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MIAMI (AP) — Caroline O’Connor didn’t know what her limit was when she entered the world of sports business simply because there were so few examples of women walking her path.
It turned out that she had no limits.
The Miami Marlins promoted O’Connor to president of business operations on Monday, becoming the first major US sports franchise to have women serve as president and general manager simultaneously. The Marlins made history by hiring Kim Ng as GM in November 2020; Two years later, they took another significant step.
“When I talk to young girls, I really like it when they see me in my role because I didn’t feel like I had that role model,” O’Connor said. “And I want people to see themselves when they see me and know it’s a possibility.”
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O’Connor is only the second woman to serve as president of a major league baseball team; Seattle’s Catie Griggs is the other. She was brought to the Marlins in 2017 by then-CEO Derek Jeter as senior vice president and chief of staff, then became the team’s chief operating officer in 2019.
Ng handles on-field business, O’Connor handles off-field business.
“We are fortunate to have someone of Caroline’s business acumen and vision to lead our day-to-day operations,” said Bruce Sherman, chairman and principal owner of Marlins. “Her passion and drive for success are unmatched in our game and the South Florida marketplace. Her leadership will continue to lead the Marlins organization toward our goal of sustained success while planning additional new ventures to grow our business and increase our brand awareness to enhance.”
O’Connor’s journey to this position was somewhat unintentional. She was a high school athlete in New Jersey—played basketball, tennis, soccer, and softball—and attended college at Rutgers and New York University, where she majored in computers, then finance.
She worked for some powerful places: IBM, UBS Investment Bank, Morgan Stanley. She did not think of a sports career.
And then Jeter called.
“A once in a lifetime opportunity,” said O’Connor.
Since then she has been with the Marlins.
Miami has tried to change things on and off the field for the past two decades. Jeter was part of the ownership group that took over in 2017; He’s gone, but two of his more important associates – Ng and O’Connor – are now tasked with finishing the job.
O’Connor has seen progress. Last season’s attendance increased 12% from 2019, the last time there was a full baseball season without disruptions from pandemics or major restrictions — though there’s still a long way to go before Miami gets the crowds it’s looking for.
O’Connor has monitored season ticket sales growth. With the 2023 World Baseball Classic coming to Miami in March for all three rounds, including the championship game, the Marlins know big crowds will be there. O’Connor is fixated on how to get these people to come back as Marlins customers.
“I think it’s a very special place,” she said. “And I would say if we weren’t so convinced of this market and the opportunities it offers, we wouldn’t be so excited to come here every day. I think we have so many people in this market who love entertainment, love sports, love baseball, love getting together and going out. It’s just about creating an experience that draws everyone in.”
The growing role of women in baseball leadership has not escaped O’Connor. Griggs leads the Mariners; Laura Day is Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer of Minnesota; Kellie Fischer has a similar role in Texas as Rangers’ EVP and chief financial officer.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had a lot of support from a lot of different people throughout my career, regardless of gender,” Griggs said at a panel at Seattle University earlier this year. “Even so, I haven’t been able to see many people who look like me doing what I do. … I don’t have many role models.”
O’Connor agrees. The term “pioneer” doesn’t bother them. She simply goes into all the details of her work — including sitting down with community groups and civic organizations, even having lunch with the Japanese Consul General at his Miami residence last month — knowing that her success might now make it easier for women to join her follow .
“It took a real community to get behind me,” O’Connor said. “The team I work with today, the team that supports me every day, I think this is a reflection of them all and what we produced together. I might have the title, but of course I’m thinking about all the people that are helping me get it.”