Tom Brady Now Owns a Part Of Pickleball

Image Credit: iStock, Jennifer Smith

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Tom Brady isn’t known for his dink shots but that may soon change.

The NFL legend is joining a new Major League Pickleball (MLP) ownership group that includes former international tennis champion Kim Clijsters, CNBC reported Wednesday. TB12 joins fellow top athletes like LeBron James as a pickleball team owner, and his investment is the latest indicator that pickleball is rapidly evolving from a pandemic fad into a serious sport.

A Pretty Pickle

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by a group of dads desperate to keep their kids entertained. They cobbled together some random sports equipment together with the end result being a mashup of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong. The game has its devotees, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates who has been playing for decades, but has remained fairly obscure.

Since 2014, however, when the Sports and Fitness Industry Association first started keeping track of it, pickleball grew steadily before exploding during the pandemic. The number of new pickleballers surged 40% between 2019 and 2021, making it the fastest-growing sport in the US with 4.8 million players. MLP relishes the chance to capitalize. Brady and Clijsters formed their ownership group with Knighthead Capital, and while MLP is staying coy about exactly how much it costs to become an owner, one MLP adviser told CNBC it was in the “seven-figure range.” MLP has a clear strategy for its next growth phase:

  • MLP wants to expand its pool of teams from 12 to 16, and double the amount of annual events it holds from three to six. More games means more tickets, more ad space… and more pickles.
  • Increased investment also means MLP can continue to beef up its prize money pot and attract professional players. MLP announced the biggest prize money ever for a 4-player team in May; a grand prize of $100,000 or $25,000 per head. For comparison, a pro tennis doubles player who wins the US Open gets $344,000.

Pickle Poaching: Pickleball is already enticing some players away from other sports. Former junior Wimbledon champion Noah Rubin announced Monday he’s turning to pickleball. Rubin joked the tennis court was simply too big for his short stature (he’s 5’9″) “In this sport,” Rubin quipped. “Size doesn’t matter.”

Not everyone is pro-pickleball: The sport’s sudden popularity and the resultant demand for space has led to a lot of heated back-and-forths. Gothamist reported some residents of New York’s West Village went so far as to organize a petition calling to end what they saw as a pickleball “takeover” of courts and playgrounds. The petition garnered 3,000 signatures including one picklish skateboarding instructor who claimed he was being driven out by “Yuppie pickle players.”