Mega Pickleball Merger Hangs by a Thread

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In a surprising turn of events, the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and Major League Pickleball (MLP) are locked in a tense standoff, this comes after their announcement last November of a proposed merger to combine their team competition leagues. The PPA has expressed frustration, claiming that the MLP has yet to sign the partnership deal they initially agreed to verbally almost a year ago. The deal was to see PPA owner Tom Dundon and MLP owner Steve Kuhn operate the merged league under the MLP brand name and format, however, the specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed at the time.

This conflict arises amidst a period of robust growth for the MLP, which has seen the emergence of new high-profile ownership groups, rising team valuations, and an influx of new sponsorships and media deals within the past year. Adding more fuel to the fire, the MLP announced on Thursday that it has begun to sign top players to multi-year, guaranteed contracts, offering players an off-season and enhanced financial security. This move, according to Kuhn, aims to elevate the sport and make the league more valuable, potentially putting the PPA on the back foot.

Professional Pickleball Association and Major League Pickleball at Odds Over Partnership Agreement

Unsettled Agreement Leads to Tensions

The Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and Major League Pickleball (MLP) are currently in a disagreement following an announcement last November that they would merge their team competition leagues. According to a report by CNBC, the PPA claims that MLP has yet to sign the partnership agreement they had verbally consented to about 10 months ago. The agreement involved PPA owner Tom Dundon and MLP owner Steve Kuhn uniting their respective leagues under the MLP brand name and format. However, the specifics of the agreement were not disclosed.

Allegations of Misrepresentation and Player Poaching

CEO of PPA Tour, Connor Pardoe, expressed uncertainty over Kuhn’s motives since the inception of the agreement. Pardoe mentioned the possibility of Kuhn leading PPA on to gain access to their player roster and subsequently solidify MLP’s standing in the pickleball world. Pardoe also alleged that MLP executives have recently ceased communication and were attempting to entice PPA players with lucrative offers. If MLP improperly poaches players, PPA may consider legal action. Kuhn, on the other hand, countered these claims by stating that there were "numerous misrepresentations of reality" without providing further details.

MLP’s Player-Centric Approach

MLP recently revealed that it has started signing top players to multi-year contracts that guarantee financial stability and a designated off-season. Kuhn expressed his enthusiasm towards these developments, stating that this would make MLP more valuable and improve the lives of the players. He also mentioned that these advancements would help elevate and grow the sport. Kuhn expressed willingness to discuss alignment with the PPA, provided the latter is open to increasing player remuneration.

MLP’s Continued Growth Amidst Tensions

Despite the ongoing conflict, MLP has experienced significant growth over the last year. This includes the acquisition of new high-profile ownership groups, increased team valuations, and new sponsorship and media deals. In July, MLP announced the appointment of Julio DePietro as its new CEO, succeeding Zubin Mehta, who resigned from the board.

A Complicated Relationship

The relationship between the competing leagues, PPA and MLP, has always been complex. The PPA has traditionally acted as a tour-style league featuring the world’s best players. Two years ago, Kuhn introduced a team-style format to pickleball, leading both leagues to operate independently since then.

My Takeaways

This ongoing disagreement between PPA and MLP highlights the complexities and challenges of merging competitive leagues, especially in a rapidly growing sport like pickleball. The scenario also underscores the importance of clear communication and transparency in forging partnerships. The allegations of player poaching bring forth the issue of player rights and compensation, which is crucial in any sport. It remains to be seen how this dispute will impact the future growth and development of pickleball as a professional sport.

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