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Pickle Wars: An Arms Race Has Broken Out Between The Two Biggest Leagues In Professional Pickleball

CraSH. Shutterstock Images.

Over the past week, the pickleball world has been told to seek shelter and remain in place while a war has broken out between two competing tours. If you were someone who enjoyed the drama which unfolded between the PGA Tour and LIV last year, then strap in because we have a very similar situation developing here with professional pickleball. 

Let's just set the scene here real quick for those of you (which I'm assuming is a decent amount) haven't been following along. For starters, we have the Professional Pickleball Association Tour. They're the PGA Tour of this scenario. The PPA Tour is the established tour, and it focuses on singles/doubles tournaments the same way that any tennis event would run. Next up you have Major League Pickleball, which is looking to reinvent what professional pickleball looks like. Much like LIV, it's taking a sport that typically focuses on individual players and is now focusing on a team element to the game. Pickleball, but louder. 

Now up until recently, it seemed like the PPA Tour and MLP were pretty cool with each other. There was an agreement in place to let PPA players play in MLP events, and vice-versa. I guess there was supposed to be a merger coming up soon, but then out of nowhere, MLP went rogue last week and started signing a shit ton of players to exclusive contracts. That's where this is a little different from PGA vs LIV. People knew for years that LIV was building in the shadows and slowly building up, but the PGA Tour never did anything about it. This time, the MLP just came out with a sneak attack and grabbed a ton of the best players in the world. Guys like Tyson McGuffin, the most electrifying man in sports. 

The past week has turned into an arms race to see who could lock down the best players, and there were new signings being announced damn near every hour. And these aren't just little signings. We're talking about multi-year contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. I bet you feel pretty foolish now if you thought this was just a sport your nana plays to stay in shape. 

Now that the dust is starting to settle, it seems like MLP ended up with more players. At this point the count is 95 to 47. 

But when we're talking about pickleball, there are two players on the planet who are far and away better than anybody else out there. Those would be Ben Johns for men's, and Anna-Leigh Waters for women's. Both of them show up every week and just destroy everyone in their path. They are the clear #1 players in the world, and it's not even close. And both of them stuck with the PPA Tour. 

So there could certainly be an argument made here that a lot of players could see moving to the MLP as a way to get away from dealing with Ben Johns and Anna-Leigh Waters. The two players they were playing against in that clip have both gone to MLP. Similar to the way that people argued any player who went to LIV just felt like they couldn't win on the PGA Tour anymore. I'd imagine that money is probably playing a bigger role here than anything, since this is the first time that professional pickleball athletes are getting to really cash in. But the fact of the matter is that while the MLP now has more players, the PPA Tour still has the undisputed best. Which is what makes this Tour Wars so spicy. It's the perfect recipe to drum up as much drama as possible. 

At the end of the day, every major sports league has gone through this process. There are two competing leagues, they force each other to pay the players more and make a better product, and then eventually one league ends up merging with the other. NBA and ABA. NFL and AFL. NHL and WHA. PGA and LIV. And eventually it'll be PPA and MLP. But I guess we just have to wait and see which one ends up on top when the merger inevitably happens. At some point here I'm sure that lawyers will have to get involved, and investigations will be conducted. It'll be a whole big mess. Money usually wins in these sort of scenarios, so whoever can come up with the most will probably win out.