Major League Pickleball will debut in November, taking the fast-growing sport to new heights. Eight teams will be formed to play at Dreamland in Dripping Springs, Texas for a multi-day event that will feature competition in men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles. A prize pool of $150,000 will be offered and the league hopes to find a TV broadcast partner. Owners of the original eight teams include Discovery Land Company founder Mike Meldman, Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry and former professional tennis player James Blake.
Pickleball, a sport that has rapidly grown in popularity and garnered so much attention at private clubs across the country, is now turning professional, the Austin Business Journal reported. Major League Pickleball Inc. was announced September 21 and will debut with eight teams on November 5 at Dreamland in Dripping Springs, Texas.
Each team will consist of four players—two male and two female—and a player draft has been scheduled October 1 at the Professional Pickleball Association’s Texas Open Shootout in Rockwall, northeast of Dallas, the Business Journal reported.
Team owners include a notable array of Austin, Texas-area business leaders, including Charles Attal and Charlie Walker, co-founders of concert promoter C3 Presents; Silicon Labs co-founder and Chairman Navdeep Sooch; Clean Cause founder and CEO Wes Hurt; Parsley Energy founder and Austin FC minority owner Bryan Sheffield; and Discovery Land Company founder, Chairman and CEO Mike Meldman, the Business Journal reported. Other high-profile owners are author and lecturer Brené Brown and Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry, who will own a team with former professional tennis player James Blake.
Pickleball is similar to tennis but is played on a smaller court, with a solid paddle and a ball similar to a Wiffle ball, the Business Journal reported. It was invented in 1965 and initially gained popularity in retirement communities, but has caught fire in recent years among a broader audience: there were an estimated 4.2 million pickleball players in 2020, a 21% increase from 2019, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Austin-area pickleball ventures include a set of pickleball-themed restaurants, owned by a subsidiary of Eureka Restaurant Group, announced this summer and set to open by 2023, the Business Journal reported.
Major League Pickleball was created by Steve Kuhn, who owns both Dreamland and bottled water company Richard’s Rainwater, the Business Journal reported. Serial entrepreneur Mellie Price is president of the league. Price founded Purposeful Capital, is a partner at Notley and is an executive director at Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. She also co-founded Capital Factory and founded Front Gate Tickets, which was acquired by Live Nation in 2015. Live Nation also owns C3.
The new league kicks off with a multi-day event at Dreamland that will feature competition in men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles, the Business Journal reported. Matches are expected to be streamed on Major League Pickleball’s website; the league is also seeking a TV broadcast partner.
The carrot drawing top players to the sport is a $150,000 prize pool, which Price described as “the largest prize pool in pickleball history.” In addition to professional pickleball, the event is set to feature live music, food trucks and miniature golf, the Business Journal reported. The league will also be “running pickleball camps with some of these top players.”
For C3’s Walker, the pitch for a new pickleball league was an easy sell, the Business Journal reported. He was a fan of the sport already and described Price as “a trusted source of information for deals.”
“The first slide of the deck said Major League Pickleball. I said, ‘I’m in, I don’t need to see the rest of the deck,’” Walker joked.
Walker told the Business Journal his group bought in for “six figures” and that they do not plan to “flip a team for a quick hustle. We want to be involved and we want to watch it grow.”
“We love being in business with Mellie, we love live entertainment, and we love live sports,” he added.
The league has raised $825,0000 to date, Price told the Business Journal. It had raised $225,000 from three investors as of July 13, when Major League Pickleball filed fundraising paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Austin-based league is currently run by a five-person founding team, Price said.
Price told the Business Journal she fell in love with pickleball after selling her fourth startup, Front Gate Tickets, and was looking to get out of “a slump.”
“I had just gotten divorced,” she said. “I was just in a huge time of transition in my life. I wanted to move my body, meet new people, just try something new.”
One Saturday, she went to the Jewish Community Center and found a couple dozen people playing pickleball, theBusiness Journal reported.
“It’s infectious, it’s fun, you laugh,” Price said. “The fierceness of the competition sort of scales with your own level.”
Getting involved with Major League Pickleball was a welcome challenge for Price, the Business Journal reported.
“I’ve done a lot in tech and in software and it’s always about the creation of a product and finding product-market fit,” she said. “That can be a black art, and it can be an elusive thing to chase. Whereas with pickleball, people who know pickleball love pickleball, and they want more pickleball. … It’s more about making a dream come true than finding a needle in a haystack.”