The world of pickleball currently has two major competing pro tours—the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP). As of Friday, October 28th, 2022, the world of pickleball now has two competing pro pickleball leagues—Major League Pickleball (MLP) and VIBE Pickleball League (VIBE). Talk about the Wild West for a sport in its infancy on the pro level…
You may be asking, what exactly is VIBE Pickleball League? Or, how does this compare to Major League Pickleball, which has been making headlines recently with new ownership announcements with the likes of LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kim Clijsters, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Kevin Durant? After initially announcing the new league with a few cryptic Instagram posts, we are gradually learning new information about the league, but there are still a lot of details that we don’t know yet.
But, here is what we do know about VIBE Pickleball League:
- VIBE Pickleball League is connected to and powered by the PPA Tour. The PPA Tour was the first one to promote the cryptic Instagram posts, and most of the pro player announcements of who has “entered the draft” and will be participating in VIBE Pickleball League are also all contracted players with the PPA Tour (which include Ben Johns, Callie Smith, Catherine Parenteau, Tyler Loong, Lucy Kovalova, Riley Newman, Jocelyn Deviliers, Collin Johns, Jessie Irvine, Callan Dawson, Meghan Dizon, Allyce Jones, Spencer Smith, Patrick Smith, Tyson McGuffin, Yana Grechkina, Steve Deakin, Leigh Waters, Anna Leigh Waters, and Matt Wright).
- However, there are two historically non-PPA contracted players that have “entered the draft” and will be participating in VIBE Pickleball League - which are JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier. These are notable pick-ups by VIBE, as they are two of the best that the competing tour (APP) and competing league (MLP) have been able to feature over the past seasons. The details of the deals with Johnson and Frazier have not been disclosed, so there is only speculation of what terms they might have agreed to to participate (for instance, will their participation in VIBE mean they cannot play MLP?). There is further speculation if additional non-PPA contracted players will follow Johnson and Frazier.
- VIBE Pickleball League will be “Pickleball, with a whole new VIBE,” which does not tell us much.
- VIBE Pickleball League announced some initial details on November 3, 2022, including the release of VIBE's new website at www.vibepb.com. On its face, it seems to be a new, direct competitor to Major League Pickleball. VIBE will have 6 teams, 24 pro players (so 4 pro players per team, which will be a mix of male and female players), 4 season events, and 2 championships. These teams will be drafted at a PPA event in December 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. VIBE seems as if it will be staying true to the original MLP format (to note, MLP has decided to change its format by adding more events, additional formats at the beginning of each event (which are in addition to the team events), and more teams).
- In recent weeks, there was speculation that the two Texas billionaires battling in pro pickleball—Dallas-based Tom Dundon, who recently purchased a majority stake in the PPA Tour (along with PickleballTournaments.com and Pickleball Central), versus Austin-based Steve Kuhn, who was the founder of Major League Pickleball and DUPR—would be able to potentially work together after sour beginnings. However, this announcement seems to be a clear “line in the sand” between the two. The two billionaires have two very different philosophies when it comes to pro pickleball. Dundon has required his pro players to sign exclusivity contracts, while Kuhn has not and speaks about pickleball in terms of the sport “saving America.” It’s curious that pickleball is promoted as an inclusive game that brings people together, but, at the same time, is already dividing two of the most influential people in the sport.
- There is speculation that VIBE Pickleball League will spark a new influx of celebrity investors into the sport of pickleball. In other words, just as Major League Pickleball has brought in high-profile celebrities to invest into their concept and teams, so too will VIBE Pickleball League. At the top of the speculation list, which has now been confirmed as of the latest November 3, 2022 announcement, is famed entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who has previously noted that he will be helping out a “friend” (i.e., Tom Dundon) in pickleball and “liked” a recent tweet insinuating a connection between Cuban and VIBE.
The remaining ownership groups will be announced in the weeks leading up to the draft in December.
Now, if you thought the 2022 calendar year brought huge changes to the landscape of pickleball, then it looks like the 2023 calendar year will bring even more and be even more wild. It will certainly bring more money and more eyeballs to the sport, which is evident even with this crude initial announcement and what is already happening in the pro pickleball world.
But, hopefully, the growth for the sport will be in a way that is beneficial for the sport overall, which would include sustaining the sport for years to come (so that pickleball does not become a fad sport, like ones of the past (e.g., racquetball)), and also keeping the culture of pickleball intact. As an aside, in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal and Gimlet, Frank Pritchard (the son of Joel Pritchard, the founder of pickleball) noted that he hopes pickleball “doesn’t lose its charm or innocence.” He noted that pickleball is known for being “friendly, fun, social, and wasn't that nasty competitiveness.” Rather, you “play hard and have fun.” Hopefully, VIBE (and its counterpart, MLP) can strike the right balance to the further the game.