Major League Pickleball merges with PPA’s week-old VIBE League

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Jorja Johnson of the Hard Eights celebrates a point with teammate Cierra Gaytan-Leach during the Major League Pickleball finals match against BLQK at Pickle & Chill on October 16, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio.

Emilee Chinn | Getty Images

Two rival pickleball leagues with big-time backers are joining forces.

Major League Pickleball and the Professional Pickleball Association’s new VIBE Pickleball League have agreed to merge, the organizations said Wednesday.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The combined league will continue to operate under the Major League Pickleball brand name and format as the rapidly growing sport surges in popularity.

“We have agreed to agreed to a strategic merger to unify the sport of pickleball as a global, co-ed, team-based league featuring the greatest players, biggest events, and visionary owners, MLP founder Steve Kuhn and PPA co-founder Tom Dundon said in a joint statement.

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Dundon, a private equity investor who owns the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, purchased the PPA and Pickleball Central in January.

PPA and MLP have operated independently, under different formats: PPA was focused on an individual format, while MLP featured co-ed teams. Last week, the PPA announced the creation of the VIBE Pickleball League with Mark Cuban as its first team owner. VIBE said it would be team focused and co-ed, similar to what Major League Pickleball has been doing.

The PPA features top players such as Ben Johns, Tyson McGuffin and Anna Leigh Waters. Its individual-competition operations will continue.

“Coming together as one team league allows us to build much bigger events, offer more prize money, enhance player development, pursue larger media and sponsorship deals and, most importantly, grow the game we all love,” the statement said.

Pickleball has seen explosive growth, and businesses and big-name celebrities want a piece of the action.

In recent months, MLP has announced dozens of high-profile investors, including NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and Tom Brady and Drew Brees of NFL fame. On Tuesday, the league announced Anheuser-Busch as the first Fortune 500 company to purchase an MLP team.

Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk have both made investments in Major League Pickleball.

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Talking about his investment in the sport in 2021, Lasry told Sports Business Journal: “I think you’re going to be shocked [by] where it is five years from now.”

Companies like Life Time Health Clubs are converting many of their tennis courts into pickleball courts and will begin hosting MLP tournaments. Other entrepreneurs are investing in multi-million dollar complexes.

Google searches for the sport are up more than 200% over the last five years, said equipment maker Selkirk.

“We are just getting started,” the leagues said in their joint statement Wednesday. “Today marks a real milestone in the evolution of pickleball. In a world desperate for more social connection and reasons to celebrate, we are so excited for this merger and what it means for our community and our beautiful sport.”

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