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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

Susan O’Malley: Shattering the glass ceiling in sport management

What if you were told your career dreams were unrealistic because you were a girl? If your name is Susan O’Malley, you would shrug it off and go on to become the first, and very successful, female president of a professional sports franchise.

Posted on: May 23, 2017
By: Allen Wallace,, 803-777-5667

O’Malley is a true trailblazer, a role model, an industry veteran and an inspiration to both female and male sport management professionals. In 2016, she added another important descriptor to her name: college professor.

O’Malley is a senior instructor of sport and entertainment management at University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management. In this video interview from Women's History Month 2017, she talks about what it means to be a minority leader, to be a role model for other women and what inspired her to become a teacher after she retired from a successful career in the industry she was born to lead.

I wanted to teach because I think it is one of the greatest service industries left in the world. There is no greater thing than working on the next generation.

—Susan O’Malley


Susan O’Malley is the former President of Washington Sports Entertainment and the first female President of a Professional Sports Franchise.   

At age 29, O'Malley became the first female president of an NBA franchise as well as one of the first women in a major front-office position in major league sports. She is the former president of the NBA's Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and Washington Sports and Entertainment. In her 20-year tenure with Washington Sports, she also ran the Verizon Center (formerly the MCI Center), the WNBA's Washington Mystics, and Ticketmaster Washington-Baltimore. 

Never wavering from her original career goal to run a sports franchise, she interned with the Bullets (later renamed the Wizards) and the Capitals hockey team. After graduating from college, she worked with an advertising firm. But when a job opening came up within the Bullets organization for director of advertising, she was compelled to apply. Just five years later, she was named president of Washington Sports and Entertainment, including the Washington Wizards. 

O'Malley took an organization ranked last to its counterparts in close to every category, and initiated policies and procedures that formed positive relationships with ticket holders, corporate sponsors, and the media. In her first season handling off-court activities, the team had the largest ticket revenue increase in the history of an NBA franchise to date. That same year, the club achieved its highest season ticket renewal rate, including the year following the 1977-78 Championship season. By the 2005-2006 season, the Wizards attracted more than 17,000 fans per game, had 14 sellouts and earned their second consecutive trip to the NBA playoffs. By the time she retired in 2007, the Verizon Center had recorded more than 21.2 million patrons. 

She has been described as a skilled motivator, who "created a spirited, results-oriented work environment that has been emulated throughout professional sports."

Jeopardy fans will also be interested to know that O'Malley is the correct response to the Jeopardy answer, "First woman to run a professional sports franchise."

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.