Pickleball lands a couple of TV deals

It’s no secret that live sport is more popular than ever compared to other programming genres. So it makes sense that TV and streaming companies would make deals with different pickleball leagues. Pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the United States in recent years, with millions now playing the sport.

Earlier this month, the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) struck an agreement with CBS and ESPN to televise and stream some games. As part of the agreement, CBS will televise 12 hours of live coverage of tour events and ESPN2 will provide an additional eight hours of recaps. In addition, there will be more than 200 hours of live streaming via ESPN+ and their own APP TV. No financial terms of the deals were disclosed. Although the APP includes collegiate and international games, they are not part of the CBS/ESPN package. Earlier this month, the APP kicked off its fourth season in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Last November, CBS televised a pickleball event in prime time Pickled hosted by Stephen Colbert and streamed live on ParamountPARAGRAPH
+. The event saw 16 celebrities (eight teams) compete for the “Colbert Cup”. Proceeds from the one-time event went to Comic Relief, a non-profit organization. Sponsors included Claussen Pickles and Oofos Active Recovery shoes. The two-hour special ended with an average viewership of 2.24 million.

As its popularity grows, there are now multiple pickleball leagues competing for players, sponsorships, investors, and media rights. There has also been some consolidation. In 2022, the APP and one-time rival Professional Pickleball Association merged. Additionally, Major League Pickleball also merged with the Professional Pickleball Association in 2022. Another new entry is the National Pickleball League.

In 2021, the Tennis Channel began televising pickleball events from the PPAPPA
. In 2023, the Tennis Channel announced it would televise and stream Major League Pickleball events. The cable network has also aired a series of celebrity pickleball games, with more live television events expected.

The broadcasting and televising of events comes at a time when Pickleball’s popularity is growing. The sports and fitness industry says 4.8 million people are now playing, up 39.3% over the past two years. A recent report from the APP revealed that 36.5 million had played Pickleball over a 12-month period ending in August 2022. In October 2022, YouGov released a pickleball participation survey and found that 10% of Americans had attempted pickleball. Participation was highest in adults aged 18-29 at 20%.

USA Pickleball describes the sport as a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-ping. Similar to tennis, the sport can be played indoors and outdoors and can be played as either a singles or doubles format. Also fueling its popularity is the relatively inexpensive equipment needed to participate and it is less strenuous than playing tennis. Despite its recent popularity, Pickleball was first developed near Seattle in 1965.

The sport’s popularity has attracted a number of well-known celebrities. For example, winners of the “Colbert Cup” were singer Dierks Bentley and Phil Keough, longtime presenter of The amazing race. The pair defeated comedians Tig Notaro and Will Ferrell in the finals. (Emma Watson and Sugar Ray Leonard were pre-tournament favorites.) Also, tennis greats John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Michael Chang will compete in the inaugural Pickleball Slam at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel this April for a $1 million prize fight & casino in Hollywood, Florida.

Pickleball’s popularity leads to more events coupled with more sponsorship deals and financial investments. For the 2023 season, Major League Pickleball has expanded to 24 teams and six events with $2 million in prize money for the year. For comparison: in 2021 there were eight squads and only one event. Additionally, last December, MLP named Margaritaville, a hospitality company founded by Jimmy Buffett, as its first title sponsor. A number of blue-chip advertisers sponsor pickleball events, such as Anheuser-Busch, which also acquired a pickleball franchise. Investors include LeBron James, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka, Kevin Durant, Mark Cuban, Eva Longoria, Heidi Klum, Chris Evert, Michael Phelps and many others.

Pickleball isn’t the only sport to reach a media rights deal in January. Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf announced a multi-year agreement with CW to televise and stream 14 live events starting this year. Financial terms were not disclosed. For the CW, which was acquired by Nexstar last year and best known for its primetime dramas, it’s the first foray into television and live sports streaming. LIV will produce every tournament. Paramount, NBCUniversal, Disney and Warner Bros Discovery, which televise the more established PGA Golf, were not interested in LIV Golf’s media rights.

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