It is sometimes hard to differentiate between real pickleball news, fun pickleball news and I don’t care pickleball news. The fun type of pickleball news is Kevin Durant playing pickleball and looking pretty awkward doing it (sorry Kevin, we know you’re trying). When it comes to news or noise, there is a lot of noise these days with the amount of publicity pickleball is getting across various mediums. However, we had some real pickleball news that the Dink reported on Thursday involving the PPA Tour as they announced a partnership with MGM. The press release set out that Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas will host the ‘2022 Bubly Team Championships presented by MGM Rewards’ with live coverage on Tennis Channel and ABC. This comes on the heels of the PPA announcing a partnership with DraftKings last week.
That is real pickleball news.
The format for the event is apparently a unique team event with 24 of the world’s top pros battling it out for $175,000 in prize money. Translation, it sounds like an exhibition format that was about as randomly put together as the Selkirk Labs Showdown, except there is real money on the line and real, non-pickleball entities involved. We have no idea how that $175,000 will be distributed, but that is a lot of money for one event.
We do not have any details as to how the partnerships arose for the PPA, but what is clear is that the PPA appears to be getting in first on the gambling side of pickleball. That matters because of the eyeballs. CBS airing the Skechers Invitational was seen as monumental for the simple fact of pickleball being on network TV. In our view, this is a much more meaningful partnership because, on its face, it’s not just Tom Dundon using his connections to get pickleball on TV by paying CBS a good chunk of dough.
There were over 600,000 viewers for the Skechers Invitational on CBS and, even though people may not be tuning into network TV specifically for pickleball, TV habits die hard, especially for the older generation. Keep in mind that last night’s big Thursday night NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers had signifcantly less than 100,000 viewers at times for the stream on Twitch. Of course, there were far more people watching the broadcast directly through Amazon Prime, but it may be the case for pickleball that people still prefer watching sports on TV. So, when you have an event at a big casino in Las Vegas with very real sponsors like MGM, you are absolutely growing the sport. Again, it would be better if they were simply able to air a tournament event rather than some made up exhibition with the players they want, but beggars can’t be choosers if you want to partner with these entities and get on network TV.
We know the big PPA names will be participating, but one big question we have is whether “24 of the World’s Top Pros” teaming up will include any of the higher end APP/MLP players like JW Johnson and Parris Todd. Is the PPA more concerned with placating its contracted pros who are frustrated at their inability to participate in MLP, or do they want to put on the best possible event?
The PPA Tour does quite a few things that warrant criticism, but it is commendable they are always trying to think bigger and push the envelope. This event announcement does not have that air of false reality like putting the PPA Tour on ESPN2 at the same time as the Super Bowl. At least from what we can see, this is another step towards something very legitimate as the prospect of gambling’s integration with pickleball becomes more real by the day.
Gambling obviously offers a great opportunity to bring more eyeballs and money to pro pickleball, but it may be easier said than done to bring gambling on any type of large scale to pickleball. We have touched on this before but, in a sport where most of the pros are not making significant money, it would be hard to allow any type of substantial total to be bet on the outcome of any single game or player prop, without running a significant risk of potential match fixing.
You also have to make sure that most of the matches that are being bet on can be watched somewhere with a high level of professionalism in the sport. If you really want to see people get upset about the current pickleball referees, player line calls, suspect brackets, and paddle controversies, just wait until there are gamblers involved. It seems that the introduction of gambling to the sport could be the thing to propel pro pickleball to take off like a rocket ship, thanks to good timing of the recent wave of states legalizing gambling, bringing with it a substantially higher quality of viewing experience and professionalism to the sport. However, there are still a significant number of hurdles and pitfalls, which must be cleared and avoided to get there.
What is also evident with this announcement is that the competition between PPA, APP and MLP is not going away anytime soon. It will be interesting if the PPA can figure out how to bring actual gambling to pro pickleball, which they announced last year was going to happen with no follow-up. It appears that the PPA is a lot closer to bringing gambling to the sport than either MLP or the APP right now, which puts them in a very good spot as we head into 2022. Although, as we know, things can move very fast in pro pickleball.
We have to think that MLP and/or the APP has something up their sleeve, whether it is gambling, broadcast partnerships, new events, higher profile investors, bigger prize pools or something even bigger. The arms race was in somewhat of a standstill for a brief period of time, but there is no doubt that everyone is still working towards their pickleball version of a nuclear bomb.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at email@example.com. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook too!