Big Pickleball Is Coming for Us

I started playing Pickleball late in 2018. Back then I knew nothing about dinking let alone what it meant to play in tournaments. When talking about tournament play, I remember the old guard complaining about the rising cost of tournaments. Back then $50.00 would get you lunch, a shirt, some kind of goodie, and if you won, a nice heavy medal. Still the old guard thought rising cost was outrageous. I remember thinking their worries were unwarranted.

After a short while I mustered the courage to sign up and play in my first tournament. That tournament was the Duel in the Desert in Casa Grande Arizona. It was and still is one of the best Private tournaments around, with their 32 courts and multitudes of players. I emphasize private because today we have “Big Pickleball” running tournaments. In fact, they are proliferating so fast they may run your local tournament out of existence. It’s an exciting time for Pickleball, but also one that is changing the face of pickleball. I am hopeful that the changes will be for the better, although there is no guarantee I am correct.

Today, you can still attend very fun community run tournaments. For example, a very well run and very fun tournament in our area is the Robson Ranch Desert Slam 9th Annual Pickleball Tournament in Robson Ranch in Eloy AZ. This tournament will run you $65.00. The community treats you very well and you run into many of the same players you see at the “Big Pickleball” run tournaments. In contrast, I just attended the PPA Tours Foot Solutions Arizona Grand Slam. I spent in the neighborhood of $140.00 for registration alone. Gone are the days of any extras. For my entre fee I received no shirt, no goodie bag, not lunch ticket, and nothing else but the “privilege” of playing where the pros play. I earned a gold medal which was great for my pride. However, the medal I received was unworthy of the event. I showed it to several of my tournament competitors; one of them called it plastique. In fact, it was so low grade, it bent in my bag on the way home. I understand that “Big Pickleball” is a business and they need a return on their investment. But the excitement of the tournament was definitely tarnished by the sub-par medals that were given out.

In his November edition podcast, The Freestyle Boys, Ben Johns talked about how the PPA pros are now requiring minimum amenities and conditions in order they attend any tournament. He talked about how he would strongly consider not attending such tournaments as the USAPA Margaritaville Pickleball National Championship and the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships unless they met their minimum standards. I believe that the intent and plan is that these tournaments will not meet said standards. After all, a tenant of the PPA’s business plan is for their brand to provide the only venue where you can “play where the pros play”.

I understand the Pro’s perspective, however, the issue is that people like me and my fellow amateur players are a main source of the revenue that is going to pay for these minimum standards. And it is very clear the PPA’s expectation is that we the amateur should do without, in order the pros get their amenities and minimum requirements. Going without means no referees until the medal rounds, no shirt, and a low-grade reward for those of us who reach the podium. What I don’t understand is how quickly we went from the privilege of having pros in our sport, to having entitled professionals that demand their amenities come at the expense of the amateur’s tournament experience.

Not all “Big Pickleball” is the same. The APP still provides you with a very nice shirt and a nice medal if you happen to place. Additionally, I learned that the Legacy Sports Complex in Mesa Arizona recently hosted a tournament and provided referees for every match. However, make no mistake, this is a battle ground. The amateur tournament player needs to understand that we can control our destiny based on our decision and what tournaments to attend. Also, we will have to live with the consequences of decisions and the journey it takes us. I can only urge you to choose wisely and above all, support your local clubs, your local gear provider, and continue to support your local tournaments. Remember, We Are the Revenue.