LeBron James buys into pickleball explosion

Having acquired stakes in high-level teams, from baseball to hockey via motor racing and European football, LeBron James is now interested in a sport that is experiencing a truly meteoric rise: pickleball.

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar is part of a new ownership group announced Wednesday by Major League Pickleball, which has a team-oriented format that sets it apart from other fledgling professional leagues in the sport.

James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter join MLP’s investor roster through their family office, LRMR Ventures. According to the league, their ownership group also includes Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers, James’ former teammate. The investment company SC Holdings is also part of the group.

Pickleball explodes, and it gets messy

“Having SC Holdings, LRMR Ventures and their amazing group as owners and investors in Major League Pickleball is not only great for MLP, it’s a watershed moment for pickleball in general,” said the MLP founder. , Steve Kuhn, in a statement. “Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country, creating communities in cities and towns around the world. This investment and the platform this group provides will go a long way in helping us achieve our goal of reaching 40 million pickleball players by 2030.”

The sport had nearly 5 million U.S. participants at the start of 2022, according to USA Pickleball. He noted an annual report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association that described pickleball as “the fastest growing sport over the past two years,” with a 39.3% growth rate in course attendance. of this period.

Something like a combination of tennis, table tennis, and badminton, pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with a slightly smaller net than tennis. Players, often competing in doubles teams, hit perforated plastic balls back and forth with hard paddles. Previously favored by older players, it is becoming increasingly popular among youngsters. USA Pickleball cited a drop last year of 2.9 years to an average age of 38.1 among all participants.

“When I started playing pickleball, I immediately connected with the sports community and its ability to be both fun and competitive,” Carter told CNBC. “Watching the sport grow in communities everywhere is really exciting, and we can’t wait to bring our expertise together to try and build a championship team.”

The MLP, which staged its first season last year, said Wednesday it was growing from 12 to 16 teams. The teams, each made up of two men and two women, are not associated with a specific geographic region. MLP held events this year in Austin and Newport Beach, Calif., with another set for next month in Columbus, Ohio.

Other MLP investors include Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, former NFL quarterback Drew Brees and former tennis player James Blake.

Last month, James became a minority investor in Italian football powerhouse AC Milan through a private investment firm, RedBird Capital Partners. The four-time NBA champion joined Fenway Sports Group in 2021 as a partner, giving James stakes in affiliates including the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC and Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. In November, FSG purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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