Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story Image

Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story

By Alan Ng | May 28, 2024

I must have been locked up in my home for several years, but when did pickleball become a thing? Everyone I know seems to be in on the fad that passed me by. Just how big is pickleball? Ashley Underwood, Seth Porges, and Mary Pilon, in their documentary Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story, take us into the seedy underbelly of pickleball…OK, it’s not that bad.

From what I’ve seen of the sport, pickleball is the poor man’s tennis using wooden paddles, large plastic balls, smaller courts, and players up close to the net. Though not as physically exhausting as tennis, it’s a game anyone can play.

As the popularity of the sport mushroomed during the Pandemic, savvy businessmen found a way to monetize the sport and make it professional with the formation of Major League Pickleball (MLP) led by Steve Kuhn and the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) purchased by Thomas Dundon both in 2021.

At the start, the difference between the two was that MLP felt more like an open league where anyone would compete versus the PPA, which signed the best players in the U.S. to player contracts with non-compete clauses. From the start, there was a minor war between the two leagues to attract the best and elevate the sport to the levels of the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

What’s fascinating about Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story is that this documentary is not necessarily about the game of pickleball but shows us this microcosm of the business of professional sports. What we’re seeing is how a professional league is put together and how two competing leagues both help and hinder the sport’s overall growth potential.

“As the popularity of the sport mushroomed…savvy businessmen found a way to monetize the sport and make it professional…”

Obviously, when creating a league, you’re trying to get the best of the best to sign on. In the early stages, when creating a team, the valuations were relatively affordable and quickly rose with the sport’s popularity. Players were offered generous salaries, top-class lodging, and the best courts in the country. Which begs the question…how many professional pickleball matches have you been to or seen on TV?

It soon became apparent that the team’s price tag, player salaries, and amenities were sorely overvalued, with audiences numbering in the thousands when it should be millions. The money was just not coming in, even with celebrity team owners like Tom Brady.

The most interesting part of the documentary is the reckoning of the actual dollar value of Pickleball. With the money spigot dripping small amounts of cash, how can either league afford top and bottom player salaries, stadiums, and equipment? As a result, the warring MLP and PPA decided to merge, which caused an all-new set of problems. With no money, many contracts were not being paid off, which became the catalyst of players wanting to form a “union” or coalition.

Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story shows how the game of pickleball has turned into a crazy corporate mess of a sport that can’t quite find the critical mass to support it financially, and it is an age-old battle between business and labor. At times, the events that unfold are like watching a slow car crash pile up on the side of the road.

The only downside of the documentary is pickleball is not exactly catching the nation on fire. In other words, the game and the players are virtually unknown to the general public. Though Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story tells a good story and spends a lot of time getting everyone up to speed, the subjects from top to bottom are mostly unknowns until the end, with appearances by LeBron James, John McEnroe, Tom Brady, Billy Bush, Eva Longoria.

Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story is a great documentary about the economics of professional sports and why pickleball, the WNBA, and even women’s soccer struggle. It’s all about revenue and where it comes from…primarily the fans of those sports. When a sport fails to recognize this simple fact, the stakeholders, from owners to players to sponsors, have no choice but to turn on one another.

Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story (2024)

Directed and Written: Ashley Underwood, Seth Porges, Mary Pilon

Starring: Major League Pickleball, Professional Pickleball Association, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Dreambreaker: A Pickleball Story Image

"…a great documentary about the economics of professional sports..."

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