Major League Pickleball hosts first event of 2023 in metro Phoenix
Big names in sports and entertainment have their eyes fixed on an upcoming athletic event in the Valley.
No, we're not talking about the Super Bowl. It's the nation's fastest-growing sport: pickleball.
What's happening: Major League Pickleball (MLP), the buzzy pro circuit, is hosting its first competition of the year at Mesa's Bell Bank Park, which kicked off Thursday and will continue through Sunday.
Why it matters: Professional and recreational pickleball's popularity has exploded, with an 11.5% average annual growth rate among recreational players over the past five years. Celebrities such as Tom Brady, Kevin Durant and Heidi Klum have purchased teams.
- The onslaught of interest offers major revenue opportunities for metro Phoenix, where many courts and indoor facilities already exist given the retiree community's early adoption of the sport.
State of play: This weekend's tournament has two levels: the Premier Level, made up of the top 48 players drafted, and the Challenger Level, which consists of the next 48.
- Premier teams will all play Friday, with quarterfinals Saturday, semifinals Sunday morning and the final showdown that night.
- The Challenger tournament kicked off Thursday and will conclude on Sunday at 2pm.
Zoom in: Arizona's MLP team, AZ Drive, is in the Challenger Level and faced the Atlanta Bouncers, Brooklyn Aces and Dallas Pickleball Club Thursday. The Drive won only one match and did not advance to the quarterfinals.
- A group of notable Arizonans, including former Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald, Suns star Devin Booker, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and country music star Dierks Bentley collectively own AZ Drive.
What they're saying: Fitzgerald isn't just a financier — he also picked up the sport as a hobby during the pandemic. And he takes his performance very seriously.
- "People pick fights with me and I just finish them," he told 12 News. "You know what I mean? I'm not out here looking for trouble. Like 50 Cent says, 'I don't want any problems, but if you want a problem, no problem. I got you.'"
Be smart: MLP is live-streaming all the games on YouTube.
- To see the action in person, buy a single-day ticket for $10 or a full-weekend pass for $35.
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