As the Aces pickleball team takes on the second half of this year’s MLP campaign, Boardroom previews the new players, storylines, and sponsors to watch.
It’s certainly been a wild time for professional pickleball since the Brooklyn Aces announced a new group of more than a dozen new investors led by Drake, Michael B. Jordan, and Steve Stoute in July. Let’s catch you up!
The Aces move from the Challenger Division to the top-flight Premier Division for Major League Pickleball‘s three-event fall season, which begins Sept. 21-24 in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, where Brooklyn takes the sport’s biggest stage competing with and against the world’s very best players.
MLP held a July draft at CityPickle’s courts inside New York’s Central Park, where the Aces selected Catherine Parenteau No. 4 overall, Andrea Koop 21st, Hayden Patriquin 28th, and Tyler Loong 45th after all had successful Premier Division seasons in the first half of the season.
“One of the keys for us going into the draft was getting championship pedigree across our roster, and we overachieved there,” Samin Odhwani, 35V’s Director of Business Operations and the Aces’ General Manager, told Boardroom.
All four current Aces players reached a championship match last season, with Loong winning two tournaments with the Seattle Pioneers and Parenteau winning one tournament and the first half Premier Super Finals with the Los Angeles Mad Drops.
“At a player level, I wanted to make sure we have a position of strength, and I feel our women’s doubles teams is one of the strongest out there,” Odhwani said.
The GM also noted that one of the overlooked keys for successful Premier and Challenger teams throughout the first half of the season in MLP’s rally scoring format was a left-handed men’s player. The Aces added one in Loong, who will help the teenage phenom Patriquin in men’s doubles and provide a steadying veteran presence in mixed doubles.
The Aces’ new quartet experienced tournament success in the first half, and they’ll look not only to provide some stability after a first half in which Brooklyn had to replace both of its women’s players, but valuable experience earned from previous deep tournament runs. The team was drawn into Group C in Atlanta alongside the AZ Drive, Columbus Pickleball Club, and Miami Pickleball Club.
The Brooklyn-Miami matchup, the Aces’ first opponent when group stage play begins Friday, features a reunion with Hurricane Tyra Black, whom Miami drafted in the third round of the Premier Division Draft after Brooklyn signed her midway through the Challenger Division season. Odhwani is particularly excited to see the team face Black after she showed a tremendous amount of progress over her brief Aces tenure, helping her to become one of the few players who showed enough during the Challenger season to make the jump to Premier for the second half.
“She’s improved dramatically even since she last played for the Aces in May,” Odhwani said, proud of Hurricane for making what he called a deserved promotion to Premier. “So I’m looking forward to seeing that live and in person. That being said, I’m looking to win with this team, and that means we need to beat Hurricane. So there won’t be much love lost on the court.”
Other group stage reunions on the player side include Parenteau battling against former Mad Drops mixed doubles partner Julian Arnold and Arizona, while Koop takes on former California BLQK Bears teammate Maggie Brascia and Columbus.
The return of the Aces also means the arrival of two new sponsors: CityPickle and New Belgium Fat Tire Ale. On Aug. 3, the team’s first youth-focused community event – Aces Day of Play – took place at the CityPickle courts in Manhattan’s Union Square. In partnership with PowerPlay NYC, a nonprofit organization with the mission of advancing the lives of girls through sport, Koop led some clinics with the girls, who got free Aces swag and pickleball paddles to help propel their growing love for the sport.
This event led to CityPickle expanding its role from investor to team sponsor, which now includes the company’s logo earning featured placement on the Aces’ jerseys. In addition, CityPickle’s new pop-up location in Brooklyn’s Industry City section will be co-branded and sponsored by the Aces as the two organizations join forces to improve pickleball community outreach in the borough. Meanwhile, Fat Tire will sponsor Aces editorial and social content throughout the second half of the 2023 MLP season right here at Boardroom.
While promotion and relegation in MLP is currently tabled for 2024, the Aces and their players are still playing for prize money, prestige, and the chance to establish brand equity both individually and collectively at this crucial early stage in league history — and on Sept. 13, news came down that MLP was officially merging with the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour after months of will-they-or-won’t-they rumors, setting the stage for an even brighter future.
“Look at some of the biggest American sports franchises in the world, the Yankees, Celtics, Lakers, Packers,” Odhwani said. “They all had a ton of success in the early stages of those respective professional leagues. I want the Aces to emerge as a true championship contender that is regularly competing for the top spot, as that helps us get more and more fans excited about our team and set our franchise up for success.”
While the first half of the season had three events spread out from January to June, the second half will be a three-month sprint with two Southern California events in November and December, with the season finale taking place Dec. 7-12. Starting this weekend in Georgia, the Brooklyn Aces pickleball team is in position to make some early season noise and position themselves as one of the sport’s flagship franchises.
This article is presented in partnership with New Belgium Fat Tire Ale.
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