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September 16, 2022

NFL Legend Takes on Ownership Role in Major League Pickleball

Former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is co-owner of a professional pickleball team.

By Drew Wathey

For 20 years, Drew Brees flung the pigskin around NFL stadiums, amassing nearly 46 miles. This future Hall of Famer holds so many pro football records that the list would stretch the length of a downfield pass to one of his, if not his favorite, New Orleans Saints wide receivers, Marques Colston.


But, to toss you a few of his most impressive accomplishments, here they are: 80,358 total passing yards—Brees was the first NFL quarterback to throw for more than 80,000 yards, only to be eclipsed by the legendary Tom Brady this past NFL season. Brees passed for 4,000+ yards in 12 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in league history. He was also the first signal-caller with more than 7,000 completions (7,142) and tallied 571 passing touchdowns in his career, with perhaps the one record that may never be broken—54 straight games with at least one TD pass.


For all that Brees has accomplished on the field, finding that competitive outlet to spur those athletic juices off the gridiron may very well now come in the shape of the 20’ x 44’ pickleball court.


Recently, he joined the ownership group of the Mad Drops Pickleball Club of Major League Pickleball, a new upstart league that features 12 teams and has already attracted some of the top names in this ever-popular sport. JW Johnson, knocking on the heels of top-ranked men’s player Ben Johns, plays for the Florida Smash, Irina Tereschenko plays for Team BLQK, Wesley Gabrielson is a member of The Jackrabbits and Simone Jardim, an iconic figure on the women’s side, is on the 5S.


For Brees, MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, life away from football needed a sport where he didn’t have to worry about 300-pound defensive linemen trying to take his head off. “I am an avid pickleball player, fan and student of the game,” says Brees, who started his NFL career with the Chargers in 2001 after a stellar collegiate showing at Purdue. “The opportunity to be a part of the ownership group of the Mad Drops PC is something I’m extremely excited about, and I look forward to helping raise awareness around the incredible players and competitions in Major League Pickleball, helping grow the sport of pickleball and fostering overall fan engagement.”


As pickleball continues to evolve across the sports landscape, Major League Pickleball (MLP) is ratcheting up the game in an innovative and eye-catching experience for players and fans alike. With a team-based, co-ed format and inventive rules that highlight athletes’ and fans’ passion for the game, MLP’s goal is to elevate and grow the sport in everything it does.


“We are thrilled to welcome such a strong group of strategic investors and partners into the MLP family,” says founder Steve Kuhn. “MLP is the preeminent and most exciting brand in all of pickleball. The talented and passionate Mad Drops PC ownership group will further elevate our competition and athletes, which contributes to our goal of growing the game of pickleball into the world’s most exciting spectator sport.”


Aside from Drew Brees, another recognizable name on the MLP ownership front is former pro tennis player James Blake. A winner of 10 singles titles during his 14-year career, and reaching the quarterfinals at the 2005 and 2006 US Opens and 2008 Australian Open, Blake’s world ranking was as high as fourth in 2006. Later, in 2008, he was awarded another honor by the ATP: Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year. Blake also helped Team USA win the Davis Cup in 2007.


“I decided to invest in Major League Pickleball because I see the growth of the sport is incredible. I picked it up and learned it from my mom,” says Blake, who is co-owner of the Lions of MLP. “I see that excitement and I know it’s going to spill over into the pro game and the viewership, and I see the excitement with other owners and other investors. It’s a passion for so many people and I just love the sport and love the people involved with MLP.”


Back in early June, Major League Pickleball unveiled its season-opening event in Austin, Texas. Its second team competition was staged in early August in Newport Beach, California, and boasted the largest purse in pickleball history, $319,000, with the winning team cashing a check for $100,000. Next up on the MLP playing calendar is Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 14-16.


Team matches are comprised of four games (women’s and men’s doubles and two mixed doubles) and a Dreambreaker singles tiebreaker.


“Pickleball is the fastest-growing and most accessible sport in America, and MLP has created a uniquely compelling team-based professional league that will continue to drive its growth,” says Zubin Mehta, general manager of Mad Drops Pickleball Club. “We are excited to partner with a terrific group of strategic investors as owners of Mad Drops PC and look forward to supporting MLP’s mission to be the premier provider of pickleball content.”


Another member of the Mad Drops ownership group is Ryan Serhant. You may know him as one of the high-end New York City realtors and a reality TV star on the popular Bravo series “Million Dollar Listing New York” and its spin-off, “Sell it Like Serhant.” Jim Buss, part-owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, has also offered his financial support of the Mad Drops.


Brees adds, “As a longtime professional athlete and competitor myself, I look forward to working with the Mad Drops PC team in our relentless quest to win many championships in the years to come.”


But unquestionably, it is Drew Brees—whose bronze sculpted bust will soon be a full-time resident in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio—who has further elevated the stature and notoriety of Major League Pickleball.


As pickleball continues its meteoric rise across all demographics, it is the game’s recognition and attraction of world-class athletes like Brees and Blake, and soon other notable figures, that highlights it as a sport that can cater to all levels of fitness and talent. Their journeys are just the beginning of what many consider an eventual stop at a future Olympic Games and beyond.  •

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