Over the past four years, pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in America, with nearly five million playing. Pickleball began in 1965 when families on Washington’s Bainbridge Island created the game to entertain their children. It has grown in great popularity and now hundreds of tournaments are played annually. The growth is continuing right here in Arizona.
MLP by Margaritaville (MLP) announced today new ownership groups for its expanded 24-team league. The owners join the league as it approaches a transformative year bringing expertise and experience across entertainment, media, and sports.
From Super Bowl Champion Patrick Mahomes to 4-time tennis Grand Slam Champion Naomi Osaka, from supermodel and cultural icon Heidi Klum to award-winning actress Eva Longoria, from World Cup Champion Mesut Ӧzil to NBA game-changer Jeremy Lin, from tennis Hall of Famer Chris Evert to “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin – the new owners bring an array of experience that is unrivaled in professional sports ownership.
“The diversity in the backgrounds and expertise of our fantastic new owners is an incredible asset as we aggressively expand Major League Pickleball to reach more fans than ever,” said MLP by Margaritaville Interim CEO Brian Levine. “We always say pickleball brings people together, and this roster of leaders from across a wide variety of industries is a strong testament to that philosophy.”
The owners selected their teams on Monday in the MLP Challenger Level draft with full rosters, team names, and locations revealed today.
In 2023, these 12 teams will compete in the Challenger Level in the first half of the year and switch to the Premier Level in the second half – the previously-announced group of 12 teams will start in the Premier Level and switch to the Challenger Level on the same timeline. All 24 teams start on equal footing in 2023 and will be fighting for pole position for the 2024 season, which will bring a promotion and relegation system to major U.S. sports for the first time.
With the expansion to 24 teams, MLP is offering up to $5 million in prize money and payouts to its players in 2023.
With the first pick of the Challenger Level draft, the D.C. Pickleball Club, owned in part by Eva Longoria, Mesut Ӧzil, Kate Upton and Justin Verlander, selected Sam Querrey. Querrey, who recently retired from professional tennis after winning 10 ATP Tour titles and reaching a Wimbledon semifinal, will start his journey into pro pickleball with MLP.
Larry Fitzgerald and Devin Booker are among the ownership group of the Arizona club will is named AZ Drive and is divided into 10 owners.
The full Challenger Level team names, rosters and owners are as follows:
Roster: Wes Burrows, Sarah Ansboury, Andreas Siljestrom, and Sarah Burr
Team Owners: Larry Fitzgerald, Devin Booker, Dierks Bentley, Robert Gary, Doug Hirsch, Sheila Gulati, John Merwin, Sam Frakes, Mark Dalton, and Richard J. Schnall
Roster: Hunter Johnson, Brooke Buckner, Ben Newell, and Christine McGrath
Team Owners: Anheuser-Busch
Bay Area Breakers
Roster: Pablo Tellez, Ewa Radzikowska, Christian Alshon, and Rachel Summers
Team Owners: Jeremy Lin, Mimi Mercado, David Mercado, Geoff Nguyen, Stacey Nishi, Jeff Nishi, Wayley Louie, and Kathleen Louie
Roster: Cierra Gaytan-Leach, Rob Nunnery, Corinne Carr, and Greg Dow
Team Owners: Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s 35V
Roster: Susannah Barr, Emily Ackerman, Connor Garnett, Ryler DeHeart
Team Owners: Ron Saslow’s 35 Capital, Heidi Klum, Tom Ricketts, David Justice, Doug Ellin, Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport, Tracy Austin, Gigi Fernández, David Dobrik, Joe Bonamassa, Ted Foxman, and Steve Bellamy
Columbus Pickleball Club
Roster: Milan Rane, Becky Ryan, Yates Johnson, and CJ Klinger
Team Owners: David Kass, Doug Ulman
Dallas Pickleball Club
Roster: Megan Fudge, Chuck Taylor, Brandon French, and Christa Gecheva
Team Owners: Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki, John Isner, Robert Herjavec, Chandler Parsons, and Todd Wagner
D.C. Pickleball Team
Roster: Sam Querrey, Stefan Auvergne, Shelby Bates, and Monica Paolicelli
Team Owners: Al Tylis, Sam Porter, Eva Longoria, Justin Verlander, Mesut Ӧzil, Kate Upton, Shawn Marion, and Rip Hamilton
Miami Pickleball Club
Roster: Alix Truong, Regina Franco, Jeff Warnick, and Matt Manasse
Team Owners: Naomi Osaka, Nick Kyrgios, Patrick Mahomes, Rich Paul, Darius Garland, Mardy Fish and Alex Davis at Disruptive Sports Group, Alex Cohen at Heights, Stuart Duguid, The Palm Tree Crew, Prakash Amritraj, Matthew Pritzker, Mark Ein, Romie Chaudhari, Swimmy Minami
Roster: Lee Whitwell, Pat Smith, Genie Erokhina, and Steve Deakin
Team Owners: Tim Klitch, Dan Ferreri, Bryan Sheffield, Kit Sheffield, and Richard Veitenheimer
Utah Black Diamonds
Roster: Michelle Esquivel, Spencer Smith, Olivia McMillan, and Rob Cassidy
Team Owners: The Pardoe Family
Roster: Bobbi Oshiro, Callan Dawson, Rachel Rettger, and Todd Fought
Team Owners: TBA
The 2023 Major League Pickleball (MLP) calendar has been released, featuring six events across Arizona, California, Florida, and Georgia. The year will be divided into two “seasons” of three events – in the first season, 12 teams will compete in the MLP Premier Level (the first 48 drafted players) and 12 will compete in the MLP Challenger Level (the next 48 drafted players), with rosters consisting of two men and two women. The teams will then flip levels and re-draft players for the second season. With the expansion to 24 teams, MLP is offering up to $5 million in prize money and payouts to its players in 2023.
The first tournament of the 2023 season will be at Legacy Sports USA in Mesa.
The stops for 2023 Major League Pickleball seasons are:
Jan. 26-29 – Mesa, AZ – Legacy Sports USA
March 23-26 – Daytona Beach, FL – Pictona at Holly Hill
June 15-18 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente
Season One Championship: Monday night, June 19
Sept. 21-24 – Atlanta, GA – Life Time Peachtree Corners
Nov. 2-5 – La Quinta, CA – LaQuinta Resort & Club
Dec. 7-10 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente
Season Two Championship: Monday night, December 11
“We’ve been growing MLP for just over a year and 2023 is going to be the year where we establish ourselves as a serious professional league with the best players, ownership, and events,” said MLP Founder and Chairman Steve Kuhn. “We’ve expanded from eight teams and one event in 2021 to an astounding 24 teams, six events and up to $5 million in prize money and payouts in 2023. Next year will be chock-full of exciting matches, dramatic storylines, beautiful venues, and memorable moments.”