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Sports This Week: Padel looks to be breakout sport

The vision for the PPL is one to ascend to the top level of pro leagues on this continent.
The Toronto Polar Bears are part of the Pro Padel League.

YORKTON - When you started your writing career nearly 40-years ago writing a sports column for your hometown newspaper and are still writing on sports all these years later you are pretty safe calling yourself a fan.

In my case that interest is pretty broadly based as any regular reader will likely have noted.

But, when I came across the Toronto Polar Bears online, finding out the team is part of the Pro Padel League, I admit I was Googling to find out just what padel is.

Padel, apparently sometimes called padel tennis, is a racket sport of Mexican origin, typically played as doubles on an enclosed court slightly smaller than a doubles tennis court, explains Wikipedia.

“Although padel shares the same scoring system as tennis, the rules, strokes, and technique are different. The balls used are similar but with a little less pressure.

“The main differences are that the court has walls and the balls can be played off them in a similar way as in the game of squash and that solid, stringless bats are used.

“The height of the ball being served must be at or below the waist level.”

As of 2023, according to the International Padel Federation (FIP) there are more than 25 million active players in more than 90 countries.

Admittedly I was surprised, and intrigued, so I delved deeper.

Watching the opening games of the season for the Polar Bears versus Miami – another of the 10-teams in the league I was rather impressed. Where tennis bogs down in hard smash aces, and short rally points with ball movement too fast to comfortably follow, padel has long, wonderful rallies with amazing shots made possible with the live glass boards.

Among paddle sports this is up there with badminton and squash in terms of being visually interesting to this writer.

But, a pro league?

That was surprising although what I term ‘boutique’ pro sport leagues are popping up more regularly as online platforms provide viewer access.

Certainly Marcos Del Pilar, co-founder and commissioner of the Pro Padel League (PPL) sees huge things ahead for the league, and the sport in North America,

“We’re super-hyped this year to elevate the product this year ... I’m super, super excited,” he told Yorkton This Week in a recent interview.

The PPL actually launched in 2023 – but it was a rather low key launch.

“What we did last year was sort of proof of concept,” said Del Pilar, adding that was successful, and they are ready to boom.

As it sits Del Pilar said they have broadcast arrangements of 17 networks around the world for 2024, putting the PPL on TV in front of 85 million in the U.S., and 110 million more worldwide (of note some matches are on GameTV in Canada).

So how does the league operate?

Well, franchises have men’s, women’s and mixed doubles team, which compete against other franchises at a series of week-long events in various U.S. locales.

Del Pilar said having a team in Canada was a goal for the PPL, and he added while they are happy the Polar Bears -- former Major League Soccer (MLS) star and MLS Most Valuable Player, Sebastian Giovinco is a part owner -- are on board, he added, “potentially there’s more teams coming from Canada next year.”

The vision for the PPL is one to ascend to the top level of pro leagues on this continent.

“We want to become one of the major leagues in North America for sure,” said Del Pilar.

Now in its second season, the PPL sits with 10 franchises, but Del Pilar expects significant growth, and soon. He said they expect to add four to six franchises for 2025, and added they see 32 teams as the logical goal within five years, noting other pro leagues are at that number.

“That would be the cap,” he said.

What is for sure, at least in Del Pilar’s mind is that padel will become popular not just at the PPL level, but as a participatory sport on this continent.

“Padel is in North America to stay,” he assured.