On the latest Sporticast episode, hosts Scott Soshnick and Eben Novy-Williams sit with Major League Pickleball founder Steve Kuhn and chief commercial officer Bruce Bundrant live at SXSW. They discuss the sport’s meteoric rise and how MLP wants to capitalize on the millions of Americans who are now playing on courts around the country.
MLP is single-entity, like MLS, but with promotion/relegation similar to that in many European soccer leagues. It has 24 franchises, with 12 in the top division and 12 in the lower division. Teams have sold for as much as $6 million to investors including LeBron James, Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Marc Lasry and Mark Cuban.
Kuhn and Bundrant talk about the advantages of having prominent celebrities and businessmen as part of the ownership core. They talk about the negotiations for teams, and how they want to work with their investors to help grow the sport. As an example, MLP Is working with LeBron’s production company, Springhill, to develop a documentary series about the growth of the sport and the league. They also talk about other revenue opportunities, such as licensing and equipment, and how the execs hope to unroll their broadcast rights in the future.
Once played primarily by people older than 50, pickleball’s audience is gradually getting younger. Kuhn jokes that pickleball is “the Benjamin Button of sports,” a reference to the 2008 Brad Pitt movie whose main character ages in reverse.
Lastly, Kuhn breaks some investment news. Internet influencers Dude Perfect, owners of one of YouTube’s most followed accounts, are buying into the MLP franchise in Frisco, Kuhn said. The franchise is valued at $5 million in the deal, which is not a league record.
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