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Chaifetz Family aims to put St. Louis on pro pickleball map

By the time Ross Chaifetz took his mother’s advice seriously, he found himself on a waiting list to invest in Major League Pickleball.

Ross and his father, Richard, first examined the financial opportunities at the urging of Jill Chaifetz but decided to wait. When they finally expressed interest to the league in 2022, officials told them more than 100 prospective team owners were under consideration.

They were trying to buy into a league with athlete and celebrity owners including Patrick Mahomes, Chris Evert, Justin Verlander, Heidi Klum, Dierks Bentley. Oh, and LeBron James and Tom Brady.

“We saw a void on a couple of fronts,” Ross Chaifetz said. “Most owners were high-profile celebrities, and a couple of business operators were the minority. So we leaned into the idea of knowing sports — we have looked at the NBA and Major League Baseball — and our know-how to run a successful business.”

It’s been 39 years since Richard Chaifetz founded the ComPsych Corp. and later started the private investment firm Chaifetz Group and put his name on Chaifetz Arena at St. Louis University.

Ross Chaifetz is now general manager for the family’s St. Louis Shock, a Major League Pickleball franchise that came to existence in a matter of weeks after the league cleared the way for their investment in December.

By the time they were informed, the Chaifetzes had a four-player team that was selected for them. They were given less than two weeks before the season’s first event to pick a name, colors and create a logo.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Ross Chaifetz said. “We thought St. Louis was a big void for the league geographically. We pitched our familiarity with the market and what’s been done with the SLU basketball program and technology investments. Now after a couple of months, we’re fully operational.”

The 24-team league creates a challenge for owners. Franchises are affiliated with specific markets, but events are not played in most cities. Instead of head-to-head matches between teams, MLP will play six tournaments this season in pre-determined locations. St. Louis is not one of them.

Shock players include Jay Devilliers of Wichita, Kansas; Erik Bjorn Lange of West Linn, Oregon; Simone Jardim of Naples, Florida; and Allyce Jones of Pleasant Grove, Utah. Ross Chaifetz said the organization is working on branding and social media presence on Twitter and Instagram until a more definitive link to St. Louis is formulated.

“There will be a point when one or multiple events come to St. Louis, but this doesn’t preclude us from putting on our own events,” Chaifetz said. “There are opportunities to do creative events outside of what MLP officially endorses. The objective is to host MLP in coming years but also do as much outside of MLP events to host things and find ways to engage.”

Two tournaments have been played this season, with the next coming in June in San Clemente, California. They are available for streaming.

Chaifetz hopes to host an event this summer in St. Louis that will involve the team and possibly schedule an exhibition or tournament involving Shock players. He will be in St. Louis this weekend to look at facilities and talk to people in the St. Louis pickleball community.

“It will be much better when we move to the city we’re associated with,” Devilliers said. “It’s a must when you have a franchise. I have been to St. Louis once. It’s something we have talked about, and Ross and his dad are trying to make it happen.”

Many professional pickleball players travel a majority of weekends. Devilliers is splitting his time in 2023 between six MLP tournaments and 25 tour events for the Professional Pickleball Association. The sport has become his full-time living.

Opportunities for players have grown quickly since Jill Chaifetz nudged her husband and son to look into pickleball. Ross said she played paddleball for years and started seeing courts close down at the start of the pandemic and then transition into pickleball courts.

“Mom was the one who told Dad, ‘It’s taking off. Keep an eye on it,’” Ross Chaifetz said.

The league expanded to more teams than anticipated and will award $5 million in winnings this season. Ross Chaifetz said the investment for the franchise was “reasonable relative to what other major league teams are going for.”

The Shock have two coaches and two social media employees and will fill two executive positions in coming months.

“The league is not even close to what it was in my first season,” Devilliers said. “We have so many big investors looking to make it big time. The growth has been exponential.”

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