Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article misstated Doug Hirsch’s job title.
With Major League Pickleball’s announcement of an expanded 24-team league next year, Arizona will have its own professional pickleball team in the league — which has the backing of some of the state’s most famous music and sports stars — starting in 2023.
Larry Fitzgerald, Devin Booker and Dierks Bentley have signed on to become owners of the newly formed AZ Drive. The former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, Phoenix Suns guard and country singer respectively are joined by the following co-owners:
- Doug Hirsch, former founder and managing partner of Seneca Capital and co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Sohn Conference Foundation.
- Sheila Gulati, founder and managing director of venture capital firm Tola Capital.
- John Merwin, Brooklyn Bedding founder and CEO.
- Sam Fox, CEO and founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts.
- Brian Frakes, president of Common Bond Development Group.
- Mark Dalton, Arizona Cardinals’ senior vice president of media relations.
- Richard J. Schnall, partner of private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.
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“Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It’s only right that we give this game a home in Arizona at the highest level,” Fitzgerald tweeted on Dec. 20.
He followed that post with: “Honored to get to do it alongside some close friends @DevinBook @DierksBentley @CardsMarkD and many more!”
This is not the first time Booker, Bentley and Fitzgerald have joined a business venture together. They are also investors in Sam Fox’s Global Ambassador hotel, which plans to open in Phoenix in 2023.
AZ Drive drafted players Wes Burrows, Sarah Ansboury, Andreas Siljestrom and Sarah Burr on Dec. 15.
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How the 2023 Major League Pickleball season will work
Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka, Kevin Durant, Mark Cuban, Heidi Klum and Eva Longoria are some of the stars who have ownership of the other 11 new teams.
The 12 newcomers will compete in the MLP’s Challenger Level for the first half of 2023 and switch to Premier Level in the second half of the year. The dozen returning teams — including Austin, Texas; Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Florida — will start the year in the Premier Level and switch to the Challenger Level. Players will be competing for up to $5 million in prize money and payouts throughout the year.
“All 24 teams start on equal footing in 2023 and will be fighting for pole position for the 2024 season, which will bring a promotion and relegation system to major U.S. sports for the first time,” according to the MLP’s news release.
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Where will Major League Pickleball be played in Arizona?
There will be six events throughout 2023, beginning Jan. 26-29 at Bell Bank Park in Mesa.
These will determine which 12 teams will compete in the MLP Premier Level in 2024; the bottom 12 teams will be placed in the MLP Challenger Level, according to the MLP website.
Information about tickets will be available at https://www.majorleaguepickleball.net/news. To watch matches, go to https://www.majorleaguepickleball.net/watch-follow.
Reach the reporter at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.
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