Former WTA World No.1 Kim Clijsters is getting in on the ground floor of the biggest-surging sport in America: The four-time Grand Slam singles champion will join famed NFL quarterback Tom Brady in the ownership group of an expansion team in the Major League Pickleball professional pickleball league.
Since her retirement from tennis, Clijsters has taken up pickleball and plays regularly with Wall Street bond saleswoman Callie Simpkins and financial advisor Kaitlyn Kerr, who join her and Brady as part of the yet-to-be-named team's ownership group. Kerr will serve as the team's general manager when the team begins play next year.
“Of course, I’m excited at the investment opportunity,” Clijsters said in a statement, “but what excites me the most about becoming an MLP owner is that I get to help shape the future of pickleball, a sport I have come to love, with great people – who also happen to be some of my best friends. I’m thrilled to help showcase professional pickleball and make an impact on the sport through my experience gained in the top levels of professional tennis.”
The new ownership group and team are part of Major League Pickleball’s latest growth plan, which includes four new teams to increase the league's roster to 16, and doubling the number of events to six. Prize money is expected to reach upwards of $2 million. With the investment from Clijsters, Simpkins and Kerr, the new team will also be 50% woman-owned, a testament to the league’s foundational mission of gender equality.
Other team owners and partners in the league include NBA players LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love, Super Bowl champion Drew Brees, and former ATP World No.4 James Blake. MLP had events in Austin, Texas; Newport Beach, California and Columbus, Ohio, on its 2022 schedule.
Later this week, the 12 teams and 48 players will arrive in Columbus for the season finale, where the winning team will take home a $100,000 prize.
Invented in 1965, pickleball has boomed in recent years thanks in part to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Played with paddles, it counted more than 4.8 million players in the United States last year, according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Single Sport Report on Pickleball.