Lacy Schneemann of the Florida Smash returns a shot during a group play Major League Pickleball match against BLQK at Pickle & Chill in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2022.

Emilee Chinn | Getty Images

Major League Pickleball and the Professional Pickleball Association have completed their long-awaited merger agreement and infused new capital into the sport, the leagues announced Thursday.

The deal will unite the two largest pickleball organizations into a holding company, but the PPA Tour and MLP will retain their own distinct brands and formats. It wasn’t immediately clear what the new company will be named.

The agreement comes after months of drama, hostility and negotiations between the competing pickleball leagues as they now join forces to determine the future of professional pickleball.

The consolidation will also bring a $75 million investment from a group that includes private equity firm SC Holdings, D.C. Pickleball Team owner Al Tylis, PPA Tour owners Tom Dundon and the Pardoe Family as well as a roster of existing MLP team owners.

“Today is an exciting day for everyone involved or interested in the world of pickleball,” said PPA Tour founder and CEO Connor Pardoe. “MLP and the PPA Tour working as partners creates a sustainable, viable, and healthy ecosystem for all key participants in which the best players in the world can play in both of the thrilling pickleball formats, ensuring that we’re promoting the highest-quality, most exciting events.”

The merger will bring together more than 150 professional pickleball players, including many top-ranked players in the world. As part of the deal, the players have signed new multiyear contracts, with many of them set to participate in an expanded calendar that combines PPA Tour and MLP events throughout the year.

The PPA Tour features individual bracket-style tour, while MLP is a team-based format.

Combined payouts under the new unified organization are expected to increase nearly 250% this year compared to last year, according to the release.

Several players told CNBC after the closing of the merger was announced that they still haven’t been paid for past tournaments.

“I will believe it when they start paying,” one player said.

Zane Navratil, a player with MLP, told CNBC he was encouraged by recent progress.

“To say that the last 6 months or so have been a rocky road would be an enormous understatement. As somebody that has been critical of the PPA in the past, I’m really encouraged by the conversations that I’ve personally had with their leadership recently,” Navratil said. “I think that everybody in pickleball is ready for the fresh start that this provides.”

The combined organization is expected to be a boost to the professional sport, as it will provide players, fans and sponsors the benefits of a streamlined schedule.

“Commercially, this unification positions us to be even better partners, as sponsors, broadcast partners, venue operators, equipment manufacturers, and others will benefit from the combined, expanded 2024 schedule of PPA and MLP events,” said Bruce Popko, CEO of MLP.

It has been a bumpy ride. The merger agreement was first announced in September 2023 but was stalled after a bitter falling out between the two organizations that led to a competitive arms race for players.

In August, as the merger appeared to be in jeopardy, the leagues initiated an all-out spending spree to try and lure the top professionals to their respective leagues by offering them huge contracts. They were then forced to back track and ask players to take pay cuts, a result of their big spending.

In the weeks that followed, MLP underwent a major shake-up as its founder Steve Kuhn resigned and newly appointed CEO Julian DePietro and Commissioner Brooks Wiley both departed.

Don’t miss these stories from CNBC PRO:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *