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Can Major League Pickleball (MLP) Be Improved?

Curious what the buzz is all about with Major League Pickleball? Read on for the latest news on how the league is going so far, and what changes might be made going forward.

"Major League Pickleball" (MLP) is a pro team-style format that has recently entered the pickleball scene. It has brought significant buzz and energy to the sport. But the entity and product is still in its infancy, and a lot is still yet to be worked out.

What improvements could make MLP better?

MLP has driven serious publicity and united players in a way that has entertained tons of pickleball fans and drawn new eyes in. This article will discuss positive reviews, some calls for change from the fanbase, and the future of MLP.

major league pro pickleball lines

What is Major League Pickleball?

In the MLP format, there are twelve teams in the Premier league and another twelve in the Challenger league.

Each league is separate. The twelve teams play in a group pool stage and then move on to a bracket semifinals and finals.

Each team is comprised of four players, two male and two female, and occasionally an alternate, who compete against other teams in a series of matches.

The overall matchups consist of gender and mixed doubles games, followed if necessary (two gender and two mixed matches can often result in a 2-2 tie after four games) by a tiebreaker known as a "Dreambreaker." In this tiebreaker, teams play a group singles match, with players rotating every few points and combos ever-changing.

Teams are backed by owners, who pony up a buy-in and symbolically rep the team. Some include Tom Brady, Kevin Durant, and Gary Vee. Players are drafted onto teams by either the owners or sometimes GM's who the owner selects to help manage.

The MLP team format is a departure from traditional pickleball tournament style, where individual players simply register and compete in a series of single and/or doubles matches on their own or with a partner of their choice. The MLP format aims to bring pickleball to a wider audience, and to create a more engaging and exciting viewing experience for fans.

MLP has a major success so far.

Major League Pickleball is a rapidly growing enterprise with potential to be prominent in the world of overall professional sports, with some MLP highlights already making it onto ESPN and the like.

However, to reach its full potential, the league needs to reconsider a handful of pitfalls or limitations in the viewing experience that have led to negative feedback from fans.

That is not to say MLP has been a failure, quite the contrary. The below notions are not bad necessarily, and do not reflect poorly on anybody, they are just ideas. This is more of spitballing and dream-boarding than critiquing. MLP would be just fine with no change.

But with the concept being so fresh and raw, it's perfectly fair and prudent to hear out the discourse in each direction. By improving on anything at all, MLP can find its full potential.

Some proposed changes to MLP:

The rally scoring system, player drafting process, and balancing the emphasis on doubles and singles play.

Again, nothing is flat-out bad about these aspects, but there are ways to experiment and possibly satisfy the audience more while at the same time preserving the quality of the pro player experience too.

By continuing to refine itself, Major League Pickleball can and should attract an even larger audience than it already has.

Some of the positive aspects of Major League Pickleball:

-Fast-paced and exciting gameplay has brought a ton of energy to pickleball

-Accessibility to a wider audience has more casual fans drawn to view

-Strong community and player involvement is good for the sport's growth

Major League Pickleball (MLP) has received raving reviews from fans of the sport, and many of them enjoy the new and exciting format of the game.

MLP is known for its high energy, which provides a thrilling experience for viewers. The league has taken the sport of pickleball to new heights and has made it even more enjoyable to watch.

Players seem to be eager to participate, surely in part due to the publicity and money, and MLP is attracting virtually all of the top names you would hope and expect to be competing. One of the best aspects of MLP is the level of competition and athleticism on display.

The league features most of the best pickleball players in the world and they bring a new level of skill to the game. Fans of the sport love the level of play and enjoy watching the best players in the world compete and push one another. Sometimes even yelling at each other!

Another great aspect of MLP is the format.

The league invented a new format, which has helped to make the game more exciting and entertaining for some viewers.

The use of rally scoring, novel in the sport at its highest levels, where a point is awarded to whichever team wins a rally, has allowed for interesting matches.

This has made the game more closely contested overall and engaging for viewers. The MLP uses a rule that make a team only able to score on serve once they reach a certain threshold, typically 18 in a game to 21. It makes it easier for the other team to keep it close.

MLP has brought more exposure to pickleball.

The league has received media attention nationally, and has allowed the sport to reach a wider audience. The league is providing a platform for players to build their brand, showcase their skill,s and it is really helping to grow the sport of pickleball.

The league founders are going out on a limb with this experimental program and helping to bring the sport into the mainstream. They deserve a lot of credit. MLP can even increase its popularity and reach more in the future.

major league pickleball logo

Some of the negative pushback MLP has experienced:

-Rally scoring stymies the sport's true nature, can make matches artificially "close"

-Poor player drafting process results in unbalanced teams and undeserving participants

-Over-emphasis on singles play can be off-putting for fans who prefer doubles matches

While Major League Pickleball has been praised for its high level of competition and showcasing of talented players, it has also received some negative feedback from viewers.

Again, most of the fans are extremely satisfied, and critiques are more of brainstorming than they are calls for concern and demands for imminent change.

Rally scoring has been criticized, and has its pros and cons.

Purists say that rally scoring changes the way players approach the game.

Some of the pro players themselves have said they play more cautiously on serve, because they can now cede a point on serve to their opponent, rather than just not gaining a point. This can lead to players taking fewer risks and playing passively, and not their normal style.

Truthfully, what is the "right" way to keep score is subjective, but it is fair to wonder if the MLP format is too drastic a departure from the traditional "game to 11, win by 2" format that 99.9% of pickleball players have grown accustomed to.

Anna Leigh Waters, the #1 female player in the world, is quoted as saying "For many reasons, rally scoring is not the direction pickleball should go." Other pros have been quoted as to saying that with no side-out, there is less chance for big comebacks, because the serve changes hands so often. This robs viewers of some potential excitement, the argument goes.

Yet other pros say that rally scoring gives "double advantage" to the returning team, who have a natural advantage anyways, and can now score points on return.

The only benefit that it seems everyone agrees upon, is that rally scoring makes match times more uniform. Of course this is mostly a benefit to the media, and doesn't impact the players much. But many folks point out that this evolution of format occurred in volleyball.

The player drafting process of MLP has been scrutinized.

The poor choices of managers has been a sore spot for some pickleball fans.

The contention is that decision-makers are not knowledgeable enough of the players. Dart throws. This has been a source of frustration for viewers who want to see the absolute top players in action.

Most of the owners are businessmen and pro athletes who truthfully are not too intimate with the pro pickleball scene. Although they have received advisement, and in some cases hired a GM to run the team, a lot of draft picks have been head-scratching and seemingly random.

In some instances, an owner or GM were drafted, or they reached far for someone. None of the selections were as egregious as picking the beginner from their local park who can barely walk, but there have been serious snubs in both the Premier and Challenger league.

It is clear to close pickleball fans that the draft process is not approached by those who are not fully researched. Lots of great players who probably should've gotten drafted, did not. And plenty who did get drafted probably should not have.

In pro sports this would not last, because the fans would call for heads to roll. But in MLP there is little to no accountability for poor drafting and management, because fan bases are still in their infant stages for specific players and teams, and also because GM's put down the money themselves so they want to control it.

One way to fix this is to raise the buy-in fee and make the payouts more severe, meaning it is quite costly to continue drafting poorly. Another idea, which is at least partly in place, is for there to be a relegation program.

Major League Pickleball's format places considerable emphasis on mixed doubles and singles, rather than traditional doubles.

Some folks have said it's too much of an emphasis, and MLP has been criticized for not accurately representing the sport of pickleball.

Pickleball has almost always been a predominantly doubles game, with singles being a cool but certainly lesser focus. This incongruence has led to a theoretical downtick in viewership and a less-than-ideal fan experience for some but not all viewers.

The format forces all players to play singles at some point, which stretches the capacities of all the pro players involved. It's fun. But, there have been some instances where some of the well-known pros have shown they absolutely just cannot play singles well, and they have been a liability to their team.

So too did some GM's draft accordingly, and we saw several of the elite top pros slide far down the draft or even went absent from it altogether because they are elite at doubles but cannot play good enough singles.

It's kind of a shame to not see some of them in the Premier league because they don't focus on singles, because MLP still is mostly doubles at the end of the day. Each person can decide if this is a pro or con.

The Dreambreaker also pits guys and girls playing singles together, which was a fun and novel spectacle at the start, but may plausibly wane. Mixed doubles is another story, and the fanbase loves mixed doubles a lot. But mixed singles matchups may fall by the wayside the same way most other mixed pro sports seem to have, notably mixed tennis doubles.

One compromise could be for the Dreambreaker to pit the #1 female of each team play each other for a set number of rallies, then #1 males, then #2 females, then #2 males. Something like that where it feels like it mimics "real" competition and tournament conditions.

Ways to Improve MLP Viewing Experience:

Rethinking the rally scoring system

By introducing new rules to increase the overall excitement and unpredictability of the matches. I think a lot of fans would love to see a MLP with just regular pickleball scoring.

They can still play matches to 15 or 21 or whatever, but use the traditional side-out model where returning teams can win rallies but cannot accrue points. This would be fun for many to see. They could also do rally scoring but remove the stop element at a certain point.

Streamlining the player drafting process

By creating a more comprehensive system that considers the players' skills and styles, as well as the chemistry between them.

They should consider an MLP where the draft is simply the top 48 men and women by actual formal ranking points, removing all the grey area and any debate on who "should" be in the draft.

Those who cannot play can opt out, with replacements filled numerically down the official rankings. But then there would be no more random cronyism and mild blacklisting of players. We would simply have the top 48 by true rank in participation, with less controversy (?).

The use of "Moneyball" type analysis in Major League Pickleball (MLP) team drafting would be cool to see. It seemed like owners and managers left a bit to be desired when it came to creating competitive and successful teams. Fans will hold out hope that managers draft "try harder" for lack of better term. Basically, make there be more at stake for owners.

As mentioned earlier, maybe they need to make it worse for performing poorly in the standings, including relegation and the like, so GM's work harder to draft more optimally. There should be a bigger focus on player performance data. MLP managers will identify players who are likely to bring the most value to their team.

pro pickleball logo league

Future of Major League Pickleball

The future of MLP is difficult to predict. It is anyone's guess if this is going to be a flash in the pan or a lasting institution, as there is not much precedent for a co-ed and team format in any major sport thriving long-term.

It would be great if pickleball bucked the trend and set a new standard. There are both positive and negative aspects for MLP to consider.

Positive aspects:

MLP provides a unique and dynamic format for the sport that can attract more spectators and bring in a new generation of fans.

There is no doubt it's good for the game to get more eyes and ultimately money into the sport. The team-based format also allows for great camaraderie among players and a more inclusive, community-oriented experience for fans.

They seem to be taking care of players, and the players seem genuinely eager to partake. Additionally, the focus on singles as well as doubles play can showcase the broader skills of the competitors and make for a more varied viewing experience.

On the negative side:

There are some concerns that the prep and tactics used by team owners and GM's could detract from the spirit of the game.

The emphasis on team dynamics may also not be representative of the true skills of the athletes, as some players may not be as successful in a team-based format as they are in individual tournaments.

In any given MLP event, there are a dozen world-class male and a dozen female players who will simply watch the finals from the sidelines, while plausibly the #40 ranked player will be soaking up the limelight with their team. This is good and bad.

Furthermore, the current format is heavily influenced on mixed doubles and singles play and it may not appeal to all pickleball fans and players, who may prefer a traditional tournament format. Some doubles specialists are going to fade into oblivion, sad to say. We have already begun seeing a tiny peek of it.

Will MLP be a major part of pickleball's future?

We think it will. Whether it will be a success or not will depend on its ability to address concerns and evolve, attract a large audience, and become more embraced by the pickleball community.

They are doing a stellar job so far, but part of it is simply right place and right time, and first-mover advantage wont' last forever. It's probably a huge mistake to just leave the format as is and never experiment. So let's see if they adapt or stand pat.

Major League Pickleball has the potential to be a major player in the entire professional sports world. By addressing some minor downfalls and limitations in the viewing experience, the league can improve the overall viewing experience and attract a larger audience.

By considering changes to the rally scoring system, player drafting process, and the overall format balance, MLP can establish its place in professional sports. For now, it's still amazing.

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