There’s trouble in pickleball paradise.
The Professional Pickleball Association and Major League Pickleball are now at odds after announcing in November that they would join forces and merge team competition leagues.
The PPA told CNBC that MLP has not yet signed the partnership deal they verbally agreed to 10 months ago. PPA owner Tom Dundon and MLP owner Steve Kuhn had agreed to operate the joint league under the MLP brand name and format. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed at the time.
“I don’t know what Steve Kuhn’s intentions were the entire time,” Connor Pardoe, PPA Tour CEO told CNBC. “I don’t know if he led us down a road to get access to our players to try to be in a stronger position here later.”
Pardoe claims MLP executives have recently gone radio silent. He also said PPA was made aware by some of its players that MLP had begun reaching out with lucrative offers. He said PPA would consider litigation if MLP were to improperly poach players.
Kuhn told CNBC that there are “numerous misrepresentations of reality” taking place, without providing specifics.
On Thursday, MLP announced it has begun to sign top players to multi-year, guaranteed contacts. The deals include a player off-season and enhanced financial security.
“We think this is a great thing that will make MLP more valuable. So we’ll make the players lives more successful and better. And we’ll also continue to elevate the sport and help the sport grow,” said Kuhn.
He said if the PPA is willing to pay their players more, he’s willing to talk about aligning with the league.
“We asked the PPA to join us in paying players more, and their reaction was that we pay the players too much,” Kuhn told CNBC.
In the last year, MLP has seen continued growth with new, high-profile ownership groups, growing team valuations, new sponsorships and media deals. In July, MLP announced Julio DePietro was taking over as CEO. He took over negotiations of this deal from Zubin Mehta, who resigned from the board.
The competing leagues have had a complicated relationship.
The PPA historically has acted as a tour-style league for the best players in the world. Two years ago, Kuhn introduced team style pickleball. Since then, the two leagues have operated independently.