O'Malley makes history but keeps eye on future

May 10, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff zJB

Newly promoted Washington Bullets president Susan O'Malley says that the job of NBA commissioner David Stern is safe from her domain.

For now.

She is joking, of course, but the sky is clearly the limit for O'Malley, 29. Yesterday she became the first woman in NBA history to be named president of a franchise, and the highest-ranking female in major league sports management who does not own a team. She was promoted by Bullets owner Abe Pollin after working as the team's executive vice president since 1988.

"What I thought the other day was that I've always wanted this, but that now I'd better get some new goals," said O'Malley. "It's like Bernard King said after he made the All-Star Game. He said that he had reached a goal and that he wanted to set some new ones. You don't want to get stagnant."

Under O'Malley's leadership, the Bullets have been anything but stagnant. Since 1988 the team has increased its earnings at the box office. The Bullets saw a 20 percent jump in their season ticket base last season and a 10 percent rise in paid attendance while tying a team record with 10 sellouts.

In addition, the team had a higher renewal rate of season tickets than at any other time, including the season after the Bullets won the league title in 1977-78. She also worked a deal to get the team's radio broadcasts on 50,000-watt stations in Washington and Baltimore.

O'Malley did come under fire this week, when the team announced its first ticket price increase in five years. It came after the team's worst season in 14 years.

The Bullets will raise the cost of most seats by as much as $5, but only for season ticket holders. There's no decision yet on tickets available to the general public. The Bullets also will open a family section at the Capital Centre next season that will offer half-price tickets for a still-to-be-determined number of seats behind the baskets.

O'Malley, whose father, Peter, was president of the Washington Capitals in the 1970s, is quick to praise her staff -- "the greatest team in the world" -- and Pollin, for having the courage to promote a young woman to such a visible post.

"Here's a guy that is color-blind, religion-blind and sex-blind," said O'Malley, who holds a bachelor's degree in business and finance from Mount St. Mary's. "He doesn't see [Bullets coach] Wes [Unseld] as a great black coach, but as just a great coach. I'm thankful for the opportunity to prove him right."

On the horizon, O'Malley said she would like to further increase the Bullets' average attendance from 12,000, the highest in 13 years, but still just two-thirds the Capital Centre's capacity. She'd also like the team to control its television operations, as it does with radio.

O'Malley says she isn't comfortable thinking of herself as a pioneer or role model for young women who want to get into sports management, but she knows that she stands for something promising.

"I was speaking to a group of high school girls not too long ago and I told them that there are no barriers left, to dream whatever you want to," said O'Malley. "If I'm a symbol of that, then that's fine."

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