Carvana PPA Tour
Courtesy: Carvana PPA Tour
Professional Pickleball is getting a dedicated home: The Tennis Channel.
The PPA Tour and Tennis Channel announced on Tuesday they are teaming up via a joint venture in a push to further grow and popularize the sport that has been picking up steam in the U.S.
As part of the partnership, Tennis Channel will produce all PPA Tour events and have the rights to broadcast a vast majority of them on its pay-TV network and streaming platforms.
“It’s going to create so much more access for people,” PPA Tour owner Tom Dundon told CNBC. “I think this makes it way easier to bring to the masses.”
The pair will also create pickleballtv, a 24/7 standalone free, ad-supported streaming channel featuring matches as well as entertainment surrounding the sport.
Studio rendering of pickleballtv
Source: Tennis Channel
For the PPA Tour, the joint venture will allow Tennis Channel to take the reigns on producing all of its content both for its own platforms as well as the Tour’s other media partners, including Disney‘s ESPN, Paramount‘s CBS and Prime Video.
A lot of emerging sports sometimes have trouble with production, quality and consistency,” said Dundon. “So when we deliver a program to Fox or ESPN, they know it’s perfect. It makes it a lot easier for them to want to carry us and cover us.”
While terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, the agreement allows Tennis Channel owner Sinclair to retain the option of an equity stake in Pickleball.com, the parent company of the PPA Tour. Dundon added it’s a 50-50 partnership between the two entities, noting the PPA Tour will put the capital in and Tennis Channel will bring its production and media expertise.
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“If you look at what Apple did with [Major League Soccer], the MLS does all of the production. So I think we’re just consistent with where the [media] world’s going where we can produce it cheaper, with scale,” Dundon said.
He foresees the joint venture propelling further media rights deals with the help of Tennis Channel executives that are familiar with TV carriage negotiations and building up streaming platforms.
“This partnership is really the seminal moment for what is still in many ways the nation’s sport…And we get to take 20 years of right decisions and mistakes and apply them directly to expand pickleball and the PPA,” Ken Solomon, Tennis Channel president, told CNBC.
Tennis Channel will have the rights to show most PPA Tour matches, and those that air live on other media networks will be shown on a same-day delay and will be available on-demand on Tennis Channel platforms.
Pickleball is not new to the 20-year-old Tennis Channel. The network first aired a PPA Tour event in 2021 and expanded its coverage of pickleball in 2022.
Solomon said pickleball ratings have been strong to date. There are 25 PPA Tour events on the 2023 calendar. The network already produces events for the PPA Tour, Dundon added.
The joint venture will also allow Tennis Channel to use its marketing and advertising prowess to sell pickleball to sponsors and advertisers by combining their offerings.
Solomon said for traditional tennis fans, they don’t have to worry about the paddle sport taking over the bread and butter of their network. The network will not air pickleball in time periods where they have rights to live tennis.
“These things, [tennis and pickleball], go together beautifully. It’s like peas and carrots,” he said.
Solomon said the Tennis Channel is currently looking at broadcast enhancements through cameras, the use of artificial intelligence, and a jib shot at the net that will allow the audience to see the tension of patience versus pulling the trigger with a slam or drive.
It’s been a busy few months for professional pickleball. The PPA Tour, which is a tour-style format pitting the best players in the world against each other, and Major League Pickleball, which features team play, announced earlier this month they are merging. This followed a dramatic few weeks of uncertainty surrounding the future of the professional sport as the leagues engaged in a spending war to compete against each other.
In the last few years, pickleball has seen unprecedented growth as professionals and amateurs turn to the sport in droves. According to the annual Sports & Fitness Industry Association Topline Report, pickleball has seen 159% growth over the past three years. Last year, 36 million people played the sport, leading to the growth of both public and private courts all over the country.
The sport has also attracted big name players like Bill Gates and the Kardashians to celebrity owners like LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes and Kevin Durant.