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Major League Pickleball: New Format and Teams Announced for 2023

Strategy & Technique Stacie Townsend 12-26-2022

Following the merger of Major League Pickleball (MLP) with the PPA Tour’s VIBE Pickleball League, MLP announced its new format, team ownership groups, and draft picks for the 2023 season.

Before we turn to breakdown the format and teams, a few of the recent MLP highlights include:

  • Two levels—the Premier Level and the Challenger Level—with two seasons in 2023. This will set up a promotion and relegation system for the 2024 season, where teams can move up or down based on performance (akin to the soccer (or “football”) system in England). Teams were also divided into geographical locations (which will hopefully help further fan engagement).
  • More celebrities jumped into pickleball, as individuals like Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes, tennis superstars Naomi Osaka, Nick Kyrios, and Chris Evert, supermodels Heidi Klum and Kate Upton, actress Eva Longoria, and baseball star Justin Verlander all invested in Major League Pickleball teams.
  • Among all of the professional pickleball players, a woman (#girlpower) was the #1 draft pick for the higher-tier Premier Level, as 15-year-old Anna Leigh Waters was drafted first by the New Jersey 5’s for the first half of the 2023 season.

Major League Pickleball: New Format and Teams Announced for 2023 | Pickler Pickleball

  • The first pick for the lower-tier Challenger Level for the first half of the 2023 season was tennis star Sam Querrey. This selection garnered some criticism, as Querrey has yet to play in a traditional pickleball tournament (although his team did win the 2022 PPA Team Championships, where tennis stars partnered with pickleball pros for an event in Las Vegas).
  • The celebrity investors are clearly “hot” on pickleball, as team ownership reportedly cost in the low 7-figures (although the celebrities are investing in groups, which lowers each’s financial stake at risk). However, not everyone is so convinced that the investment is worth it. THE STREET’s Dan Weil proposed that the celebrities are likely giving “more to MLP than the league provides to them — legitimacy.” Further, he notes that an argument that the celebs are “wasting their money, that MLP won’t make it, can be made.” Others, like pickleball analysts NML Pickleball, compared pickleball team ownership to NFTs, as—although they hope for the success of MLP and the sport of pickleball—they questioned whether “MLP has become fame obsessed” and is “simply a toy for rich and famous folks?”

2023 Format for Major League Pickleball

Big changes are coming to Major League Pickleball, as the league expanded from 12 to 24 teams and increased prize money to $5 million for the 2023 season. The 2023 season will be a bit of a staging season to prepare for the following year, as MLP is setting up a promotion and relegation system for the 2024 season. This system will allow teams to move up or down based on performance (akin to the soccer (or “football”) system in England).

As a result, the 2023 MLP calendar will be divided into two seasons, each with three events, in order to allow all 24 MLP teams to have an equal opportunity for top placement. In the first season, 12 teams will compete in the higher-tier Premier Level (the first 48 drafted players) and 12 teams will compete in the lower-tier Challenger Level (the next 48 drafted players). After the end of the first season at the end of June, the teams will then flip levels and re-draft players for the second season in the second half of 2023.

The calendar of events for both of these 2023 MLP seasons is as follows:

  • Season 1:

    • January 26-29 – Mesa, AZ – Legacy Sports USA
    • March 23-26 – Daytona Beach, FL – Pictona at Holly Hill
    • June 15-19 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente (including the Season 1 Championship on June 19)

*Teams will then flip levels and re-draft players for the second season.

  • Season 2:

    • September 21-24 – Atlanta, GA – Life Time Peachtree Corners
    • November 2-5 – La Quinta, CA – LaQuinta Resort & Club
    • December 7-11 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente (including the Season 2 Championship on December 11)

Major League Pickleball: New Format and Teams Announced for 2023 | Pickler Pickleball

2023 Season 1 MLP Teams: Level, Players, and Owners

From the number, to new owners, to new players, and new geographical locations, there is a lot to catch up on for the 2023 MLP teams…

The Premier Level teams for Season 1 of MLP for 2023 are:

ATX Pickleballers
Players: JW Johnson, Jackie Kawamoto, Jade Kawamoto, Gabriel Tardio
Owners: Brene Brown, Charles Kiley
 
Cabo Vamos!
Players: Jay Devilliers, Simone Jardim, Allyce Jones, Erik Lange
Owners: Chris Sacca, Crystal Sacca
 
California BLQK Bears
Players: Andrea Koop, Dylan Frazier, Federico Staksrud, Maggie Brascia
Owners: Ritchie Tuazon, Justin Watson
 
Florida Smash
Players: Jessie Irvine, Jorja Johnson, Travis Rettenmaier, Collin Johns
Owners: Travis Rettenmaier, Molly Joseph, Graham D’Amico
 
Frisco Clean Cause
Players: Zane Navratil, Matt Wright, Yana Newell, Lina Padegimaite
Owners: Brad Beckworth, Nav Sooch, Tim Berry, Wes Hurt
 
Las Vegas Night Owls
Players: Vivienne David, Dekel Bar, Lauren Stratman, Kyle Yates
Owners: Tom Brady, Kim Clijsters, Tom Wagner, Matt Alvarez, Callie Simpkins, Kaitlyn Kerr
 
Los Angeles Mad Drops
Players: Catherine Parenteau, Irina Tereschenko, Julian Arnold, Thomas Wilson
Owners: Good Alpha Industries, Zubin Mehta, Drew Brees, Jim Buss, Andrew Dodge, Ryan Serhant
 
Milwaukee Mashers
Players: Callie Smith, Lucy Kovalova, Andrei Daescu, DJ Young
Owners: James Blake, Marc Lasry
 
New Jersey 5’s
Players: Anna Leigh Waters, James Ignatowich, Lea Jansen, Hayden Patriquin
Owners: Gary Vaynerchuk, Ryan Harwood
 
NY Hustlers
Players: Anna Bright, Tyson McGuffin, Rafa Hewett, Lacy Schneemann
Owners: Lebron James, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Mav Carter
 
Seattle Pioneers
Players: Ben Johns, Etta Wright, Meghan Dizon, Tyler Loong
Owners: Tom Dundon, Pickleball.com (Unconfirmed, but our educated guess based on the team logo)
 
Social Hard Eights
Players: Riley Newman, AJ Koller, Mary Brascia, Lindsey Newman
Owners: Kevin Huang, Timothy Parks, Rick Chan

Major League Pickleball: New Format and Teams Announced for 2023 | Pickler Pickleball

Major League Pickleball: New Format and Teams Announced for 2023 | Pickler Pickleball

The Challenger Level teams for Season 1 of MLP for 2023 are:

Atlanta Bouncers

Players: Hunter Johnson, Brooke Buckner, Ben Newell, Christine McGrath
Owners: Anheuser-Busch
 
AZ Drive

Players: Wes Burrows, Sarah Ansboury, Andreas Siljestrom, Sarah Burr
Owners: Larry Fitzgerald, Devin Booker, Dierks Bentley, Doug Hirsch, Sheila Gulati, John Merwin, Sam Fox, Brian Frakes, Mark Dalton, Richard J. Schnall
 
Bay Area Breakers

Players: Pablo Tellez, Ewa Radzikowska, Christian Alshon, Rachel Summers
Owners: Jeremy Lin, Mimi Mercado, David Mercado, Geoff Nguyen, Stacey Nishi, Jeff Nishi, Wayley Louie, Kathleen Louie
 
Brooklyn Aces

Players: Cierra Gaytan-Leach, Rob Nunnery, Corinne Carr, Greg Dow
Owners: Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s 35V
 
Chicago Slice

Players: Susannah Barr, Emily Ackerman, Connor Garnett, Ryler DeHeart
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, Steve Bellamy
 
Columbus Pickleball Club

Players: Milan Rane, Becky Ryan, Yates Johnson, CJ Klinger
Owners: David Kass, Doug Ulman
 
Dallas Pickleball Club

Players: Megan Fudge, Chuck Taylor, Brandon French, Christa Gecheva
Owners: Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki, John Isner, Robert Herjavec, Chandler Parsons, Todd Wagner
 
D.C. Pickleball Team

Players: Sam Querrey, Stefan Auvergne, Shelby Bates, Monica Paolicelli
Owners: Al Tylis, Sam Porter, Eva Longoria, Justin Verlander, Mesut Ӧzil, Kate Upton, Shawn Marion, Rip Hamilton
 
Miami Pickleball Club

Players: Alix Truong, Regina Franco, Jeff Warnick, Matt Manasse
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
 
Texas Ranchers

Players: Lee Whitwell, Pat Smith, Genie Erokhina, Steve Deakin
Owners: Tim Klitch, Dan Ferreri, Bryan Sheffield, Kit Sheffield, Richard Veitenheimer
 
Utah Black Diamonds

Players: Michelle Esquivel, Spencer Smith, Olivia McMillan, Rob Cassidy
Owners: The Pardoe Family
 
Valhalla Volleys

Players: Bobbi Oshiro, Callan Dawson, Rachel Rettger, Todd Fought
Owners: TBA

Major League Pickleball: New Format and Teams Announced for 2023 | Pickler Pickleball

Major League Pickleball: New Format and Teams Announced for 2023 | Pickler Pickleball

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