Maybe you played it in middle school? Maybe you’ve seen people playing “mini tennis” on a public court near you? Pickleball has become one of the fastest growing sports phenomena in American sports, and it is now attracting huge amounts of money. You might be wondering what Pickleball is, how a 57-year-old sport is so hot now, or why you should care — and we’re here to answer those questions.
The spotlight was on Pickle Ball on Wednesday, When it was announced that LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love had teamed up to buy the professional team Pickleball To start competing in 2023, as part of the expansion of the MLP (Major League Pickelball) to 16 teams. The trio are, without a doubt, the most prominent MLP owners – and their participation will undoubtedly attract more people to the sport.
What is Pickleball?
Beginning in Washington in 1965, the pickleball was initially invented as a children’s tennis model. It is played on a court with similar markings to tennis, but less than a third in size, and much closer to badminton in its dimensions.
Instead of using traditional racquets and tennis balls, the sport initially used lightweight plastic or wooden paddles, but now professional players use carbon fiber racquets, and other advanced materials that balance strength and weight.
One area where the sport hasn’t changed much is the ball itself. We’re still looking at a simple, hollow plastic ball with holes in it – much like a wiffleball. The difference is significant when compared to a tennis ball, because it bounces much less due to less flexing. This, combined with the “no volleyball zones” on the field, means players have to wait for the ball to bounce, then use speed, agility and flexibility to make shots more like badminton than professional tennis.
Where is Pickleball played?
This is a point of contention largely at the moment. Some cities build dedicated public soccer fields, but for most players, they use tennis courts that are already available. This involves either lowering the net to 34 inches, and using rope or tape to mark new lines on the roof — or bringing in portable nets to transform the pitches.
This infuriated many tennis players. In early August, the police had to be called to the general courts in Ocean Beach, California – When disputes escalated between tennis players and pickle. Similar incidents were reported in other parts of the country as well, with players from both games getting hot to share space.
Pickleball players maintain that they should have free use of the pitches to play their game as well, especially considering that they use less space (thereby allowing more people to play at once). They believe that the game causes little impact, especially on the hard courts, and they believe that it introduces non-traditional players to racquet-based sports, which will naturally lead to increased interest in tennis as well.
Tennis players are less accepting of this. Not only do they have concerns about the playing surface being damaged by tape, ropes or temporary nets – but there are concerns about noise as well. The sound of the racket hitting a plastic ball makes a loud and distinctive noise compared to tennis. Some think this noise is a distraction, and in one case Portlanders have complained that custom pickleball pitches are ‘affecting their quality of life’ because of the noise.
Even Pickleball fans admit that noise from the game is a concern, and the game is trying to find solutions to mitigate these issues.
What is the Pickle Ball League?
There have been many attempts to start the Pickleball Professional League over the years, but the MLP is the most recent project. Starting in 2021, the MLP promised to offer regular player competition and prize money.
Teams consist of four players, two men and two women – with the lists organized by a snake draft. Teams will compete in singles, and the competition will be doubled into three different events in 2022. The hopes are that if these events are successful, they will be expanded further in 2023.
MLP is by no means the only current Pickleball competition. The Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) started in 2019 and is currently owned by Thomas Dundon, owner of TopGolf, and Carolina Hurricanes. The PPA prohibited its players from also competing in the MLP, which opened up competition between the two leagues.
How do I watch this?
As it stands, there are no broadcast rights currently owned by the MLP. The events and draft are broadcast on YouTube. There are hopes that the increased interest, combined with the participation of NBA players as team owners, may pick up the rights in the future.
The next event is scheduled to take place in Columbus, Ohio from October 14-16.