Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love headline the ownership group of a Major League Pickleball team. The athletes are joined by James’ business partner Maverick Carter, their family office LRMR Ventures, the investment firm SC Holdings, Relevent Sports Group co-owner and CEO Daniel Sillman, and SpringHill Company CMO Paul Rivera.
However, this is not the first time high-profile athletes have expressed interest in the MLP. In July, former NFL quarterback Drew Brees became the majority owner of the Austin, Texas Mad Drops.
Pickleball, invented in Washington state in 1965, is often described as the perfect combination of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton. It is a fast-paced sport based on quick hands and reflexes in which players use paddles to strategically hit a plastic wiffle ball back and forth over a net.
Maverick Carter, James’ longtime friend and business partner, shared that the group’s overall interest in the MLP came from playing pickleball together over the past couple of years: “When I started playing pickleball, I immediately connected with the sport’s community and its capacity to be both fun and competitive. To see the sport growing in communities all over is really exciting, and we’re looking forward to bringing our expertise together to try and build a championship team.”
The team that Lebron, Green, and Love’s ownership group purchased will be part of a four-team MLP expansion from 12 to 16 teams coming to the league next season. As such, the name of the team, where it will play, and other specific details are not currently available.
Anne Worcester, MLP’s strategic advisor, explained that the demand to own a pickleball team is increasing with more than 60 different ownership groups showing interest. As a result, MLP team values have skyrocketed since the league’s start in 2021, with team values now estimated to be in the seven-figure range.
MLP founder Steve Kuhn said last Wednesday in a news release: “Having SC Holdings, LRMR Ventures, and their incredible group as owners and investors in Major League Pickleball is not just great for [the league], it is a watershed moment for pickleball in general. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the country, building communities in cities and towns all over the world. This investment and the platform that this group provides will significantly help us with our goal to reach 40 million pickleball players by 2030.”
According to a 2022 Sports and Fitness Industry Association survey, pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in the US, with over 4.8 million players across the US in 2021, representing a 15% increase from 2020 and an average annual growth of 11.5% over the last five years. Pickleball shows impressive age diversity but is most popular among the 18-34 demographic, which makes up 28.8% of all US players. Currently, about 66 new places to play pickleball are opening up in the US every month in recreation centers, parks, schools, and more.
Due to this growth, the MLP announced that its players will compete in six tournaments held across the country in different US cities with prize money for those events exceeding more than $2 million in 2023. Meanwhile, the league has announced that at this year’s season finale, which will be held this upcoming weekend (October 14-16) in Columbus, Ohio, 48 players will compete for a $319,000 purse, which is the largest single-event purse in the history of professional pickleball, with the winning team netting $100,000. Students from the LeBron James Family Foundation’s I Promise school in Akron will be in attendance at the finale.
James, with a net worth of over $1 billion, has diversified his investments in recent years. Last year, James and Carter became partners in Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC of the English Premier League, and Roush Fenway Racing, among other properties. Now, James, Green, and Love are taking their (investment) talents to a different court with the hopes of sharing their knowledge and championship DNA with their MLP team.
 Photograph: https://www.majorleaguepickleball.net/
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