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Major League Pickleball Names New CEO

by Thomas Shields on

Here's the gist:

  • Major League Pickleball has named Julio DePietro as CEO and Bruce Popko as COO.
  • They will work to grow the professional sports league as the sport has gained enormous popularity.
  • Their priorities include growing sponsorships, building the media rights business, and licensing and merchandising strategy.

We knew Brian Levine was an interim CEO, so eventually his replacement would be named. And now we know that it will be Julio DePietro who will take the reins as Levine moves into an advisory role.


Full Press Release

July 5, 2023

Major League Pickleball Announces Additions to Leadership Team - CEO Julio DePietro, Finance and Media Veteran, and COO Bruce Popko, Seasoned Sports Business Executive

DePietro and Popko Will Bring Dynamic Experience to MLP as League Positions Itself for Future Growth and Business Development

MLP by Margaritaville (MLP) today announced two new members of the league’s executive leadership team, Chief Executive Officer Julio DePietro and Chief Operating Officer Bruce Popko. They will leverage their experience in finance, media, and sports business to grow new revenue streams, help MLP appeal to new audiences, and shepherd the sport into a new era.


“The additions of Julio and Bruce signify another landmark step forward in the evolution of Major League Pickleball,” said MLP Founder Steve Kuhn. “They both bring an incredible pedigree, leadership ability, and valued perspective to MLP and the sport of pickleball. I know that their collective insights and experience will help us rapidly accelerate MLP’s continued growth and the overall popularization of the sport.”


DePietro owns a unique combination of strategic insight, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to team-building and community development. He began his professional journey in finance after earning his Bachelor's Degree from Harvard University and quickly distinguished himself at Citadel Investment Group, becoming a partner at the age of 28, while running the largest profit center for one of the world's biggest hedge funds.


Pursuing his passion for storytelling, he then transitioned into the independent film industry, where he wrote, directed, and produced a number of award-winning and critically-acclaimed films. He will use those experiences and his unique blend of initiative, creativity, and business acumen to play a pivotal role in charting out MLP’s storytelling opportunities and potential distribution partners as the league plans for 2024 and beyond.


DePietro has already had a material impact on Major League Pickleball as a part owner of the Florida Smash, where he lobbied for - and ultimately introduced - a geographic connection for his team, a concept that has since been adopted league-wide and gives MLP untold possibilities to grow fandoms in those local markets around the country.


He will oversee the continued overall business development of MLP and is committed to building a diverse, inclusive community that encourages participation and excellence from all.


Popko brings over 30 years of experience working in the sports industry and several core competencies that will be invaluable to MLP in the near and long term, including revenue generation, merchandise and licensing, media rights, and marketing integration. He will also strategize with the league’s 24 franchises to establish best practices and additional business development at the team level.

A seasoned senior executive, he was most recently the COO for both the Buffalo Bills and Sabres with Pegula Sports & Entertainment. In his time with Buffalo, he was also Executive Vice President, Business Development and Chief Revenue Officer.


Previous to Buffalo, Bruce worked with the powerhouse agency IMG, where he was a Senior Vice President following a role as Director of Sales & Business Development for IMG Golf.


His vast sports marketing experience began with the NFL's New York Jets in the early 1990s before he worked for the league at NFL headquarters. He then joined the San Francisco 49ers before also having a significant role with the Cleveland Browns.


Most recently, Bruce has served as COO for Gioia Capital, where he was an operating partner for a family office focused on the acquisition, management and growth of profitable small to mid-sized companies.
DePietro and Popko will collaborate closely with MLP / DUPR Strategic Advisor and former WTA CEO Anne Worcester - the trio brings over 60 years of deep sports connections and knowledge to MLP - to further strengthen the leadership team.


Interim CEO Brian Levine will transition into a Strategic Advisor role for MLP.
About Major League Pickleball (MLP by Margaritaville)
Major League Pickleball (MLP) is the premier team-based professional pickleball league and the standard-bearer for the fastest-growing sport in the United States. Founded by Steve Kuhn in 2021, MLP has since expanded from eight to 24 teams and is committed to growing the sport's role in society and impacting every facet of pickleball’s business.


MLP features nearly 100 of the best athletes in the sport spread across 24 teams - 12 in the Premier Level, home to the top 48 players drafted, and 12 in the Challenger Level, featuring 48 draftees looking to make their ascension to the top of the league - a unique coed format, iconic team owners, the introduction of promotion and relegation to American pro sports, an innovative draft format, easy to understand scoring, and the largest payouts in prize money across all of pro pickleball.


In December 2022, MLP named its first-ever title sponsor, Margaritaville, branding the league MLP by Margaritaville. A global lifestyle brand inspired by Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville, has served more than 20 million travelers and consumers every year to change their latitude and attitude with Margaritaville. For more information, visit www.margaritaville.com.


For more information on Major League Pickleball, visit the official website and follow MLP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.


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