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LeBron James buys Major League Pickleball team

NBA ace’s LRMR Ventures part of consortium investing into new league.

29 September 2022 Ed Dixon

Getty Images

  • James joined by Maverick Carter, as well as NBA champions Draymond Green and Kevin Love
  • SC Holdings, SpringHill CMO Paul Rivera and Relevent Sports Group CEO Daniel Sillman also part of group

National Basketball Association (NBA) star LeBron James is part of a consortium buying a team in Major League Pickleball (MLP).

The new ownership group consists of James and business partner Maverick Carter’s family office LRMR Ventures, investment firm SC Holdings, as well as NBA champions Draymond Green and Kevin Love. Paul Rivera, who is the chief marketing officer at James’ SpringHill Company, is also on board alongside Relevent Sports Group co-owner and chief executive Daniel Sillman.

With the ownership consortium in place, MLP stated that it aims to ‘expand the community beyond its current participants into more diverse communities globally’.

The league, which was formed in 2021, describes itself as the ‘standard-bearer’ for pickleball in the US. In 2023 MLP is expanding from 12 to 16 teams, with players competing in six tournaments across six cities for more than US$2 million.

In the coming weeks, MLP also plans to announce further growth to its roster of high-profile owners, which includes Super Bowl winner Drew Brees, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, as well as Miami Open tournament director and retired US tennis star James Blake.

Pickleball itself was invented back in 1965 and the tennis-like game has been dubbed the fastest-growing sport in the US, where there are an estimated 4.8 million players. The sport’s global governing body, the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) has around 70 member nations, but is yet to be recognised by Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). USA Pickleball has approximately 56,000 members.

“Having SC Holdings, LRMR Ventures, and their incredible group as owners and investors in Major League Pickleball is not just great for MLP, it’s a watershed moment for pickleball in general,” said MLP founder Steve Kuhn.

“Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the country, building communities in cities and towns all over the world. This investment and the platform that this group provides will significantly help us with our goal to reach 40 million pickleball players by 2030.”

SportsPro says…

Pickleball is attracting considerable attention from investors. Away from MLP, Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon agreed to buy the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA), which now sits alongside the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) as one of two tours in the US.

In addition to the 4.8 million players in the US, which represents a year-over-year increase of 21.3 per cent, USA Pickleball states that the average age for players continues to drop, hitting 38.1 years old in 2021, a decrease of 2.9 years from 2020. The growth of total participants from 2020 to 2021 was also the fastest among players under 24 years of age (21 per cent). Last year, the equivalent of 66 new locations to play pickleball were opened in the country every month.

James and his fellow investors will feel they are on to a winner, but the sport is still taking shape. Stu Upson, chief executive of USA Pickleball, told SportsPro earlier this year that the game remains “young and scrappy”.

More broadly, there is the potential issue of clashes with the PPA and the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP). The pair currently compete with each other, but only time will tell for how long. The PPA also no longer allows its players to compete in MLP.

“Personally I think to have two tours with that many pro events is probably too much down the road,” said Upson. “I really don’t know any professional sport that can handle two professional tours in the same country. So we’ll see how it plays out.”

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