After setting a broadcast viewership record in its inaugural event, Pickleball Slam returns this weekend for its second iteration at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Retired tennis stars Andre Agassi and John McEnroe will return to the competition and be joined by newcomers Stefanie Graf and Maria Sharapova. The husband-wife duo of Agassi and Graf will compete against McEnroe and Sharapova in a double match featuring a $1 million prize purse that will air live at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN following the NFL’s Pro Bowl Games.
An amateur tournament will take place on Friday and Saturday before the main event. A total of 64 doubles teams will compete for a $25,000 prize pool and the chance to play against the Slam legends, who won a combined 42 Grand Slam singles titles during their tennis careers.
A sellout crowd of more than 4,500 attended last year’s Pickleball Slam, which Agassi and Andy Roddick won against McEnroe and Michael Chang at the Seminole Hard Rock.
This year’s shift to prime time was a big get for InsideOut Sports & Entertainment and Horizon Sports & Experiences, the organizers behind Pickleball Slam. Last year’s event on ESPN was held in April during a Sunday afternoon slot before the NCAA women’s basketball championship.
“Tickets are sold out [in the] lower bowl, VIPs. There’s some upper deck tickets still available but not much. Which doesn’t surprise me because Slam 1 was also sold out and now it’s in prime time,” HS&E co-CEO David Levy told NoVolleys.
‘Jury Is Still Out’ on Pickleball’s TV Stature
Last year’s afternoon-slotted Pickleball Slam on ESPN drew 669,000 viewers, which its organizers call “the highest-rated competition in pickleball history.”
Professional leagues are still vying to convert pickleball’s rabid player participation numbers into broadcast eyeballs. Several leagues have partnered with major networks, but pro matches typically fall between 3,000 and 7,000 viewers, according to Jimmy Miller of the King of the Court pickleball podcast.
“I think the jury is still out on whether pickleball will be a successful television event or not, or if you need to redefine what success is for a complete league that comes on every week and where it fits into sports viewing habits,” said Levy, who was president of Turner and spent 30 years at the network.
Another new wrinkle in Pickleball Slam 2 is the additions of former professional tennis players turned pickleballers Jack Sock and James Blake, who also owns the Milwaukee Mashers team in Major League Pickleball. Sock and Blake will compete as rotating doubles players alongside McEnroe, Agassi, Graf, and Sharapova on Sunday before the main event begins.
“You’re getting a mixture of a tennis fan, a pickleball fan, and a fan of these particular athletes. So I think that mixture makes us a little bit more successful and more of a destination programming,” Levy said.
“Unless you’re a diehard pickleball fan, no one truly knows the brand names or the names of professional pickleball players. It’s funny, I think people know the owners of pickleball franchises more than they know the players themselves.”
The concept of Pickleball Slam 2 mirrors TNT’s The Match golf series with PGA Tour, NFL, and NBA legends, which Levy launched with the network in 2018. But Levy stresses true elements of fierce competition and quality play will be integral to pickleball’s TV success beyond just throwing celebrities onto the court.
“It has to be real and it has to be authentic. I don’t think celebrity pickleball is the same. Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] playing in a pickleball match sounds more celebrity focused than actual real competition.”
Florida to Debut Pickleball Slam 2 Betting
“There’s going to be odds, at least in the state of Florida this time, for this Pickleball Slam 2 match between Agassi and Steffi versus McEnroe and Sharapova,” Levy said.
Hard Rock Bet, the only legal sportsbook in Florida, is providing odds for Pickleball Slam 2 with Team Agassi opening as the -250 favorite to win and Team McEnroe placed at +200 odds.
In August 2023, the PPA Tour became the first professional pickleball organization to offer betting with available wagers across 10 states via FanDuel. For a sport that’s struggled to sustain strong broadcast viewership, betting could be a viable way to increase eyeballs.
“If you bet on something you’re 98% more likely to watch and if you’re 98% more likely to watch you’re engaged, and if you’re engaged ratings go up.”