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World's No. 1 pickleball player says he makes $2.5 million a year—up tenfold from 2021: 'We haven't reached the top'

During Ben Johns' first year as a professional pickleball player, he could barely support himself financially.

Now, he's making $2.5 million in pickleball salary alone this year, he tells CNBC Make It — plus more in endorsement deals and sponsorship contracts.

Johns, 25, is currently the Professional Pickleball Association Tour's No. 1 ranked player in men's doubles and the top-ranked male player in mixed doubles. He's held those rankings for most of the last three years, winning more than 120 PPA titles and 21 triple crowns — first place in singles, doubles and mixed at the same event — more than any other male player in pickleball history.

Over those three years, his payouts have grown significantly as America's fastest-growing sportattracted sizable private equity investments, wealthy team owners, bigger sponsors and media deals that infused capital into the game. In 2021, Johns made $250,000, he told CNBC at the time — which would mean his salary has increased tenfold since then.

In 2018, he only earned about $50,000 from pickleball, he adds. Those earnings came almost exclusively from prize winnings at national tournaments, rather than an annual salary.

"We haven't reached the top," Johns says, adding: "I think there's still an upward trend."

In February, two of the world's largest professional pickleball leagues — the PPA Tour and Major League Pickleball — merged into one organization under a holding company called the Unified Pickleball Association.

The merger was backed by a $75 million investment from private equity firm SC Holdings and a series of pickleball team owners, according to the deal's announcement. Annual player payouts would increase by nearly 250% this year, compared to 2023, it noted.

In April, the UPA