Over the past couple of weeks, the world of pickleball is seemingly coming together to unify the sport.
- First, after launching VIBE Pickleball League, the PPA Tour (led by billionaire, Tom Dundon) announced a merger with Major League Pickleball (led by billionaire, Steve Kuhn), resulting in one professional pickleball league.
- Then, on November 16, 2022, more of Dundon’s and Kuhn’s pickleball businesses struck a deal, as Pickleball.com, along with its subsidiaries, the PPA Tour, PickleballTournaments.com, and PickleballBrackets.com (all led by Dundon), announced that it will adopt DUPR (which is an ageless, genderless rating system that stands for Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating, and is led by Kuhn) as its official and exclusive rating system.
A lot of focus has been put on the professional pickleball leagues and the pro players, which makes sense as they are the most visible players in the sport of pickleball. However, the ratings deal may be the more meaningful, interesting story line that we need to discuss.
As an initial matter, pickleball ratings have the potential to affect every pickleball player (in other words, every player that plays can have a rating). So, ratings can affect 4.8 million players (which is the official number of pickleball players as of 2021—although most believe that this official number is lagging, and that the number of pickleball players is now north of 10 million in the United States alone). In contrast, the professional pickleball league only affect the 100 or so pickleball pros that will be competing in the league, as well as the tens of thousands of current spectators of the league. In other words, pickleball ratings have a far more wide-reaching impact on the sport of pickleball and are potentially a gateway to capture the immense recreational and amateur play (which is about 97-99% of the pickleball population) that is happening on pickleball courts across the world (as opposed to just pickleball players that enter and play in tournaments, which is about 1-3% of the pickleball population).
Further, coupled with ratings, comes technology to put the rating into action. These pickleball ratings and technology have the potential to greatly affect how pickleball play can and will be organized (for instance, events at clubs, leagues, court groupings, open play, challenge courts, etc.). If done the right way, this will have a powerful affect on the growth of the game, as one of the challenges for new entrants into the sport of pickleball is figuring out how to get started (for instance, where do I play, how can I get into a game, how do I find the right level, where do I start, etc.). Ratings, technology, and common organization on a grand scale could lower the barriers to entry into pickleball.
So, in summary, a common rating system—and a coming-together of the billionaires and businesses that control many of the ingredients of ratings and technology—is a powerful deal. These ratings have the potential to affect every pickleball player (not just those at the top) and how every pickleball event or game is organized (in other words, every player’s experience with the sport).
However, the headline—“Pickleball.com (and its subsidiaries) will adopt DUPR as its official and exclusive rating system”—is not that simple.
First, DUPR is not the only pickleball rating system in existence. USA Pickleball also has a pickleball rating system that predates DUPR. The USA Pickleball Tournament Player Rating (UTPR) is a rating system that is based purely on performance in pickleball tournaments and is only available for USA Pickleball members. In other words, you must play in pickleball tournaments, and be a member of USA Pickleball, to have a UTPR. UTPR is entirely separate and apart from DUPR. (For more information on UTPR, please click here.) Further, there are a handful of other ratings available through Pickleball.com’s affiliates, which are PickleballTournaments.com (which uses WPR) and PickleballBrackets.com (which uses PBR), and these other rating systems will continue to be available in the short term (i.e., at least 6 months) until DUPR is fully integrated with the Pickleball.com system. So, in other words, pickleball ratings may still be confusing with multiple players in the field, but the deal between Pickleball.com and DUPR seemingly takes the sport of pickleball in a unifying direction.
Second, and possibly the biggest storyline regarding pickleball ratings, is the following, which was announced on November 17, 2022—just 1 day after the Pickleball.com/DUPR announcement:
Universal Tennis Launches into Pickleball with Event Management Software and Rating: The existing platform and marketplace will become the home of both tennis and pickleball.
Universal Tennis is the counterpart to Pickleball.com/DUPR in the world of tennis. Universal Tennis is home to the UTR (the “world’s most accurate tennis rating”), as well as technology to enable the UTR to be used to structure and organize tennis events. Universal Tennis is connected to over 10,000 clubs, schools, centers, etc. (by comparison, DUPR has about 600 clubs, schools, etc.), and about 800,000 tennis players. And, starting in 2023, Universal Tennis is unlocking its tennis rating and technology to be used for the sport of pickleball.
You may be asking, why is this relevant or of any consequence? Maybe it isn’t. But, from my vantage point, there has been a lot of discussion about the battle between the two billionaires, Tom Dundon and Steve Kuhn, over the pro pickleball landscape. However, the bigger battle over the pickleball landscape may have yet to start.
One of the biggest players in the sport of tennis—Universal Tennis—is now entering pickleball (with seemingly scalable numbers to turn almost 1 million tennis clubs and players into pickleball clubs and players), forcing once adversaries Dundon and Kuhn to band together to face outside threats to their pickleball businesses. And, like the saga in professional golf between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, there may be more entrants around the corner. (To note, since Universal Tennis’ jump into pickleball is not starting until 2023, at the present, we are unsure of how pickleball will respond or be affected by this entrance, but you can be sure that we will be tracking this storyline. And, since publishing this article, rumors have already swirled that the APP Tour will be partnering with Universal Tennis and UTR in 2023. The battle may just be beginning and who has the better product will be tested and debated by the pickleball community at large.)
So, while the latest news of Pickleball.com and DUPR coming together is unifying for the sport, the growth of pickleball is causing the floodgates to open for more people and businesses to enter the sport of pickleball (beyond just the professional realm, but also the realm of ratings and technology that affect players of all levels) and influence the trajectory of the sport. This could result in more chaos and more of the “Wild West of Pickleball,” than where we were before the Pickleball.com and DUPR headline. In summary, be ready for another wild year of pickleball, with more headlines and stories that have the potential to affect every player and every aspect of the game.