The APP vs the PPA – Wrestling Style

In the late 80’s the WWF reigned supreme when it came to “professional” wrestling. It was at a climax of their popularity that an upstart rival promotion, the World Championship Wresting, WCW, exploded onto the scene. They did so by signing a large number of the “sports” top pros exclusively to the WCW brand. It was a “real” explosive move in the world of a “make belief” sport. In the coming years, it played out like one of wrestling’s conjured bits, with bitter rivalries, heated exchanges by their respective ownership, and strong legal maneuvers. In the end, only one promotion came out on top.

What Happened

The WCW came into being by baiting the WWF’s top talent with larger contracts and hopes of being part of a better company. While all the WWF’s stars did not jump ship, many of the top names did. The result was an immediate jump in popularity and ratings for the new promotion.

This left the WWF reeling, but only in the short term. The WWF was an empire built by the shrewdness of one Vince McMahon. Vince never tried to play the “we will pay you more than the other guys” game. Instead, he relied on a stable of new up and comers along with those stars loyal to his company. The WCW was successful at continuing to poach some of those new stars. However, this strategy was unsustainable. The WWF continued to successfully promote new story lines and create new stars.

It was years in the making, but after short run of success, the WCW began to fade in popularity and viewership, and eventually was purchased and absorbed by the WWF. Some of those wayward stars never recouped their status with the WWF, but most were eventually welcomed back, if not immediately, over the time of their remaining careers.

What is happening with the APP and PPA?

In case you were not aware, late in 2021, the PPA made a splash by signing a large number of Pickleball’s most recognizable names to 3-year exclusive contracts. While they were successful in signing some of the sport’s top names, they were not successful at signing all of the top pros. In the short term, they have made a flashy start. The PPA quickly marketed themselves as the premier league and the APP as a secondary D league. However, they did not deliver the knockout punch they had hoped to their adversary, the APP.

They APP survived the initial hay maker the PPA threw at them, circled around, and looks to possibly positioning themselves to win the long game. They have done so by relying on their stable of up and comers. In a young sport, the field of future stars seems vast, untapped, and almost incalculable. The APP has done a great job at showcasing this new talent and that bodes well for the viewer. I am a fan of all Pickleball Pros, but I can tell you, I can’t watch another match where Ben Johns pummels and then submits Tyson McGuffin. I have spent the last five years watching the stars the PPA has signed and it’s welcoming and refreshing to watch all the new talent that the APP showcases.

What does that mean for the Amateur Player and the Viewers?

The PPA has come across to me as unapologetically unfriendly. They tell you their sole purpose is to exist for their pro players. They tell you that as an amateur you should be happy to “Play where the Pros Play”, and that, is your reward for being a fan of the PPA. It is intangible, but the PPA feels like an institution. It feels corporate cold.

On the flipside, the APP feels warm and grass roots. Look, I am no fool. I understand they are both organizations that are out to build an empire. However, I personally approached the year, excited for the two professional tours, and now, I have quietly started to root heavily for the APP.

On a positive note, the PPA has done a great job on televised presentations of their product. Taking a cue from baseball, they have opted for smaller seating designs which make the crowds look bigger and the atmosphere livelier and fun.

What I find unappealing about the PPA is the hard sell. Their pros routinely push the company agenda. In a recent post-match interview, Leigh Water, a player whom I greatly enjoy watching and actively root for, concluded by reciting a canned and seemingly exercised statement about how only the PPA has all the best pickleball players. In another recent interview, Ben Johns was asked about possible rivalries and he opted only to mention two players whom he handedly disperses on a regular basis. No mention of a JW Johnson who has beaten him both in singles and in doubles, and who is an APP player. In fact, when APP players enter a PPA tournament, they routinely show up PPA contracted players.

Although hard core Pickleball fanatics are growing at all ages, the 40+ age group still comprises the bulk of the fan-ship. This is a group with a lifetime of experiences. You may be able to hard sell your product to a younger fan, but the older fan is more savey. At times, I find the PPA’s rhetoric an offense to the viewership’s intelligence. Look PPA, don’t piss on my leg and call it rain.

What does the future hold?

As we all know, the future is unwritten. However, like the WCW, the PPA cannot continue to handout 3-year contracts to all the new talent that is bound to arise. While PPA ownership has deep pockets, I can tell you from experience that companies with big pockets don’t get that way by throwing money around. Companies with big pockets get that way by demanding better performance by those under contract, and right now, its going the other way.

This week, the APP along with Major League Pickleball, two organizations in close affiliation, are coming on strong with a New York coming out party. MLP will ring the Wall Street Bell, a group of APP/MLP players will have an exhibition match in a NYSE ball room, the APP will have its first annual tournament in Flushing Meadows, the Mecca of USA Tennis, and the whole thing will be capped off by MLP’s next team league draft.

The future of Pickleball may go like the battle the WWF and the WCW waged. After an early PPA splash, it looks like the APP is coming on strong. Like the parable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady may win this race.

Pickleball, Covid, and the 2020 Tournament Season

As a Pickleball Player in Arizona, I think of my season starting in September and going through April. I consider the off season to be May through August when only mad-dogs and hard core pickleball players brave the heat. Early in 2020, I had plans a plenty. I had PB lessons, tournaments, and goals laid out for the rest of the year. Little did I know that the Covid was lurking around the corner and that it would upend my plans.

As the Covid bloomed into a full pandemic, Pickleball play came to an ugly halt. Courts were locked up and players sheltered in place. I hastily purchased a 10 foot practice net, and the wife and I found a secluded place in a neighborhood park to practice. In those days I did not know if I would get to play again in 2020. I saw the Covid peak in the coming months. I saw tournaments cancel and I saw my Pickleball life dwindle. Then, in the middle of this, I saw and signed up for the Las Vegas Open Tournament. Thinking it was more folly than an actual possibility, I clacked away on the Pickleball Tournaments sign up page.

As time passed by, I slowly saw play start to come back. First a few brave souls that started to show up as our community unlocked the courts. Later I found a group of die hards that played at the Dave White Park in Casa Grande. Some players I knew, many more became new friends. Still no clear sign that the Las Vegas Open would actually take place. Late in August a 16 court complex opened up in Gilbert Arizona. There, a glimpse of Pickleball past began to emerge. Just in time as the Las Vegas Open seemed to creep closer into reality. As it got closer, I dared to believe that it would actually happen. Finally with some late Covid related restrictions, the tournament became a reality.

Next week, the week of September 21, the Las Vegas Open will take place. After a long wait, seeing other tournaments cancel, and having my fingers crossed on both hands, it looks like I will get to play in a tournament! I will get to see friends/foes and will get the excitement and challenges that come with tournament play. This weekend I am laying out my lucky gear. I am staging my tournament bag with all the possible accoutrements that I may or may not need. Compression sleeves, tennis elbow and knee braces, and my game day play list…all have come out of the moth ball rack, dusted off, and ready for play.

Monday morning I will be heading out to Las Vegas, with Lesly Gore’s – Sunshine and Lollipops song loaded on the Spotify and playing loudly as I head out of the Phoenix Valley westward on the US 60 towards Las Vegas. Happiness will reign on this day. However, if you see me with my ear buds at the tournament, beware Sunshine and Lollipops will not be playing. For this day, I reserve the likes of Iron Maiden’s – Trooper and System of a Down’s – Disorder. So don’t expect a sunny disposition on tournament day. If I don’t’ see you, I hope you get your play on wherever you be be…see you on the courts real soon.