There was a lot happeninf this past weekend with the MLP draft and 4 days of extreme pickleball. Well, maybe it wasn’t extreme but some of the results definitely were. We have our 5 takeaways from the PPA Texas Open.
1. Withdrawals (Slim) – Friday’s mixed doubles day saw Ben Johns and Simone Jardim lose their winners bracket semi-final to Tyson McGuffin and Callie Smith, and then promptly withdraw from their first loser’s bracket match. Seeing as both players continued to play Saturday and Sunday, and both won golds, it appears they were both healthy and able to compete at a high level. We do have to wonder if perhaps Ben was suffering from some backdrawitis? We know many players have suffered from this affliction in singles, but we have to ask if this is starting to spread to the other events, especially among those players earning appearance fees?
I’m very curious as to how the PPA feels when some of their top players, earning some of their largest appearance fees, don’t feel the need to play out the day? I have a sneaky suspicion that if Ben and Simone were not being paid appearance fees, but instead that money was in the general prize pool, and if there was substantial money on the line for bronze or even fourth place, they would have played the day out, instead they decided simply to go home. The official excuse for Ben was he had an exam, but he surely would have kept playing the day out if still on the winner’s side.
It also leads us to wonder what is going on with Ben and Simone, as last weekend in Vegas they pulled out of the mixed event completely, and then this weekend they pulled out of the backdraw. (Sidenote: do players still get their full appearance fee when they completely pull out of an event?)
2. MLP is Cool (Gritty) – We had a lot of draft coverage for MLP with our beastly mock draft and then draft grades following the draft. Both of us have been very into this concept from the get go and this weekend’s draft did nothing to dissuade that opinion. The coverage itself was pretty damn good for a first draft with my only real criticism being to cut down on the length of the player interviews during the draft. 2 minutes was a good length for time between picks and the broadcast felt like a real draft, even if on a much, much smaller scale.
The thing about drafts is that they lead to a lot of chatter about who should have been picked where, how the players fit with each other and what team is going to win. But the best part of the whole process is none of the discussion matters! The unpredictable nature of sports will decide who was right and people will forget about all of it until the next one rolls around. Here’s to what will hopefully be a really fun, unique event prior to Nationals in November.
3. Scott Moore Appreciation (Slim) – The Senior Open division appears to be one that should really favor the “young”. Between a new crop of freshly eligible players each year, and the general influx of talent the pickleball world, it would not seem like a division made for staying power, especially as a player starts to push close to 60. Scott Moore, however appears to be doing his best to fight father time and prove us wrong. In his 59 year old season, this year, Scott is still playing a crazy number of tournaments, and he is making the podium more often then not in those tournaments. This weekend, it was him picking up a gold medal in the mixed doubles with Eva Welsher, who is having an outstanding year in her own right.
At a time when we are seeing many, even younger, early legends of the game, get passed by, Scott’s staying power, is very impressive. Scott probably owes this staying power, to an intense dedication to fitness and an absolute will to win, and we should appreciate it, while it lasts.
4. Rob’s Run (Gritty) – It was the weekend of the Rob’s. On the heels of being the final selection in the Major League Pickleball (MLP) mock draft, Rob Nunnery showed he more than belonged in the top 16 selections with his men’s performance over the weekend. Rob Cassidy, who went undrafted, has played a bunch with Nunnery this year. Their best results have mostly come at the not as deep APP fields. However, at a major PPA event, the Rob’s were able to string together enough wins to get them to a Championship Sunday final.
The pair no doubt benefitted from a couple of upsets on their side of the draw after Frazier/Yates took down Deviliers/Smith and Koller/Wilson beat Newman/McGuffin. They still had to win the matches against those teams though and they were able to do that. Cassidy’s kamikaze style is always a sight to behold and Nunnery cannot be a fun guy to play against with his strong hands as well as ability to attack from seemingly nowhere. Nunnery has said something to the effect of teams don’t want to see him and Cassidy in the early rounds and I wholeheartedly agree. Rob Cassidy was drafted as the last choice in our mock draft but he was someone right on the fence as to whether he would be drafted. That’s no slight on Cassidy with the amount of talent that is in men’s pickleball currently. To be in the conversation is impressive in itself, especially as he is one of those few players competing at the highest level without the traditional racket sports background.
5. Fox Sports Frustration (Gritty) – There has been a lot of hype from the PPA about their new partnership with Fox Sports. However, it was very unclear to me from the date this partnership with Fox was announced where exactly pickleball would be shown on Fox. Fox has multiple channels (big Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2) and their own app similar to ESPN where you can watch sports. Leading up to the Texas Open, all over social media there was hype about Championship Sunday being shown on Fox Sports. Fox Sports! Sounds big and spectacular!
However, singles Thursday started with some odd messaging to say the least. The Facebook and Youtube stream was on a one match delay that the PPA said in the comments the delay was directed by Fox Sports to ensure better quality streaming due to connection issues with the venue. The pro draws were made unaviable from Pickleball Tournaments seemingly to get people to watch the streams. Fans were not happy about this on the Facebook and the Youtube for obvious reasons. Magically, the venue connection issues were resolved on Friday and there were no streaming delays on Facebook and Youtube for the rest of the weekend.
Up until Saturday, it still was not clear where the Sunday matches would be shown and which matches would even be shown on Fox. After the mixed day on Friday, Tyson McGuffin and Callie Smith, who will both be contracted PPA players in 2022, were announcing that you could catch their mixed final on Fox Sports. Later on Friday, the PPA posted on Facebook that the mixed final would be streamed on Facebook and Youtube.
It was eventually announced that Championship Sunday would be shown on Fox Sports 2, except that coverage would not start until 6 pm EST. It was very late in the game for it to become apparent that matches would not be shown live on Fox Sports and only 3 of the 5 Sunday matches would be on Fox Sports 2 – the mixed and women’s singles finals were not on Fox. Considering the amount of hype that was being built up for this partnership, it was a definite let down, albeit not a surprising one from where I stand. We still have no idea if this will be the norm, but that’s a lot of hype only to ultimately have only some of the Championship matches shown on Fox Sports 2 on tape delay.
The PPA loves to announce these TV deals as some big thing and I have been vocal about my skepticism about the benefit these deals provide. Outside of being able to say “Pickleball is on TV!” and the players getting to announce “Pickleball is on TV!”, the benefits appear negligible/. All of this Fox Sports, Fox Sports, Fox Sports, for it to then be 3 tape delayed matches on Fox Sports 2 is a whomp whomp feeling for me. It’s highly doubtful to me that there are many additional eyeballs on pickleball as a result of these TV deals or that current and actual sponsors simply hand over cash because they hear Fox Sports or ESPN. Nielsen ratings show that in 2021 Fox Sports 2 programing average viewership ranges from 12,000 to 20,000 people, and that’s not even digging deep into what numbers look like on Sunday afternoon and evening during football season.
I guess I’m just kind of tired and frustrated at all these announcements for TV type deals for pickleball. I think it bothers me (probably more than it should) because it feels so representative of the current Instagram culture we live in about trying to put out this image to the public that is not reality. I feel like we’re being misled when such limited information is being provided and then when the reality hits, it is inevitably disappointing. There has to be better uses of the likely serious money that is being thrown at these TV deals, most notable in that category being more prize money for players.
Fantasy Update: Gritty’s big comeback began this weekend with a narrow 14-13 win over Slim. Slim dominated the singles choices but there were too many upsets on the doubles side for him to overcome. Slim is still 3 up on the year as we head into the final stretch of 2021.
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