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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Former MLB Senior Execs Team Up To Bring Pickleball to Big-League Ballparks

  • Newly finalized Ballpark Series to bring fast-growing sport to Fenway Park, Oracle Park, and Coors Field.
  • Effort led by former MLBAM president and CEO Bob Bowman and Mike Dee, who held senior roles with the Red Sox, Padres.
Former MLB executive Mike Dee is bringing pickleball to major league ballparks.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

A pair of former Major League Baseball senior executives are returning this summer to big-league ballparks – but with pickleball.

Mike Dee, who previously held senior-level business roles with the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox, and former MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive Bob Bowman are bringing their Pickeball4America to three MLB stadiums in July and August.

The newly formed entity, operating with the consumer-facing brand Pickle4, will stage its Ballpark Series at Fenway Park in Boston on July 13-16, San Francisco’s Oracle Park on July 20-23, and Denver’s Coors Field on August 3-6.

Rather than competing directly against other professional leagues in the fast-growing sport, Pickleball4America has developed a hybrid format for its events combining both amateur and professional play, tapping heavily into the recreational element that still represents pickleball’s foundation. The Ballpark Series will include multiple ways for amateur players to participate.

“We’re focused on the growth of the game overall with a primary concentration on that amateur player,” said Dee, Pickleball4America’s chairman. “This is still an amateur-driven growth sport. Not since running in the 1970s has anything captivated the country like this in terms of mass numbers, interest, and ubiquitous appeal across all demographics.”

Dee – who also had prior stints as Miami Dolphins chief executive and president of sports for radio platform Audacy – and Bowman were joined in Pickleball4America’s founding by Steve Shanks, chief executive and co-founder of media buying agency Ad Results Media. The organization has raised nearly $8 million in initial funding, with additional backers including venture capital firm Drive by DraftKings and Boston Seed Capital, among others.

For Bowman, the effort also extends a return to sports business after his abrupt departure from MLB in 2017. 

In a separate endeavor, temporary pickleball courts are also coming to San Diego’s Petco Park. 

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