CHICAGO — Building a franchise from scratch takes enthusiasm, attention to detail, and a lot of support. It’s safe to say that a new pro team in Chicago had plenty of it as they’ve begun their inaugural season in 2023.

“We not only wanted to have fun people that we enjoyed being with but ones that had strategic values,” said Ron Saslow, who began the process of building the Chicago Slice franchise in Major League Pickleball in October 2022. “At the end of the day, we want the Slice to be more successful so Major League Pickleball could be more successful.”

Did the founder of Thirty-5 Capital ever succeed in doing so over the past few months.

In building the Slice, Saslow was able to get a few big names in sports along with others in the entertainment industry to help get the team going for the 2023 MLP season.

Included in that group of owners are model, host, and producer Heidi Klum, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, former MLB All-Star David Justice, screenwriter and director Doug Ellin, along with tennis greats Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert, and Gigi Fernandez.

They are among the 26 who are listed as owners of the Slice on their official website.

“We did a fair amount of selling, but it was actually easier than I thought,” said Saslow when asked about how he got the support of a number of people to begin the franchise. “We had our strategic list of the type of people we wanted to go after, and in talking to them, they certainly have heard about pickleball, they’re excited about pickleball, and it was admittedly a fairly easy sell for us to be able to get involved on that.”

With their help, the Slice began their first season of play in 2023 as one of 24 teams in the MLP, taking part in six national events this year. There are four players on the team who live in different parts of the country but come together at national events to compete.

  • Emily Ackerman – Thousand Oaks, California
  • Susannah Barr – Boise, Idaho
  • Ryler DeHart – Clearwater Beach, Florida
  • Connor Garnett – Orange County, California

For Garnett, who was a longtime tennis player who switched to pickleball in 2022, the amount of support is encouraging as the league, which was started in 2021, continues to grow.

“Seeing this star-studded lineup that they’ve put together for our team goes to show how much faith they have in the team,” said Garnett. “It’s pretty inspiring and I think it just makes us try a little harder and inspires us a little bit more.”

They’ll now play on in 2023 with four national events remaining on the schedule, with the next in San Clemente, California June 15-19. Saslow understands a lot of work must be done to keep pickleball, which has gained momentum over the last few years, a viable professional sport.

But it’s safe to say he’s pleased with the start – and support – the Slice have received in just a few months.

“It is in its infancy for sure, but all signs show this to be at tremendous success,” said Saslow. “In my mind, no sport can be legitimate until they have a great team in Chicago, so the fact that we have a Chicago franchise now makes it really exciting for all of us here.”

Larry Hawley has more on the Chicago Slice and the building of the team from WGN News Now in the video above.