Pickleball Points

Well, here we go again — starting another pickleball year. Many of our friends — some of the captains from our regional pickleball spots — have headed south to Florida and Arizona, where they report back on grand communities built around their pickleball programs.

It saddens me when some decide not to return, but here are our collective best wishes to all of them. It’s this kind of continued national pickleball growth in communities across the country that helps to explain the remainder of the story this week.

Over the last year, the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) has become very popular, with young athletic professionals showing all of us how this game can and should be played. I frequently get text messages to turn on X, Y or Z to watch this or that match.

The PPA organization negotiated long-term contracts with almost two dozen top players so these professional tournaments can guarantee exciting play to venues, and the venues to their spectators. The PPA was recently purchased and can now negotiate for even better pickleball venues which will allow pickleball to make another giant step forward nationally.

Meanwhile, PickleballTournaments.com continued to improve their format as a web-based clearing house and central location to promote the time, location, draws and results of tournaments all around the world. They were recently purchased as well.

Finally, PickleballCentral.com has been one of the Internet locations where we all have pulled our hair trying to read the tea leaves between exaggerated and confusing advertising claims about their product offerings. It was also recently purchased, so maybe we will see some improvement in this department as well.

To be fair, all three of these entities have struggled from time to time because of COVID, but Mr. Pickleball will not be denied. All three were recently purchased by the same person and infused with cash and a fresh perspective.

That is correct — one person. Fifty-year-old Tom Dundon, who made his fortune primarily in subprime auto loans, has already been involved in sport as an investor in Topgolf Entertainment for more than a decade. The deep-pockets billionaire investor tried to salvage the Alliance of American Football a few years ago before buying and managing the Carolina Hurricanes, a team in the National Hockey League that clearly has benefitted from his hands-on involvement.

I know from my own career in sport products that it is one thing to throw big money at an entity, and completely another to work with the management teams that manage them to make necessary changes. The need for change, versus the concept “that is the way we do it,” sometimes seems like trying to match two similar ends of a magnet.

The year Tom Dundon was born, there periodically were whispered concerns when I might jump into the umpire chair for a professional tennis match between a player I sponsored, versus a player using another brand. Of course, I never let it bias my officiating or involvement, as I was always about “The show must go on.” Tennis slowly became more organized, more buttoned-down, and this appears to be the same step for pickleball, just played out at a much faster speed.

Good on you, Mr. Tom Dundon, and here is wishing you and pickleball the very best luck. After all, “The show must go on.”

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.