Pro Padel League (PPL), North America’s first professional padel league, has kicked off its inaugural season in partnership with Florida’s Sports Coast at the Sarah Vande Berg (SVB) Tennis & Wellness Center in Zephyrhills.
Padel is a paddle sport (the way table tennis, beach tennis or pickleball are paddle sports); however, it varies in terms of venue, rules and equipment. (Full information on padel is available at the website of the International Padel Federation at this link.) You can also learn about the sport domestically at the website of the U.S. Padel Association at this link.
Currently, padel has over 25 million players worldwide and is growing in popularity in the U.S. with the number of padel courts set to double in 2023. Over 8 million players are projected to be playing in the U.S. by 2030. The PPL will enable players, coaches, team owners, facility owners, broadcasters, fans, sponsors and brands to all be involved in, and capitalize on, the sport’s explosive growth.
The regular season of PPL began on May 13 and will take place over the course of five weekends with seven teams in competition and conclude with the championship weekend taking place June 10-11, at which point, there will be a semifinal round followed by the two best teams competing in the finals for the PPL CUP.
During the first season, teams will be comprised of four active players including two men, and two women, and four alternates, and will follow the international scoring format. The season is expected to attract the attention of padel fans from around the world for the first weekend of competition. A total of 84 of the world’s top padel players will be competing in the PPL’s inaugural season.
SDM caught up with Marcos Del Pilar, PPL Commissioner, to learn more.
Sports Destination Management: Padel is relatively new to many in the USA. What made you select Florida's Sports Coast and the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center, for the league?
Marcos Del Pilar: The SVB is not only one of the top facilities in Florida, but in the U.S. They are strong supporters of padel and great operators to host our inaugural PPL season. They have all the assets we need: not just padel but a restaurant and tennis as well. We also have a great relationship with Pasco County.
SDM: Do you think PPL will make people more aware of padel in the USA?
MDP: Yes – this is going to be a game changer for the entire sports industry in North America.
SDM: What do you think needs to be done to help that growth?
MDP: We need to nurture the relationships with American companies, we have to work on building facilities and providing equipment. Once we hit the tipping point, there’s really no way back. The discussion now isn’t how to make padel successful in the USA, it’s about building a community of fans and players who want to watch it.
SDM: How is venue construction coming along?
MDP: There were over 10,000 courts built around the world in the last two years.
SDM: Is there a particular region you’d like to see more courts built in the USA?
MDP: Anywhere is a good site. The location isn’t the key factor; monetizing the sport is, however.
SDM: Who do you see as the typical player?
MDP: We know there are a lot of people who play other racquet or paddle sports: tennis players, pickleball players, people who play platform tennis or beach tennis. They are able to learn to play, but our focus is on the approximately 300 million people who have never been connected to any racquet sport.
SDM: Obviously, you don’t see it as a direct competitor to any one sport, like tennis or pickleball?
MDP: No, I do not. Our success does not mean anyone else fails.
SDM: What do you think is padel’s greatest appeal?
MDP: It’s very social, very appealing and very easy to pick up. We have the best chance in the sports industry in the last 50 years to bring those 300 million people into padel, and into racquet sports as a whole.
SDM: What other initiatives do you have in place?
MDP: We are also leading a program to get coaches certified. We have spent the last 27 years growing the sport from many different angles. Every single piece of this is very well thought-out. We wanted to leave a legacy and to become the catalyst to grow the sport by creating a community.
SDM: Will people be able to watch padel on TV?
MDP: We will be working with CBS Sports to create a lot of awareness and exposure, reaching about 20 million households. We expect this to create a lot of awareness and exposure.
SDM: You obviously have a strong belief in the sport, and in the platform.
MDP: I’m basing this all on my experience. I’m not a newcomer and I’m not a dreamer. I used to run my own facilities in Spain for a number of years. I feel like it is my responsibility to turn a bigger population onto the sport. I look at creating this platform as creating a way for people to jump into the sport.
SDM: What is the male/female split on players?
MDP: About 55 percent of players are men and 45 percent are women.
SDM: Do children play padel?
MDP: They do. In the last championship we hosted in Spain, almost 3,000 kids played. We are definitely building the next generation of superstars in padel. With the launch of the PPL, we are building the next generation of heroes in North America. I can picture thousands of kids watching this on TV and saying, “I want to try that.”
SDM: This is obviously your passion.
MDP: What we are putting together here is here to stay. This is a new league, and it is reaching a new population. I’m so in love with this that we can talk forever.