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A Beginner’s Guide to the 2023 Major League Pickleball Season

Six big events, 24 teams, a handful of high-profile ownership groups, and up to $5 million in prize money up for grabs. Boardroom is serving up everything you need to know to get ready for the season.

The 2023 Major League Pickleball season represents a new beginning for the sport.

We’re talking a whole new season, with even more teams, a new dynamic league format, a promotion and relegation system, and a heightened popularity led by a star-studded list of team owners, including Tom Brady, LeBron James, 35V co-founders Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman, and more.

Plain and simple — pickleball is back, and it is indeed better than ever.

With the 2023 Major League Pickleball season getting going Jan. 26-29 in Mesa, AZ, Boardroom is here to provide everything you need to know about what’s happening in the reimagined professional league of America’s fastest-growing sport.

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What to Expect from the 2023 Major League Pickleball Season

This isn’t your father’s, or, uh, slightly older cousin’s Major League Pickleball.

In its inaugural season in 2021, MLP debuted with eight teams. For the 2022 season, 12 squads were in the mix. Today, that number has doubled.

We’re talking 24 total teams and an entirely new league format that pits the 12 previously existing teams against one another in the Premier Level and the 12 brand new teams in the Challenger Level.

Both levels will participate in two “seasons” throughout the year, each made up of three events.

In the first season, the 12 teams in the Premier Level will compete against one another, while the 12 teams in the Challenger Level will only play against one another.

Two men and two women, taken in a player draft in December 2022, make up each team. The first 48 drafted players will participate at the Premier Level, while the next 48 players are on the Challenger Level teams.

After the first season, the teams will then flip levels and re-draft players for the second season.

Let’s have a look at what the teams look like:

Premier Level Teams

ATX Pickleballers
Cabo Vamos!
California BLQK Bears
Florida Smash
Frisco Clean Cause
Las Vegas Night Owls
Los Angeles Mad Drops
Milwaukee Masher
New Jersey 5’s
NY Hustlers
Seattle Pioneers
Social Hard Eights

Challenger Level Teams

Atlanta Bouncers
AZ Drive
Bay Area Breakers
Brooklyn Aces
Chicago Slice
Columbus Pickleball Club
Dallas Pickleball Club
D.C. Pickleball Team
Miami Pickleball Club
Texas Ranchers
Utah Black Diamonds
Valhalla Volleys
 

The first event of the 2023 Major League Pickleball season — MLP Mesa by Margaritaville — takes place over four days in the Arizona desert at the sprawling Legacy Sports USA complex. The format will feature group play and single-elimination (knockout) rounds — however, the MLP can adjust the format depending on schedule, weather, and more.

The remaining stops of the 2023 MLP season include:

Season One

  • March 23-26 – Daytona Beach, FL – Pictona at Holly Hill
  • June 15-18 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente
  • Season One Championship: Monday night, June 19

Season Two

  • Sept. 21-24 – Atlanta, GA – Life Time Peachtree Corners
  • Nov. 2-5 – La Quinta, CA – LaQuinta Resort & Club
  • Dec. 7-10 – San Clemente, CA – Life Time Rancho San Clemente
  • Season Two Championship: Monday night, December 11

The championships at the end of each season will feature the top two teams at each level.

And while the breakdown is unclear, organizers are promising $5 million in prize money and payouts throughout the season. We’ll see what the exact payouts end up being, but the top prize pool in pickleball last season was $100,000 ($25,000 per player).

Now that you have an idea of the new league rules and format, let’s have a look at the top players watch, as well as the other big names in ownership.

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The Players and People Behind Major League Pickleball

Major League Pickleball boasts a deep roster featuring arguably the best up-and-coming players in the world.

The best players, according to MLP, come with “a dizzying track record of bombastic wins on the court and a DUPR Rating to match” — which is why they are participating in the Premier Level. The remaining players competing in the Challenger Level are considered to be the “next wave” of pro pickleballers.

Among the most notable of names in MLP is former professional tennis player Sam Querrey, who was the first player taken in the Challenger Level draft. Querrey, a household name to some who follow the ATP Tour, will play for the D.C. Pickleball Club.

Anna Leigh Waters, the top-ranked female player and No. 1 overall selection by the New Jersey 5’s, is another player to watch. The 16-year-old clinched a triple crown at the USA Pickleball National Championships in Indian Wells last year, winning women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles.

The No. 2 selection in the draft to the Seattle Pioneers was Ben Johns, a 23-year old winner of more than 50 pro triple crowns.

But while the players are indeed the star attraction, the roster of A-list athletes, celebrities, and businesspeople serving as owners and backers of MLP teams is loaded.

We’re talking athletes and celebrities on top of the aforementioned, including Patrick Mahomes, Michael Phelps, Drew Brees, Draymond Green, Naomi Osaka, Heidi Klum, and the list goes on and on.

Boardroom has all the latest on the growing list of MLP team owners here.

Major League Potential

Given all the changes that have taken place in Major League Pickleball, it’s fair to say the stakes have never been higher, both for the players and for the league itself.

For the players, it’s all about playing at the Premier Level, as MLP becomes the first major American professional sports league to implement a promotion and relegation system. The system means the results of the 2023 year across both seasons will put the top 12 performing teams into the higher-tier Premier Level and the bottom 12 performing teams into the up-and-comer MLP Challenger Level for 2024.

Organizers say the promotion and relegation system is in place to allow for team mobility.

“The division into the MLP Premier Level and MLP Challenger Level will ensure the highest caliber of competition while providing a pathway and opportunities for the next generation of pro pickleball stars to break through,” said MLP President and Commissioner Brooks Wiley. “Next year will be an exciting year of team competition that will set MLP up for long-term success with this strategic format.”

Additionally, all eyes will be on the game as the MLP has struck a deal with the Tennis Channel to broadcast the Premier Level tournament semifinals and finals in Mesa, and will make all matches of the tournament available for streaming.

“We’ve been growing MLP for just over a year and 2023 is going to be the year where we establish ourselves as a serious professional league with the best players, ownership, and events,” said MLP Founder and Chairman Steve Kuhn.  “We’ve expanded from eight teams and one event in 2021 to an astounding 24 teams, six events and up to $5 million in prize money and payouts in 2023. Next year will be chock-full of exciting matches, dramatic storylines, beautiful venues, and memorable moments.”

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