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    Anheuser-Busch buys Major League Pickleball team as sport booms

    • Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev has purchased a Major League Pickleball (MLP) team starting in the 2023 season, the company said in a press release.
    • The buy-in grants the company a founding partnership with the MLP league, control over one of the league’s extension teams as well as over aspects such as who the team drafts and who can become a sponsor.
    • The partnership comes just a few weeks after Vizzy, owned by rival company Molson Coors, became the official hard seltzer of the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) tour. Pickleball has seen a rapid uptick in popularity, growing 11.5% on average over the past five years, with a 21.3% growth rate between 2019 and 2020 alone.

    AB InBev’s move to buy a pickleball team comes as the company expands its sponsorship equity model to be inclusive of emerging sports, and pickleball’s recent growth certainly qualifies it as such. The company’s move to jump in at the sport’s relatively early stages allows it to be considered a founding partner, having a say in certain sponsorship decisions and access to insights regarding players and fans. The move is an opportunity for the company to diversify its sports reach and sponsorship portfolio following its choice to end its Super Bowl alcohol advertising exclusivity.

    The deal also extends to the DUPR global pickleball rating system for recreational and pro players, giving AB InBev and its brands an opportunity to engage players at DUPR events. 

    The announcement follows a move by competitor Molson Coors, which partnered with PPA, MLP’s rival organization. In fact, the two pickleball groups have been known to go head-to-head for dominance as the sport sees continued momentum. AB InBev’s deal suggests the two companies will compete against one another going forward to ensure one doesn’t gain a foothold over the growing sport.

    Pickleball’s growing popularity is reflected not only in the growing list of corporate sponsors, but also its growing celebrity ownership list. Investors include LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Kim Clijsters and professor Brené Brown. For MLP, 2023 stands to be a record-breaking year with the league set to expand from 12 to 16 teams, up its events from three to six and increase prize money and payouts to total over $2 million.

    “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, in a press release. “They have a unique ability in understanding the needs of fans, bringing them closer to the sport and brands they love.”

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