DeVos grows pro sports portfolio

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Zane Navratil of the Orlando Squeeze eyes the ball at Belknap Park during the Beer City Open Pickleball Tournament in Grand Rapids, Michigan on July 20, 2023. Photo by Geoff Forbes, Orlando Squeeze.

Add another pro sports organization to the DeVos family’s portfolio. 

Is it baseball? 

No. 

Football? 

No. 

Hockey? 

Nope. It’s pickleball. 

Pickleball is a professional sport now? 

Yes, it’s the fastest growing pro sport out there. It grew 83% since 2019 and it’s estimated that 36.5 million people played pickleball in 2022.

Ryan DeVos, who is the vice president of shareholder engagement for the Orlando Magic, is now co-owner and general manager of Major League Pickleball’s Orlando Squeeze franchise, the Florida city’s first professional pickleball team. 

The Squeeze’s newest pick is rising star Anna Bright, a 23-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida. Bright has already won 14 PPA medals this year and will be in Grand Rapids competing in the Beer City Open. Squeeze players Andrei Dăescu, Zane Navratil, and another up-and-coming female star, Rachel Rohrabacher, will be participating in the tournament as well.

Orlando Squeeze pickleball player Zane Navratil winds up for a backhand volley during the Beer City Open at Belknap Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, July 20, 2023. Photo by Geoff Forbes, Orlando Squeeze.

“We are always looking for opportunities that help to build platforms where people can truly see themselves and unleash their full potential,” said Devos. “Our family, like many, has an affinity for sports and the platform they provide others to showcase their unique potential. Major League Pickleball players are the best at their craft, and I am eager to see our communities experience the sport firsthand, as now fans in addition to recreational competitors.”

DeVos, whose year-round home is in Florida, is currently in Grand Rapids for the Beer City Open. He attributes the sport’s rise in popularity to its accessibility; because it’s played on a smaller court it does not require the same level of fitness and skill to participate. 

“Anyone can play, whether you’re eight or 80,” said DeVos, who was introduced to the sport by his brother a couple of years ago. DeVos said that the doubles format, the one that appears to be sweeping the nation, lends to the sport’s popularity. 

“It’s social and fun,” said DeVos, noting that it was great to see so many people taking advantage of the rooftop courts at the Amway Grand Plaza. 

“I remember when there used to be tennis courts up there. When I was leaving the courts yesterday, there were about 20 people waiting to play.” 

More than 900 athletes from 36 states and six countries are currently in town competing for the largest prize in the Beer City Open’s history: $100,000. The main venue for the tournament is Belknap Park, 30 Coldbrook St. NE., just moments from the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. Spectators are encouraged to watch the Beer City Open free of charge throughout the weekend. 

“This is the first year that the Beer City Open will host Professional Pickleball Association Tour Pro Players, making our tournament the first independent pickleball event of the year to have all professional players in attendance,” said Beer City Open tournament director and professional pickleball player Andrea Remynse Koop. “We’re proud of how much we’ve evolved since our first tournament, which hosted 400 participants.”

DeVos said it’s his first year at the tournament, commenting that Koop had done a “great job” with the organization and promotion of the tournament. 

“We have an unbelievable opportunity this week to introduce our new Squeeze team members to Grand Rapids and the amazing community we feel both here and in Orlando. To see the game played live by the best players in the sport is something to behold, and we believe it will spark even more interest in the game from those who haven’t yet played or watched,” DeVos said. “Sports are all about people and community, and I think many of us have seen the types of communities even locally that pickleball has created. It’s the fastest growing sport in the country for a reason.”

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