? Maybe one or two of these players hits as a real talent.
We have questions for both entities as to how this is sustainable, but there’s only one entity that has felt the need to make public assurances about their liquidity. Not a good sign:
“What’s going to happen to Atlanta? I’ve got tickets.”…”Should I bother buying tix to the MLP Atlanta event?” “Will this month’s MLP ATL be canceled?”
If you haven’t purchased tickets yet, you should hold off. It sounds like they intend to play in Atlanta but Rettenmaier discussed that there would likely be a redraft and there’s not much time to do that. We expect the event to go ahead, but wouldn’t be confident enough to make plans around it if you haven’t already.
“Wouldn’t it make sense for MLP to align with APP and let players pick how many APP tourneys they play?”…”Where does APP’s future stand with the tour war between MLP and PPA?”…”Will the MLP align or even merge with the APP to allow their players to participate in individual matches?”
With these mergers or alliances, you have to consider how it would benefit both parties and it’s unclear to us how aligning with the APP would benefit MLP. They are going to run their own events (both team and individual) and possibly create a minor league system to act as a feeder system for their major league rosters. One issue MLP could have is ensuring their players get enough tournament reps but why wouldn’t they just try to add tournaments themselves? It doesn’t seem like there is enough benefit to MLP to align once again with the APP.
“Which tour got the most handsome players?”
If Jay Devilliers flips to MLP, then it will be hands down MLP. Pat Smith going PPA bumped things up for them though.
“Do elite players who signed early get lower salaries compared to new MLP signees as demand increased? For example is someone like Allison Phillips making Anna Bright money? Maybe the PPA this is more prevalent? Can contracts be renegotiated?”
Yes, that’s the way things can go unfortunately. The players and their agents (if they have one) who signed early should have been aware of the risk that the market could change. It is unlikely someone of Alli Phillips’ stature is making what Anna Bright signed for, but it is possible that Gabe Tardio or Milan Rane could end up getting something in that ballpark, which is crazy to think. Rane and Tardio are part of the Johnson 5 and they are the beneficiary of a market changed substantially after JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier turned into the difference between winning and losing this Tour Wars battle. This, in turn, has made Tardio and Rane incredibly valuable as a package deal as part of the Johnson 5.
To answer the question about renegotiation, as noted above, we have heard that players are being told by MLP that if they breach their contracts, they will be subject to a lifetime ban from MLP. Players are already getting paid so much that MLP likely can’t afford to renegotiate contracts for big name players.
The reality is every player should want as many players to join their entity because it makes it more likely their entity more valuable. It would be fantastic for Anna Bright if the Johnson 5 went with MLP regardless of how much her podcast co-host gets paid. The elite who signed early shouldn’t be comparing their contracts to others. They should be hoping their entity wins out this battle to ensure they get paid in the long run.
“My question… Who is going to overtake Ben? If no one currently, then from what sport will they come from? I believe it will be a table tennis player. The two goats, Badger and Ben were both table tennis players. Their paddle control and extremely quick hands. Imagine a lower ranked player from China converts.”
Really tough question. It looks like it will either have to be JW Johnson or someone we haven’t heard of yet. If it’s an unknown player, it will be someone who is extremely talented and dedicated to the sport. Does Jack Sock has the chops to do it?
“Any insight yet into what the exclusivity looks like in the MLP contracts? Will signed players be able to play APP, US Open, etc.?”
The MLP contracts are exclusive from what we understand so it will likely be a similar situation to the PPA this year where players need explicit permission for non-MLP events like the PPA, APP and US Open.
“How did Tom Dundon undermine the merger?”… “Who fired the first shots?? Who does Jimmy Miller work for?? How far will Kuhn or Pardoe go in the name of greed?? Where is the money??”
With so few people reporting on the sport, only so much information is coming out to the public. Whether Dundon did anything to undermine to merger and who took the first shot in this saga are not easy questions to answer. As people who have proven to have accurate and unique insider knowledge in the past, Jimmy Miller and Tyler Loong have presented a version of events that has MLP firing the first shot by going behind the PPA’s back to sign players without letting them know. There has also been little to no discussion on any wrongdoing from the PPA’s side since the merger in November 2022.
The information we have is murkier than what Miller and Loong have reported as being more clear cut. In our view, the blame for the merger falling through and who fired the first shot questions are not as straightforward as it has been made to seem. It takes two to tango in these situations and it’s more likely there is fault on both sides of the table. It is more of a he said/he said situation that makes it difficult to determine what the right answers are.
For the merger, nothing was ever finalized after 9 months.
For example, even if the PPA had been the ones to make the last move towards finalizing the terms, how much does that matter if what they were agreeable to was not mutual with MLP for disputed items such as the 2024 schedule? Is it possible that the PPA had taken the first steps towards quietly negotiating new contracts with players? Again, it not as just not as straightforward as some are making it appear to be.
While we aren’t certain what the right answers are on these questions, we think it’s irresponsible for the KOTC duo to seemingly present certain aspects of the story as 100% factual without acknowledging there is an alternative version of the events out there have some degree of culpability here.
“What do you think about team play saturation? MLP may get more viewers per event than PPA weekend, but what about after 16 team events?”…”Teams are fun, but I really want to see the best players and I know who is truly #1. How will we know?”
Previously, we have both been of the mindset that MLP is best served as a unique event like the Ryder Cup or Davis Cup. However, as MLP has upped their number of events each year, MLPs have continued to be the events we most look forward to.
It begs the question, why do people say they care so much about finding a definitive #1?
In team based sports, great players are on bad teams sometimes and not as good players are lifted up by great teams. Great players are on great teams and still don’t always win. That’s the nature of the beast. Why do we need to know who is #1 and why are we so certain we won’t be able to figure this out in a team based model when we already do that in other team sports? It is easily missed in these discussions that no one in the mainstream cares about tennis or golf outside of the 4 majors.
Furthermore, having a tour based model does not guarantee we know who the best player is. Golf has been a mess since Tiger’s dominance. Tennis hasn’t always been the way it has the last 20 years. Maybe a tour model is the way to go but this whole #1 thing gets solved in other team sports.
The money is a big problem for a team based model but pro pickleball is such a risky proposition to succeed in the first place. Maybe a more volatile team based model gives pro pickleball the best chance to succeed?
“What’s USAP’s stance on the division?”
No clue. Although, they can’t be happy PPA is losing right now after giving them Nationals for 2023.
“Pardoe has PPA and Vibe. Kuhn has MLP. Does Kuhn have a PPA equivalent?”
No, he does not. Kuhn’s vision appears to be a team based model for pro pickleball.
“Why would anyone under 45 watch or attend PPA events? They are stiff AF. Help me understand.”
It’s fun to be able to watch what the highest level looks like if you care about the sport. People go out to watch their local 5.0s because they are curious what that looks like. That mindset applies for the pro players as the people who are more invested in the sport want to see what it is and are interested in it. Whether a person who doesn’t play pickleball wants to go to a PPA event, or will ever want to go, is an entirely different question.
“Will mlp play straight up or keep team format”
They are still working it out but the expectation right now is that 2024 will be primarily team events with anywhere from 4 to 8 individual events. Nothing is close to locked in.
“How will MLP purses go up or down in the future.”
The purse situation is somewhat muddy in terms of whether players can earn above their guaranteed contracts without earning total prize money in addition to whatever their guarantees are. Our guess is prize money has to plateau soon and there may be a rude awakening for the market of pro pickleball played in a few years. Tough to gauge currently though
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