A group of retired pro athletes are getting in on the pickleball craze by playing for, investing in and advising a new pro-am style venture called PBX Pickleball.
Sports Facilities Companies (SFC), a youth and amateur sports marketplace, is nearing a long-term deal with USA Pickleball to launch the event company that will feature retired pro athletes playing in and making appearances at local tournaments. These former pros will both play together and against each other in mixed pro-am teams.
PBX already has more than 100 retired athletes signed up and former MLB All-Stars Kevin Youkilis, Tino Martinez and Brad Penny as well as former NFL wide receiver Golden Tate, former USA Pickleball CEO Stu Upson and former Philadelphia Flyers president Paul Holmgren are among the advisors who will also be playing. Youkilis is following in the pickleball footsteps of his brother-in-law, Tom Brady, who invested in a Major League Pickleball (MLP) expansion team last year.
“I know a lot of the baseball guys that are going to be involved, and it’s going to be competitive,” former MLB pitcher and PBX advisor Kent Mercker said in a phone interview. “They’re going to want to win, and that, I think, is going to be the biggest draw for the retired players.”
Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. along with Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Jeff Conine—who won the 1997 World Series together—are also expected to participate as players. The MLB and NHL alumni associations have partnered with PBX while SFC is working on securing players from other pro sports.
To attract that talent, SFC is selling equity to former pros turned pickleballers and has allocated roughly $5 million for this initial launch with plans to invest more as the organization scales and matures. CEO Jason Clement hopes the venture will command media rights deals long-term but right now wants to focus on building a scalable and sustainable business model driven by sponsorship dollars, tournament proceeds, and corporate package fees.
“We’re looking at social and digital media as a communication tool, utilizing these athletes’ platforms and being able to showcase their personalities and experiences,” Clement said in an interview.
There are more than 36 million pickleball players in the United States, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals, and the sport is dealing with cycles of fragmentation and consolidation as it grows. Last year, PPA’s Vibe Pickleball, which is backed by Mark Cuban, agreed to merge with MLP, and PBX is aiming to collaborate with MLP as a means to scale its events and hospitality offerings.
The first PBX event is scheduled to begin in September.
“It’s not the top professional level, but it’s our own level,” Mercker, who played in the 2023 U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, said. “It’s the former NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB guys that feel like they’re at the top level.”