TMR Q&A: Gotham FC President Mary Wittenberg Talks Being a Beacon for Women’s Soccer

Mary Wittenberg, a Buffalo, N.Y. native and oldest of seven children, has always been a competitor, from cheering and gymnastics to basketball and dabbling in a season of soccer growing up.

While attending Canisius College, Wittenberg was the coxswain for a championship men’s pair. Her senior year, she took up running which she immersed herself in during law school, eventually training alongside the University of Notre Dame men’s cross-country team. She entered – and won – the 1987 Marine Corps Marathon, qualifying her for the 1988 U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials. Unfortunately, knee surgery and a back ailment forced her to drop out of the Trials after just a couple miles.

Wittenberg stayed close to running as work took her to New York City, where she ran often in Central Park. In 1998, she left the law firm she was a partner at to become VP, Chief Operating Officer for New York Road Runners (NYRR). In 2005, she was named NYRR’s first woman President and CEO, also becoming the first woman race director of a world major marathon, leading the NYRR’s famed TCS New York City Marathon.

In May 2015, Wittenberg was named CEO of the newly-founded Virgin Sport, which was established to plan, produce and market large running, cycling and triathlon events. From there, she joined Education First Pro Cycling as their president, leading all business and marketing activities. Next came her role as President, Pro with start-up League One Volleyball, laying the foundation for the new professional league. Along the way, she also found the time to join the faculty of Columbia University‘s School of Professional Studies where she teaches Leadership in Sports Management.

Finally, on August 3, 2023, National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) club NY/NJ Gotham FC announced Wittenberg as the club’s president, overseeing the club’s business operations.

Closing in on 100 days in her new role, we asked her to update us on how things are shaping up at Gotham FC as the 2023 NWSL season winds down.

Special Note: Gotham FC competes this Sunday, November 5, at 7pm ET in the Semifinals of the NWSL Playoffs against the Portland Thorns live on CBS Sports Network.

Team Marketing Report: You have only been on the job a short time, what’s the potential for Gotham FC as a property in New York and across the tri-state area?

Mary Wittenberg: We want Gotham FC to be a beloved New Jersey/New York sports team and perennial championship contender with a massive community of avid fans.

Soccer – especially women’s soccer – is about building a unique community of supporters that comprises fans from all walks of life who feel seen and welcome.

Our collective goal at NJ/NY Gotham FC is to be a beacon for women’s soccer, showing up strong competitively, culturally and operationally. We strive to create a “one club” culture where our people and partners thrive and our fans feel at home.

We see the diversity of the tri-state area as a significant strength for our club and aim to connect the local passionate soccer fans to Gotham FC, showing them that the world’s best women’s players are right here—in their backyard.

TMR: The club has grown on the field, how have partners already helped with unique activations off the pitch with fans?

MW: It’s a team approach at Gotham FC through and through. Our corporate sponsors are true partners in building the club and lifting players, community and culture.

A sample “Pass Her The Torch” post via @gothamfc

One example is the original content series “Common Ground,” a collaboration among Gotham FC, official Scotch whiskey partner Johnnie Walker and United Masters. The “Common Ground” series explores the intersection of the music industry and professional women’s soccer by pairing a recording artist with a Gotham FC player for an honest, candid conversation and a song that connects their shared experiences. All episodes are available on the Gotham FC YouTube channel.

CarMax is a stand-out partner for their support of Gotham FC and their efforts in lifting women’s sports, who inspired one of our favorite activations this year with the WNBA’s New York Liberty. This partnership united the two leagues and teams while amplifying the spirit of women’s empowerment and women supporting each other.

Together, we created a limited edition t-shirt featuring the tagline “Pass Her The Torch,” accompanied by an image of the torch itself—a mutual emblem representing Gotham FC and the Liberty. It was fortuitous, as Gotham FC and the Liberty were the first local pro teams to carry the torch for the region into our respective playoffs this season!

TMR: You signed an elite World Cup champion from Spain, how valuable is the Hispanic market to the league and to the team, and what emphasis can be placed there in the future?
González will be a marketing focus for Gotham FC going forward Devan Cafaro

MW: This season, we were fortunate to sign FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and Real Madrid’s all-time leading goal-scorer, forward Esther González. Esther brings a champion’s spirit and wealth of talent to the team, providing us a tremendous opportunity to attract new fans.

The Hispanic and Latino population constitutes nearly a third of the greater New York City area. When Esther joined the club, we received tremendous exposure, and some of the most prominent national and international Spanish media outlets covered us; this speaks to the power of Esther’s signing and the interest from the Hispanic community in soccer.

We plan to build on this momentum by engaging the Hispanic market through various efforts, including more Spanish language led initiatives and our Hispanic Heritage Night.

TMR: You have worked with some of the most powerful people in sports and business. What lessons did you bring from those people to this position?

MW: The best leaders I have worked with are people-centric first, and that focus has led to great business.

Richard Branson and the Virgin Group are all about customer experience and surprising and delighting customers—essential to our approach with our fans.

The NYC Marathon welcomes people to be part of a community event and a global movement so much bigger than themselves; you can see the tie there to our players, team and fans—especially on our historic run in these playoffs.

EF Education brings people of different cultures together, creating a sense of belonging as people explore the world. Storytelling brings their Tour de France cycling teams and brand story to life.

League One Volleyball empowers women athletes from youth to pro and creates life-expanding opportunities through the game.

You can see how my lessons learned in each case will help us build and grow Gotham FC.

TMR: Looking ahead, entering next season what is the brand message that you think can be realized for Gotham FC. What’s the big win or wins that are attainable for 2024?

MW: Join us! Belong and be a part of building one of the greatest teams in the world.

We are early days at Gotham FC. This is an exciting building phase. Every player, coach, staff member, partner, and especially fan – who joins us now – gets to be part of spreading the word and the love of Gotham FC!

We are already on a historic run in the playoffs, and attendance is up 42 percent over last season, yet, we are just getting started. That’s a hint of what’s to come with this stellar team. We are excited to welcome more fans than ever to our matches and our community supported by vision-aligned partners, players, and staff. 

We think the tri-state area can be the capital of women’s soccer globally. We’re the media capital and the financial capital. Why can’t this region also be the capital of women’s soccer?


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