What do you get when you mix one of America’s most iconic athletes with its fastest-growing sport? The most significant press release in Major League Pickleball (MLP’s) history. In the middle of it all, was rEvolution.
On the morning of September 28, news broke that LRMR Ventures, the family office of future NBA Hall of Famer LeBron James, SC Holdings, and NBA Champions Draymond Green and Kevin Love were joining forces to purchase a Major League Pickleball team. For an announcement of that size, it only makes sense to have the standard of sports marketing by your side.
MLP’s product is a hot commodity, as pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States. Its ability to bridge the gap between age, gender, and income has led to roughly five million Americans playing the sport – although many experts close to the data already predict it at more than eight million. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, participation spiked by 39.3% from 2019 to 2021. The appetite for pickleball in America was there. All this emerging league needed was a spark to get it into the public eye.
That’s where rEvolution came in. During the summer, rEvolution’s Director of Marketing Communications, Jeff Watson, reached out to MLP’s strategic advisor, Anne Worcester.
Worcester became the first female chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in 1994 and is one of the most experienced leaders in international sports. The pair had worked together in pro tennis while Watson was doing public relations work for the Connecticut Open in New Haven and at the (WTA).
Watson, an avid pickleball player himself, saw that Worcester was working for MLP and wanted to ask about it. As it turns out, they were looking for a PR agency. rEvolution pitched itself as an integrated agency full of great connections, people, and ideas. Its history with other emerging leagues, such as Major League Soccer, SailGP, and the Premier Hockey Federation (among others), and their proven 20-year track record of success made make them a perfect fit.
The rEvolution team began work with MLP in mid-July. Within the first week of working together, the MLP planned to announce their first prominent celebrity owner, Drew Brees. Brees, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards, was the first domino to fall in a cascade of interest in the MLP.
rEvolution tested the waters to see what the interest in a pickleball story involving a high-profile athlete would be. An embargoed press release was sent to Sports Business Journal and Front Office Sports. Once the news was released, it received great coverage from places like Forbes, CNBC, and TMZ. They also got Brees to appear on CBS Mornings from the event in Newport Beach, in a segment where he played pickleball with anchor Marci Gonzalez.
Overall, the story garnered over 300 million media impressions. The seal had been broken. In large part due to this national exposure, high profile celebrities, athletes and entrepreneurs passionate about pickleball began sending requests to own a team.
Shortly after Brees announced he was trading the pigskin for a paddle, the MLP started a new bid process for aspiring owners. Around 60 new team inquires were received in the immediate aftermath of the release. One of the bids was from LRMR Ventures, the family office of the four-time NBA champion, LeBron James. The unlikely pairing of NBA stars and pickleball was born.
An embargoed press release was drafted and sent to multiple publications. Several interviews with Anne Worcester were set up, which included The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine. The announcement went public on September 28.
A new team owned by world-class athletes and leaders on and off the court instantly thrust MLP back into the spotlight.
More than 1,500 placements were earned, with the announcement reaching an estimated 3.4 billion people. Major media outlets like the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, ESPN, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes covered the story.
Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe dedicated a segment to it on the popular Fox Sports show Undisputed. Approximately 42 million people were reached via podcasts discussing it, while nearly eight million more were reached via radio.
The estimated total advertisement value equivalency was over $54 million. Overall, the announcement was a massive success. It marks a huge step forward for the growth of the league.
rEvolution prides itself on its ability to leverage sports to achieve business goals. The pickleball announcement was yet another way they helped move the needle. MLP received over 100 new inquiries from interested owners and sponsors as they seek to expand from 12 to 16 teams, from three to six events, and $1 million to $2 million in prize money next year.
But MLP’s momentum didn’t stop there. A week later, five-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and former WTA World No.1 Kim Clijsters teamed up to purchase one of the remaining expansion teams. Once again, a positive wave of coverage helped further the MLP’s reach.
Many major business and finance publications, news networks, and sports journalists again picked up the story, including great coverage from Bloomberg and People. Good Morning America added an exclamation point to the coverage when they dedicated an entire segment to pickleball on the ABC morning news.
MLP’s first season was capped off with a triumphant finale in Columbus, Ohio, on October 16. NBC brought a news crew that shot ten hours of footage, including interviews with Worcester, Clijsters, and BLQK team member Parris Todd. NBC’s Emilie Ikeda also played pickleball on the court with Anna Bright of the Ranchers pickle team for a segment that was featured on Today and the NBC Nightly News . The exposure MLP gained from those two pieces reached over 10 million people.
Meanwhile, hundreds of fans watched live from the venue as BLQK won their third MLP title with a 3-1 victory over the Hard Eights. Todd was awarded the MVP as her squad took home the Pritchard Cup and the $100,000 prize – the largest winner’s purse in pro pickleball. The incoming roster of high-profile celebrity owners created a palpable buzz, leaving the 17 owners in attendance, athletes, investors, and fans excited for the future.