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Yes, pickleball is a professional sport. Here's how much top players make.

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Something Good: Pickleball bobble 00:41

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America, amassing legions of recreational players across diverse ages. But it's also a professional sport that top-tier athletes rely on for a paycheck. 

If they play their shots right, the best players can take home more than $1 million a year through a combination of appearance fees, prize money and sponsorship deals. 

However, these top earners are largely the exception rather than the rule. Most players earn far less, with some up-and-comers in the sport holding full-time day jobs and competing for prize money on weekends.

"Like anything else, if you're talented and you work hard, not just at your craft on the pickleball court but also off it, you can make a really nice living," said Josh Freedman, director of pickleball at Topnotch Management, an agency representing professional pickleball, tennis and soccer players. 

"The economics are much, much smaller for others who are just getting into the sport," he added. "They're taking sponsorship deals for $500 or $1,000 to be an ambassador of some brand."

That said, given the newness of the professional pickleball landscape, it could become more lucrative for players over time as the sport attracts more attention from fans, investors and sponsors. 

$5 million pot

Three primary components comprise pickleball player earnings: Tournament prize money, appearance fees or contract minimums, and sponsorship deals. 

Major League Pickleball, a team-based league and one of three professional pickleball tours, projects that 2023 prize money, distributed across six events, will total $5 million. Ninety-six players compete on the tour, which has hosted three events so far this year. 

The highest-earning player won $125,000 in prize money during the first three events of 2023, a tour spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. League players sign contracts that guarantee they'll make money for showing up, even if they don't perform well in every event. 

In the best-case scenario, a player could make $300,000 in a year from appearance fees, so-called contract minimums and tournament winnings, according to MLP. 

MLP matches, which take place throughout the year, are scheduled Thursday through Sunday. Some professionals compete full time and rely solely on pickleball-related earnings to make a living, while others hold second jobs during the week and travel to tournaments on weekends.  

Average payouts shy of six figures

Pros who compete in the league can also compete for prize money in Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and Association of Pickleball Players (APP) events. 

The PPA Tour will distribute $5.5 million in prize money to players in 2023, spread across 25 events. That sum reflects an 83% increase in payouts from 2022.

Inside the rising popularity of pickleball 08:46

In 2022, the average PPA pro earned $96,000 in payouts, according to the league. 

Many pro players compete on both tours, boosting their earnings. 

Freedman, who represents pickleball pros, said he expects tournament pots to increase dramatically as the sport gains more visibility and big brands look to be a part of the craze. Brands such as Monster Energy, Sketchers, Fila and more are already active in the arena. 

While some players have inked lucrative deals with such companies, and opportunities abound in the fast-growing sport, it's not an easy way to make a living. 

"It's important if you're going to get into this, it's really hard, but once you work hard and you get results, it can be a really nice way to live," Freedman said. 

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