Tom Dundon, chairperson of the Alliance of American Football and owner of the NHL Carolina Hurricanes, is making headlines after his groundbreaking purchase of the two largest organizations in professional pickleball––Professional Pickleball Association
(PPA) and Pickleball Central. The purchase transpired in early January of 2022 and leaves pickleball players all over the country wondering what it’ll mean for the sport. Between Dundon’s pull in the professional sports world and his business expertise, this move will launch pickleball even further into the mainstream to achieve the recognition it deserves.
While we don’t have the financial details of the purchase, we know that it was a multi-million dollar investment for Dundon. PPA and Pickleball Central have pioneered pickleball growth over the years––which says a lot when you look at pickleball’s 34% growth rate in the last three years alone.
PPA, launched in 2020, is a sports league providing tournaments, merchandise, rankings, and cash prizes for players. As the premier provider for professional pickleball events, PPA has awarded over $2.5 million in annual prizes, holds multiple events and tournaments at world-class facilities, and draws in fans to watch pickleball with its wide range of broadcasting partnerships.
Pickleball Central, launched in 2006, serves as the largest online pickleball equipment reseller there is. Pickleball Central currently holds over 500 distribution, facility, and industry partners and previously acquired Pickle-Ball Inc., Pickleball.com, PickleballTournaments.com and their respective software.
The acquisition raises questions about how Dundon’s influence will alter PPA and Pickleball Central operations. The purchase includes the guidance of Connor Pardoe, PPA commissioner and co-founder, who has agreed to stay on for at least 3 years to ensure a smooth transition. This is good news for the over 4.2 million pickleball players in the US; with Pardoe’s pickleball expertise and Dundon’s financial resources and network, this partnership welcomes more potential for media attention, partnerships, and investments to the organizations. Pickleball Central CEO and co-founder David Johnson shared his statement on this move in a 12/27 press release.
“We are excited to be partnering with Dundon Capital Partners as a way to accelerate our meteoric growth,” he said. “The sport of pickleball grew by 20% last year and now counts over 4 million participants in the U.S. DCP will help us scale to meet demand with a passion for the sport of pickleball and an incredible track record of success in sports-related businesses.”
Although we don’t yet know the extent of Dundon’s pickleball experience, we can assume his success as a business mogul will continue. Raised in Texas, the 50-year-old graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1993 with a Bachelor’s degree in economics. Currently valued at $1.5 billion, his net worth continues to accelerate as he takes part in new business endeavors, including his dive into pickleball.
In 2015, Dundon founded the Dallas-based private investment firm Dundon Capital Partners, LLC, for which he serves as chairman and managing partner. The firm focuses on private equity investments across a variety of industries including Employer Director, a healthcare company, Topgolf, a sports entertainment entity, and OTO Development, a hospitality organization. Still, Dundon is arguably most known as the owner of NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and chairperson of the American Alliance of Football––both the result of multi-million dollar purchases.
Because of Dundon’s pull as a key stakeholder in two of the most popular professional sports in the country, his connections could attract other sports entities to get involved in pickleball. We can also expect to see a demographic shift. Although 79% of casual players are 54 or younger, pickleball is still widely renowned as a sport for older communities. Between increased media attention and recognition from the professional sports world, pickleball will likely benefit from growth within younger communities in the future. The financial assets that Dundon Capital Partners will provide are unlike anything PPA and Pickleball Central have ever seen before. All things considered, Dundon is the ideal partner to meet the growing demand for pickleball.
Even just months after the initial purchases, we’re seeing changes in the professional pickleball world. In early 2022 PPA implemented a shift in athlete contracts for player exclusivity. Following their lead in player investment, the Association of Pickleball increased their prize pool to $2 million and increased stipends and appearance fees for the best players in the league. This is just the beginning of changes that are sure to come as the professional pickleball world steps up its game.
Hopefully, Tom Dundon will side out when applying his business skills to the pickleball community. What we know for sure is that this sport is evolving––and the Dundon investment is an ace for professional pickleball.
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