Jorja Johnson of the Hard Eights holds her Franklin paddle throughout the Major League Pickleball finals match versus BLQK at Pickle & Chill on October 16, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio.
Emilee Chinn | Getty Images
Major League Pickleball is getting brand-new management as it seeks to take advantage of the increase of America’s fastest-growing sport at the expert level.
The team-based professional pickleball league revealed Wednesday it has actually called financing and media executive Julio DePietro as its president and previous NFL executive Bruce Popko as primary running officer.
“The additions of Julio and Bruce signify another landmark step forward in the evolution of Major League Pickleball,” stated MLP creator Steve Kuhn.
DePietro and Popko will be charged with guiding the league at a time when the sport of pickleball has actually seen explosive development at the amateur level.
“We’re pretty confident that we have both the platform and the product. We’re at just the beginning of this hockey-stick growth,” DePietro informed CNBC.
DePietro was previously a partner at Citadel where he worked along with Kuhn for several years. In 2022, he bought a stake in the Florida Smash MLP group, calling the financial investment a “no-brainer.” As part of his brand-new function, he will quickly divest his stake in the Smash.
In the year-plus that he’s worked as an owner in the league, DePietro stated, group appraisals have actually seen 100-times development. Teams today, he stated, are choosing as much as $10 million. Previously, groups were being scooped up for just $100,000.
With more than 36 million individuals playing pickleball in 2015, DiPietro and Popko state their most significant difficulty is transforming all of the brand-new casual pickleball fans into MLP fans.
The quickly growing sports league has actually drawn in lots of prominent professional athlete owners and financiers consisting of NBA super stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant along with Tom Brady and Drew Brees of NFL popularity. In November, beer maker Anheuser-Busch purchased a group.
Season One Super Finals at the Life Time Rancho San Clemente in San Clemente, California. The Seattle Pioneers play the Los Angeles Mad Drops in the Premier League blended doubles competitors.
Source: Major League Pickleball
Popko’s background consists of more than thirty years operating in the sports market, with previous COO functions at the Buffalo Bills and Pegula Sports & Entertainment.
“One of the things that I’ve learned over the years in sports is that the most avid fans are those fans that participate in the sport directly, and that’s why I love this sport so much, because we have such a great running start,” Popko informed CNBC.
Popko stated he will concentrate on 3 pillars when he enters his function: growing sponsorships, developing the media rights company, and licensing and retailing technique.
As they continue to construct the fanbase, DePietro states MLP is simply scratching the surface area in regards to the chance and money making.
“We have barely turned on any of the advertising knobs, much less the subscription knobs, we think there’s a massive opportunity to leverage a lot of the installed base, the excitement behind it, the avidity of the fans, of the players, and there’s tons of sponsorship and marketing opportunities for the league,” DePietro stated.
Another challenge the MLP deals with is marketing and placing more of its gamers as family names. Part of that effort indicates discovering a constant media partner. Currently, MLP competitions can be seen anywhere from YouTube and ESPN to the Tennis Channel or MSG Networks, which can be puzzling to fans.
“The good news is we are in advanced conversations with an A-plus-type broadcast partner who is interested in carrying our season live and all of our content for 2024,” DePietro stated.
Media viewership has actually regularly been growing for the sport. MLP’s Premier Level Super Final on June 19 reached over 975,000 audiences on ESPN2, according to the league.
MLP stated its YouTube livestream channel has actually seen a viewership boost of 500% over in 2015.
DePietro likewise stated MLP remains in innovative discussions with another family name production business to develop a series about the gamers themselves. He decreased to call the production business or the broadcaster that MLP remains in talks with.
“They’re amazing athletes, some of them have incredible stories. Bringing the human element into it, I think is going to be a huge part in driving viewers for us,” he stated.