The pickleball wars will be televised.
The Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) has agreed to TV deals with CBS Sports and ESPN that will guarantee 12 hours of live dinking and driving, along with highlight packages, on CBS Sports Network, and an additional eight hours of recap coverage on ESPN2. ESPN+ and APP TV with live-stream another 200 or more hours. No terms were released regarding the length of the agreement or monetary value.
“The APP exists to expand the sport of pickleball domestically and internationally, and this media exposure is an important step in that mission,” Tom Webb, the APP’s chief marketing officer, said in a press release.
The APP tour, founded in 2019 and officially sanctioned by USA Pickleball, has 16 events scheduled for 2023 as well as an international and collegiate series. Only the main tour will receive coverage as part of the announced deals.
Going into 2022, the APP and the Professional Pickleball Association were vying for supremacy in the sport, competing to sign top players. Then a third circuit, Major League Pickleball, emerged complete with a team format, a draft and celebrity owners, which generated a lot of buzz. Eventually, PPA and Major League Pickleball joined forces.
“The merge was massive, it allowed the top players to participate in both the team contests and individual tournaments,” said Kyle Whatnall, the PR manager for Selkirk, a top equipment manufacturer that sponsors players on both tours. “It drew a lot of top players to the PPA.”
The PPA-MLP combo had one tournament appear on ABC and six air on Tennis Channel last year with plans to expand the cable play. “We had a pretty full year of coverage in 2022 and that is going to escalate significantly in 2023,” Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon told CNBC.
How the competing media arrangements will impact the competition between the two circuits is yet to be seen, but both are banking on the idea that people who play the sport also want to watch. Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S., with more than 35 million people participating in 2022.