Winners and Losers of Latest Tour Wars Battle Between the PPA and MLP

📸 @majorleaguepb

As player signing announcements continue to trickle in as part of the latest ‘Players Get Paid’ edition of the Tour Wars, there has finally been some time to breathe and reflect on the aftermath of an unprecedented influx of cash in the hands of pickleball players. As we said in our Johnson 5 column, we think the war is far from over, but there are inevitably winners and losers following this chapter of our story so we decided to recap them.

Winner: Team Pickleball

The consensus opinion from casual and hardcore observers of pro pickleball is that MLP came out ahead in this round against the PPA. The signings of the Johnson 5 solidified MLP’s status as an organization that included the significant majority of the top talent in pro pickleball. While the PPA retained a few of the bigger names outside of Anna Leigh Waters and Ben Johns, most notably the recently tennis retired Jack Sock, the biggest concern on the PPA side of things will be how little competition there the top two players in the world will face and what that means for their product going forward.

The choice by so many players to sign with MLP means that team based pickleball is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Rob Nunnery has probably been the biggest proponent of the pro pickleball needs to be a team sport bandwagon and it looks like we’ll get to see if that is true.

MLP’s road to get here has not been without some hurdles, including toying with the idea of going with primarily individual events last fall. But with fans of the two biggest individual sports in North America, golf and tennis, primarily focused primarily around the 4 major tournaments in a calendar year, MLP’s team concept provides an opportunity for more of a year long focus with all the storylines that come along with team sports.

We have always been two people who are generally unsure of the prospect of pickleball as a pro sport that is as viable as even something like Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States. As likely as it is that pro pickleball becomes the next pro beach volleyball or pro lacrosse, there is an outside chance it could sneak into the conversation of where MLS is currently.

MLP has separated itself from the PPA and APP as an event that offers unmatched energy and excitement along with unique storylines that only come from trying to construct a team around an individuality based sport. Interestingly, it sounds like MLP will have an even, or close to even, mix of team and individual events in 2024. With that in mind, it is unknown if that MLP energy is sustainable over the course of an entire year. Although the NFL’s shorter regular season consisting of 17 games allows football to maintain the high stakes energy for a full season, the grind of the long MLB, NBA and NHL regular seasons are often an afterthought for a lot of casual fans of those sports.

Whether an entire calendar year of team based pro pickleball is the way to go, it appears that we’ll have the opportunity to see if MLP can operate as a full service tour. That opportunity, in itself, is a major win for the idea of team based pro pickleball.

📸 @connor_pardoe

Loser: PPA Trust

With so much of the top talent in the game opting to sign with MLP over the PPA, often for 30% to 50% less money than what was offered by the PPA according to Florida Smash part-owner Graham DAmico, the lack of trust players had with the PPA became abundantly clear.

Even though most pros have not come out publicly with their negative feelings towards the PPA the way Zane Navratil has (deleted Pickle Pod not included), players who have stated anything publicly about the situation have been quick to acknowledge the level of trust they have for MLP and the relationships they have there.

When the PPA was first purchased by Tom Dundon at the start of 2022, they were undoubtedly the leader in the sport from a player relationship standpoint. Connor Pardoe had forged good relationships, especially with top players. Those relationships, and the perception from players that they wanted to be part of the premier tour in pro pickleball, helped propel them to signing the majority of the top talent at that time to exclusive deals.

However, the way the PPA initially went about signing players to exclusive deals during the Dundon takeover was likely the real start of the lack of trust that permeated the pro ranks over the past couple of weeks.

The PPA has never been shy about using high pressure tactics to sway players into choosing them over their competitors and, by all accounts, that strategy reached a breaking point with players during negotiations once MLP announced they had already signed players for 2024.

There’s a laundry list of items over the years one can point to as potential factors that may have led to the mistrust amongst the player pool – failing to distinguish between prize pools and appearance fees, preferential treatment to certain players, questionable draws, paddle testing transparency, not paying players, contractors and vendors on time (or sometimes not at all) and withdrawing offers made to players who lost leverage.

Players don’t forget things like being led to believe they would be able to play MLP prior to signing the exclusive contracts back at the start of 2022. Tyson McGuffin was the first player to publicly express his discontent with not being able to play in MLP last year and you have to wonder how he felt about the PPA despite generally being treated very well on the whole.

Right or wrong, the sentiment that we can infer from those players who went to MLP was not only were they unsure of aligning themselves for 3-years with an organization they trusted significantly less, but they also didn’t know it the hefty contracts being offered would be honored. It’s really quite straightforward when JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier are reportedly leaving literal millions of dollars on the table.

The way the PPA handled the feeling of being backed into a corner in this round of negotiations does not appear to have assisted in alleviating player concerns. The same high pressure tactics used in the past were less effective in circumstances where the PPA was in desperation mode without as much leverage. The PPA announcing Riley Newman as a signed PPA player before actually being signed was the most embarrassing public misstep on the PPAs side of things. However, the Newman situation is only one public instance that highlights the PPA’s general approach that players may have been getting tired of.

As much as Connor Pardoe may have wanted to tell the new MLP signees to take a hike for 2023, it would have been a bad look to do what so many expected the PPA to do and prohibit MLP players from attending the remainder of 2023 events. Same goes for the PPA’s committed players and whether they will be prevented from playing season 2 of MLP. Ben Johns playing in a recent Wrigley Field MLP on Tuesday night is a good indication PPA players will be in Atlanta in a few weeks for the first MLP event of season 2.

So it is going to be business as usual on the PPA Tour for the time being. It will be interesting if we see any change in the PPA’s approach following this chapter as it is clear their more cutthroat way of doing business put them behind the eight ball this time around in spite of the advantages it had given them over their competitors previously.

Regaining the trust of the entire player pool will likely prove be crucial for the PPA if they want to represent themselves as the premier organization in pro pickleball.

📸 @ppatour

Winner: Pro Tennis Players

It is a no brainer to say that a big winner from the latest chapter of the Tour Wars have been pro pickleball players on the whole. Stars are getting paid tax bracket changing money and the lower to mid-tier players are making an amount where they don’t have to supplement their income in other ways. However, the weird group of winners in this situation has been pro tennis players.

With the exodus of players from the PPA over to MLP, the PPA has been offering up bags of cash to a variety of those players and those bags were extended to former and current pro tennis players with a very limited pickleball background. The Jack Sock signing was a real win for the PPA and it is not surprising Querrey went that direction as well considering he went undrafted in the season 2 MLP draft.

Then, on Thursday, the PPA announced the signing of former top 10 player and major finalist, Genie Bouchard. These are real tennis players with real followings getting real big money. Another familiar name who got a contract was Donald Young and you have to think the newly retired, John Isner, might be getting one himself.

The PPA has had to take what they could get and it would appear the tennis player signings are bets that one or two of them can turn into stars for the sport and possibly be a gateway for other well known tennis pros to join at a later time. The PPA has also not been shy about signing players with any high level tennis background to contracts. It’s a potentially clever pivot in strategy on their part as it represents an edge that MLP can’t offer with the quality of play and dedication level of players like Bouchard and Young being so unknown right now.

Regardless of the reason for the PPA putting together the best team of tennis pickleball players that money can buy, it is a good time to be a pro tennis player transitioning to pickleball.

Loser: Billionaire Pocketbooks

For both the PPA and MLP, the billionaires involved on both sides are paying a lot more money to players than they ever could have anticipated at the start of the year. MLP probably has money stowed away with all the new teams and investors in the league from last year, but using that money for players instead of other growth opportunities cannot be what they wanted.

The PPA is not in the same position of MLP being flush with cash from team investors and who knows if they can convince anyone to pay real money for a Vibe franchise. The PPA is only profitable with their adjacent amateur investments – Pickleball Central and Pickleball Brackets/Tournaments software. Like MLP, the PPA is losing money running their pro events so you have to ask what position it puts both them and MLP in by spending an excessive amount of money on pro players in 2024. Pro pickleball is a long-term investment and it is evident that these very rich people will have to swallow more risk if they want to reap the benefits of their investment in a silly game.

An additional consideration is that 3 years for some these contracts is a long time and it is quite likely a good chunk of the players who signed longer term deals are going to be irrelevant by the end of their contract. This would mean the entities will be paying irrelevant players a lot of money to either not play or be irrelevant in whatever the tours look like at that time. It should be mentioned that the more recent PPA deals are for a shorter term, usually just 1-year. While the longer contracts may not be a Bobby Bonilla length of time, these contracts are already a sunk cost for the tours.

Losers: Pickleball Fans in the Short Term

Unless something changes, there is going to be a divide of the top talent in pro pickleball. In this divide of players, there is also clearly a divide in fans who prefer the tour model over the team concept and vice versa so both sides not being able to get the absolute best product for their favored model is a loss.

There is a world in which the failed merger is a long-term benefit to the sport, possibly allowing one entity to come out on top and ensure that the professional side of the sport is secure without the on and off in-fighting that has dominated the past almost 2 years on and off. That’s a pretty big if, though. Even it does end up better in the long run, fans are still the losers for the immediate future, assuming nothing changes before the start of 2024.

Winner: Pickleball Pros

This is such an obvious one, but we had to stick it towards the end because no one is a bigger winner than pro players. Even if there is still the possibility that the growth of the sport stagnated and one or both of these entities are unable to 100% honor contracts that have been signed, the fact is that players are getting paid at this moment.

Both the PPA and MLP are going to be paying a larger than expected number of fringe “pros” to play pickleball full-time, no strings attached. The upper-middle and above tier of players are also making bank as they are suddenly guaranteed more money than most Americans earn over an entire decade. Their agents have to be just as es ecstatic as well.

It has to suck for players that are on the fringe of pro that did not get paid. There’s very little difference right now on paper between a PPA signed Aanik Lohani or unsigned Michael Lloyd, but some players are inevitably going to be left behind.

Whether this type of money is on the horizon for new or unsigned players who breakthrough the fringe tier remains a mystery. However, that doesn’t matter for the current pros, who come out literally laughing all the way to the bank as we head into 2024.

Winner: Lawyers

When is it not the lawyers who win when there are disputes? Surely, MLP and the PPA have been scrambling to get contracts together along with getting on the fly legal advice with respect to the ramifications for the actions that have been taken. All of that means lots of work for lawyers on retainer for the entities, particularly if we see a lawsuit get filed somewhere down the line.

📸 Dan Beeman

Winner??? The Association of Pickleball Players (APP)

We can’t forget about the APP in all of this. Having fallen out of the main scope of pro pickleball since the PPA-MLP merger, the APP has been hanging around. Even if there appears to be a lack of direction and some questionable decision-making, the APP has been lurking in the shadows for their opportunity.

That opportunity may be right now. Steve Kuhn was seen at the APP Chicago last weekend talking with the everyman leader of the APP, Ken Hermann. We don’t have any information if the discussions were anything beyond due diligence on the part of MLP or part of a ploy to show the PPA that they have options.

Most of the gold card PPA players turned MLP signees are in Cincinnati this weekend, but we have no idea if that will continue for the remainder of the year. If MLP pros bail on the PPA or are prohibited from attending PPA events, the APP could be a great place for those players to keep getting reps.

A lot of the top APP stalwarts signed contracts with MLP and there may be a place for the APP in pro pickleball as a feeder system, whether that’s what they want to be or not. With MLP planning to run individual events next year, the APP could be a useful resource for them to assist in running these events. Thursday was an announcement day of sorts in pro pickleball as the APP released their 2024 schedule, which apparently includes significantly increased prize money at their major events.

There is something to be said to be running a solid (maybe not operating in the red?) business that isn’t throwing around 7 figures to pro players. It also means they might not be as desperate to strike a deal as their immediate viability is not dependent on any other entity. At some point, the APP will have to decide what fork in the road they are going to take. For now, they can bide their time and it could end up with them as the most unexpected winner of this Tour Wars chapter. However, that is still to be determined.

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at nmlpickleball@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Threads and Facebook. Also, listen and subscribe to our podcast on Apple, Spotify and YouTube!

34 thoughts on “Winners and Losers of Latest Tour Wars Battle Between the PPA and MLP

  • September 7, 2023 at 9:24 pm
    Permalink

    My biggest problem with MLP is I never know when, where and if I can watch it. I have text from PPA every week alerting me to their event. Times, channels and matches. They keep me in the loop. MPL, not a word.

    Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 4:53 pm
      Permalink

      This continues to be a problem for them and how hard it is to follow and keep track of all the teams

      Reply
  • September 7, 2023 at 10:07 pm
    Permalink

    Two other possible winners are US Open and USAP Nationals. PPA wouldn’t let pros play in US Open. But MLP might not have that restriction with the new owners of US Open. Of course, a lot of pros don’t care anything about the US Open anyway but that could also change with the new owners. USAP Nationals wouldn’t have had PPA pros this year if USAP and PPA hadn’t struck a deal. It’ll be interesting if that deal extends past 2023 and if PPA would have the authority to exclude MLP players. It sounds like MLP will allow their players to play in other tournaments with a cut of the prize money. Then finally there’s the 2028 Olympics. If there is an exhibition, would a team format be more entertaining for viewers. And do both MLP and VIBE provide the teams or just one of them.

    Reply
  • September 7, 2023 at 11:31 pm
    Permalink

    Thank you for your time and posting. Yep, I can hear it now. “I don’t understand it, we treated all the players like we treat the rest of our employees”. / So, the PPA had to go into a pool of athletes who knew nothing about their tactics, dishonesty, and zero ethics. Pretty stinking interesting. Let us see what happens to ‘these’ players after their contracts are up. Stay or Nay. And it’s not a strategy for picking tennis players, it’s desperation. / As far as a short-term loss for us? I don’t think so. The sport was/is already totally screwed up with two or three different sets of rules alone. / The PPA has been leaving players behind and dumped since their conception. What’s the difference now? IMHO (that’s humbled :), this was a one-step-back and three-steps forward for the sport scenario. Great information as always, thanks again.

    Side Note: Players’ Union hopefully in the next few years. 🙂

    5
    4
    Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 4:54 pm
      Permalink

      It is desperation but we think it is also a shrewd desperation move

      Reply
  • September 8, 2023 at 4:36 am
    Permalink

    I think PPA is actually making the right move signing tennis players in the short term. The PPA has the ability to legitimize almost any player having Ben and Anna on tour. The PPA also has a better chance of getting tv deals as they have been with all of the pro tennis players with big names. The most viewed pickleball matches include tennis players. MLP has big names if you are one of the few thousand people that actually follows pro pickleball…

    Also, hard to get behind MLP when the entire idea of it is changing the game to rally scoring and team based. I don’t like that for recreational pickleball so i don’t want to see it in pros.

    2
    2
    Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 8:24 am
      Permalink

      No question signing the tennis players is the right move. They become excellent pickleball players very quickly. Look at Quang Duong — that kid will be killing it in 6 months. Players like Bright/Iggy/Staksrud/Tellez/ are all extremely minor tennis talents who become good pickleball players quickly. College tennis kids like Colin Shick should be included in this vast and easily accessible talent pool.

      It’s an easy conclusion to reach: tennis players are a commodity. Sign enough of them, and you’ll replace all the talent that is leaving and then some, all in a relatively short amount of time. In 12 months, the PPA could be fielding more and better talent than is on display in Cincy right now, even given all the departures.

      Yes, we the fans are the losers in the short term, but replacing the talent going to MLP is not the question for the PPA. Nor is it about the money — the PPA has all the TV deals, they have all the sponsorships, they have all the players TV cares about, and they have a profitable side business.

      The only thing the PPA lacks is a good reputation amongst all their players. It seems they’re doing better in recent years, based on clear messages from Iggy, Anna Bright, etc, but based on complaints from players like Zane/BLong, it also seems they have screwed the pooch in the past and have plenty of room for improvement.
      You can be sure the new signees are aware of the PPA’s past and will be keeping both eyes open. We’ll see if the PPA can improve their rep over time, or if failing to do so prevents them from playing a meaningful role in the future of pro pickleball.

      Reply
      • September 8, 2023 at 9:16 am
        Permalink

        Great piece above. I agree with the tennis player aspect and having a deep field with known tennis players will pitch better to television than a ton on completely unknown MLP guys(outside of top pros). It’s interesting to see the people complaining are almost all mid tier players with big personalities, which probably means they get butt hurt by not being treated like stars. Clearly the case after Zane’s video.

        I think the MLP is relying way to heavily on investors pockets and are going to struggle to get the investments back. None of the investors are true pickleheads. If they don’t see returns fast or pro pickleball doesn’t pick up they are going to pull and run.

        2
        1
        Reply
        • September 8, 2023 at 4:56 pm
          Permalink

          Both sides are going to struggle to get investments back is the reality

          Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 4:54 pm
      Permalink

      We agree with this. It’s a good pivot for them and gives them an edge compared to what anyone else is doing.

      Reply
  • September 8, 2023 at 6:29 am
    Permalink

    Great article. IMO – The PPA & MLP had 10 months to ink the “merger” deal. I have been apart of many “mergers” and what has happened indicates to me that the PPA never wanted to merge but only wanted to strengthen their position and dominate the MLP. The deadline to sign the deal passed and MLP went to work. MLP is the innovative disruptor versus the PPA being a tennis clone. The future for MLP is bright. It is obvious that the PPA underestimated “relationship and trust” factor when dealing with highly talented people that are the drivers in their business. Removing BJohns and ALW from the players pool will be good for pickleball. They were dominating and making Pickle really boring to watch- just ask any advertiser running an ad for a SuperBowl and the score is 50-0 before half time. Drama and competition drives eyeballs to the sport more than anything. We love a good story….let’s see how this one unfolds over the next few years.

    4
    1
    Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 4:55 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks. This is something we brought up in a previous article about the merger and it takes two to tango. Why so long? Probably both sides not giving as much as the other one wanted

      Reply
  • September 8, 2023 at 5:56 pm
    Permalink

    I think NML and Fred are right about tennis player signings impact long term. The talk at my courts all week has been about the US Open — tennis. I’m not sure anyone even knows about PPA/MLP “warring”.

    Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 11:08 pm
      Permalink

      This is so true. People aren’t talking about this other than hardcores

      Reply
  • September 8, 2023 at 6:52 pm
    Permalink

    Regarding: “Even though most pros have not come out publicly with their negative feelings towards the PPA the way Zane Navratil has (deleted Pickle Pod not included) …”

    I can’t find the Zane comments (no instagram and the referenced podcast has apparently been deleted). If anybody has a link, or is willing to summarize what Zane said or wrote, I’d appreciate it. He seems like a pretty level-head former student and practitioner of accountancy, so his opinions are probably well considered.

    I thought everyone was negative about the PPA. Just before the tour hostilities came to light, Waggish quoted Tyler Loong as saying something that might be included in a future documentary about the PPA (or pro pb generally), which I assumed was a negativity on Loong’s part. But maybe not — his KOTC podcast, as others have noted, is radically pro-PPA. Listening to the podcast, I wondered why he was kissing PPA derrieres, and getting sick about lesser-known pb players getting paid (because of the odd markets forces at play).

    Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 7:14 pm
      Permalink

      P.S. I used to like Loong back when he would shutup and ernie, but his recent corporate obsequiousness has left me disillusioned.

      ————————-
      Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
      Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
      Good and bad, I define these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow
      Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now.
      ————————-

      Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 7:32 pm
      Permalink

      Old: Here is the link to Zane’s YT video – about 9 minutes long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Igy-5NsZXY
      Loong is planning on having Connor on his podcast. They recorded him once but could never release it because everything changed with MLP war. I think that will show the amount of his bias. In the first of his podcasts, he did seem to think there were some things PPA did that should come to light in a documentary. But PPA seems to have slapped his hand and so he is softer on them now.
      In Dylan’s latest podcast, Dylan mentioned telling his story. I surely hope that happens! Here is the link to it: https://youtu.be/RM1p-ZB_eSY?si=DOtaPgBlJa37sdrM&t=150 Probably covers his side for about 5 or 10 minutes here before they move on to other things.

      Reply
      • September 8, 2023 at 11:10 pm
        Permalink

        We just had our podcast with Zane released

        2
        1
        Reply
    • September 8, 2023 at 11:09 pm
      Permalink

      We just had Zane on our podcast and released the episode. Take a listen and share!

      2
      1
      Reply
  • September 8, 2023 at 8:12 pm
    Permalink

    Old: Here is the link to Zane’s YT video – about 9 minutes long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Igy-5NsZXY
    Loong is planning on having Connor on his podcast. They recorded him once but could never release it because everything changed with MLP war. I think that will show the amount of his bias. In the first of his podcasts, he did seem to think there were some things PPA did that should come to light in a documentary. But PPA seems to have slapped his hand and so he is softer on them now.
    In Dylan’s latest podcast, Dylan mentioned telling his story. I surely hope that happens! Here is the link to it: https://youtu.be/RM1p-ZB_eSY?si=DOtaPgBlJa37sdrM&t=150 Probably covers his side for about 5 or 10 minutes here before they move on to other things.

    Reply
    • September 12, 2023 at 6:54 am
      Permalink

      I found it fascinating that Zane thinks the “war” is only about 10% over. And that none of them thought the state would last even until the end of 2024. Very different cultures so I don’t see a compromise lasting if there is one.

      Reply
      • September 12, 2023 at 9:39 am
        Permalink

        This next step will be very interesting but it’s clear we really don’t know what is going on.

        Reply
    • September 12, 2023 at 9:38 am
      Permalink

      We haven’t heard all that much. People keeping things pretty quiet. Sounds like something should be happening at some point but still discussions going on.

      Reply
  • September 12, 2023 at 9:17 am
    Permalink

    I like both team play and individual draw tournaments, and believe they can coexist but am bewildered by the emotions on both sides being represented as facts.

    It is great that it sounds like pickleball pros are going to be paid BUT it is unsustainable without substantial revenues coming into the sport. Baseball, football, basketball etc can all pay huge salaries due to TV contracts; sponsors pay high dollars due to exposure for their brand – if no one is watching the $ dry up.

    It doesn’t matter if you like Ben Johns or Anna Leigh, every successful sport has stars – people watch stars and when they aren’t there, the casual fan won’t turn in. Do more people watch tennis when the stars play (Nadal, Federer or Djokovich) are playing – of course. Look at viewers for the World Series when you have the Yankees or Dodgers vs small market teams; its not even close. For the MLP to be successful, they will have to have 3-4 dominant teams, and the rest will be “challengers” and win here or there but if there is no dominance, no number one or two, the general public (not diehards like on this site) will not be interested.

    Sure, the MLP team events are exciting, but how many “stars” have they have produced? On the men’s side we talk today about Tyson, Federico, JW, and Dylan as “stars” but that is based on PPA performance not MLP. I get that Zane and a whole lot of other people don’t like the PPA, but everyone who has a reputation today made it in the PPA or APP (other then Julian).

    I just hope a couple years from now, we have financially healthy professional pickleball options to choose from.

    Reply
    • September 12, 2023 at 9:44 am
      Permalink

      We don’t think anyone disagrees that this isn’t sustainable. Both sides know it isn’t sustainable. We also agree that you need stars, but you generally want starts that have competition. Novak Djokovic isn’t the big draw when Carlos Alcaraz isn’t facing him this year. Federer was on his way to being a machine winning that people weren’t that excited about but fortunately Nadal came along. LeBron doesn’t win every single year. It is one thing to be dominant, but you have to have some parity amidst that dominance. Hopefully this doesn’t torpedo the ability for pro pickleball to be successful over the course of the next couple of years.

      Reply
  • September 13, 2023 at 8:18 am
    Permalink

    Well, things don’t stay the same long in the world of pickleball. It will be interesting to see what this merger entails.

    Reply
    • September 13, 2023 at 8:33 am
      Permalink

      Merger? That’s so 5 minutes ago
      NML is already working on the article for the next breakup 😉

      Reply
      • September 13, 2023 at 4:31 pm
        Permalink

        Hahahaa that would be a helluva prediction

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *