Major League Pickleball has named its newest team owner, and it’s a major beer brand.
The rapidly growing sports league announced on Tuesday that Anheuser-Busch will purchase a Major League Pickleball team. The team will begin playing in the 2023 season.
In recent months, MLP has announced dozens of high-profile investors, including NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Tom Brady and Drew Brees of NFL fame. Anheuser-Busch is the first Fortune 500 company to purchase an MLP team.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a league representative told CNBC the going rate for a team is in the seven figures.
“We love the accessibility of pickleball and we think it’s an amazing opportunity for us to gain relevance and excitement for our brands,” Matt Davis, head of Anheuser-Busch’s U.S. sports marketing and partnerships, told CNBC.
Next year will be its biggest year to date, MLP said. The league is growing from 12 to 16 teams, with events doubling to six. Player prize money and payouts will exceed $2 million, it said.
Anheuser-Busch said it will be involved in all aspects of the team, including choosing players in drafts and deciding on sponsors. Davis said he hopes to put a general manager and other team members in place in the days ahead.
“Our focus will be on, how do we create a compelling team and compelling team culture and identity that will resonate with fans? I think from there, we’ll look for strategic partners and sponsorship collaborations with other teams to make sure we’re doing things that are constantly exciting the fan bases,” he said.
Major League Pickleball also sees the partnership as a big win.
“Anheuser-Busch is one of the most impactful professional sport sponsors in the U.S. To have them join as an ownership partner is an incredible opportunity for Major League Pickleball,” said MLP founder and CEO Steve Kuhn.
Pickleball — a cross between tennis, badminton and pingpong — has surged in popularity, with many people picking up the sport during the pandemic as a safe way to be social and active outdoors. In 2021, nearly 5 million people played the sport, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Google searches for “pickleball” have risen 219% in the U.S over the last five years, according to paddle maker Selkirk.