Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws against the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and International Tennis Hall of Famer Kim Clijsters are the latest high-profile athletes to join the pickleball craze.
Major League Pickleball announced on Wednesday that Brady and Clijsters are headlining their newest ownership group to buy an expansion team, which will begin playing in 2023.
Pickleball, America’s fastest-growing sport, has attracted other high-profile owners, including NBA champions LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love and Super Bowl champ Drew Brees, as well as billionaire investor and Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry and former tennis star James Blake.
The Brady and Clijsters group is led by Knighthead Capital. It also includes RBC bond saleswoman Callie Simpkins and JPMorgan financial advisor Kaitlyn Kerr, who will serve as its general manager. The expansion team is set to be 50% female-owned.
The new ownership group will be part of Major League Pickleball’s latest growth plan, which includes expanding to 16 teams from 12, and doubling the number of events to six. Prize money and payouts are also expected to grow and surpass $2 million.
“What really shines through in working with these amazing individuals is their passion for the sport,” the league’s founder, Steve Kuhn, said about the new group.
Financial terms of were not disclosed. In September, Anne Worcester, Major League Pickleball’s strategic advisor, told CNBC that demand for teams has grown exponentially and that prices are in the seven-figure range.
Pickleball — which is played with paddles — counted more than more than 4.8 million players in the United States last year, according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Single Sport Report on Pickleball. Kuhn said the league’s goal is to reach 40 million pickleball players by 2030.
Kim Clijsters of Belgium in action against Caroline Wozniacki (not seen) of Denmark during Expo 2020 Dubai Tennis Week at the Expo Sports Arena in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on February 19, 2022.
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Brady started playing the sport four years ago with Knighthead Capital owner Tom Wagner, people familiar with the matter said. He often plays with his children and has explored building a pickleball court at his residence. Brady believes it’s a good investment as he looks at the next stage of his career as an entrepreneur.
Clijsters told CNBC she picked up pickleball after retiring from tennis and plays regularly with her business partners. She has yet to play with Brady.
“We know that he loves to play pickleball and is very competitive,” she told CNBC. “We can’t wait to get a game in and see where everybody’s levels at.”
The Belgian tennis star says she believes pickleball is a good investment because of its accessibility, and she loves the fact that men and women can play together.
“For me, playing tennis with my husband and my kids is not that easy, right? But when I play pickleball we can all have a fun game,” she said.