MIAMI – Caroline O’Connor didn’t know what her ceiling was when she entered the sports business world, simply because there were so few examples of women who traveled her path.
Turns out, she had no limit.
The Miami Marlins promoted O’Connor to president of business operations on Monday, making them the first U.S. major sports franchise to have women serving simultaneously as president and general manager. The Marlins made history by hiring Kim Ng as GM in November 2020; two years later, they’ve made another significant move.
“When I talk to young girls, I really like them to 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 that it is a possibility.”
O’Connor is just 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 by then-CEO Derek Jeter in 2017 as a senior vice president and chief of staff, then became the team’s chief operating officer in 2019.
Ng handles the on-field business, O’Connor runs the off-field business.
“We are fortunate to have someone with Caroline’s business acumen and vision leading our day-to-day business operations,” Marlins chairman and principal owner Bruce Sherman said. “Her passion and drive for success is unmatched in our game and the South Florida market. Her leadership will continue to guide the Marlins organization toward our goal of sustained success while strategizing additional new ventures to grow our business and enhance our brand recognition.”
O’Connor’s path to this spot was, in some ways, unintentional. She was a high school athlete in New Jersey – playing basketball, tennis, soccer and softball – and went to college at Rutgers and New York University, first studying computers, then finance.
She worked for some powerful places: IBM, UBS Investment Bank, Morgan Stanley. She wasn’t thinking about a career in sports.
And then Jeter called.
“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” O’Connor said.
She’s been with the Marlins ever since.
Miami has been trying to turn things around, on the field and off, for the better part of the last two decades. Jeter was part of the ownership group that took over in 2017; he’s gone, but two of his more significant hires – Ng and O’Connor – are now tasked with finishing the job.
O’Connor has seen progress. Attendance this past season was up 12% over 2019, the last time there was a full season of baseball without pandemic interruptions or major restrictions – though there is still a long way to go before Miami gets the crowds it is seeking.
O’Connor has overseen growth in season-ticket sales. With the 2023 World Baseball Classic coming to Miami for all three rounds in March, including the championship game, the Marlins know big crowds are coming. O’Connor is fixated on how to get those people to come back as Marlins customers.
“I think it’s a really special place,” she said. “And I would say if we didn’t feel so strongly about this market and the opportunity that is here, that would not make us so excited to come in every day. I think we have so many people in this market that love entertainment, love sports, love baseball, love getting together and going out. It’s just trying to create an experience that attracts everyone.”
The growing role of women in baseball leadership isn’t lost on O’Connor. Griggs leads the Mariners; Laura Day is Minnesota’s executive vice president and chief business officer; Kellie Fischer has a similar role in Texas, as the Rangers’ EVP and chief financial officer.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of support from a lot of different people, regardless of gender, my entire career,” Griggs said earlier this year on a panel at Seattle University. “With that being said, I haven’t been able to see a lot of people who look like me doing the stuff that I do. … I don’t have a lot of role models.”
O’Connor feels the same way. She doesn’t mind the “trailblazer” description. She just goes about all the details of her job – including sitting down with community groups and civic organizations, even having lunch last month with the Consul General of Japan at his Miami residence – knowing that her success now might make it easier for women to follow.
“It’s taken a real community to get behind me,” O’Connor said. “The team that I work with today, the team that supports me every day, I feel like this is a reflection on all of them and what we’ve produced together. I might have the title, but of course I think about all the people that help me get it.”