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NJ/NY Gotham FC President Mary Wittenberg: In It For the Long Haul

Mary Wittenberg has grand ambitions for NJ/NY Gotham FC…and soccer as a whole in the tristate area.

With just a few games remaining in the regular season, fifth-place NJ/NY Gotham FC is inching toward an NWSL postseason berth — a significant improvement from a last-place finish in 2022. The club made serious changes to put itself in that position, adding a mix of veterans and rookies to its star-studded roster and growing its front-office staff in the process.

On Aug. 3, Gotham announced Mary Wittenberg as club President. According to a release, Wittenberg will work alongside General Manager and Head of Soccer Operations Yael Averbuch West to “establish an environment that inspires continued player success and makes Gotham FC a world-class club both on and off the field, inspiring Gotham FC fans everywhere.”

A native New Yorker, Wittenberg became the first woman named President and CEO of New York Road Runners (NYRR) in 2005 and later the first woman to lead the TCS New York City Marathon. The Notre Dame Law School grad’s previous stints also include serving as the founding CEO of the innovative Virgin Sport, President of the Tour de France EF Pro Cycling team, and founding President of League One Volleyball.

Boardroom caught up with Mary Wittenberg as she discussed making the transition from running to soccer, building a dynasty, and Gotham’s ongoing commitment to diversity.

VINCIANE NGOMSI: Why was right now the moment to join Gotham FC?

MARY WITTENBERG: I love transformational opportunities that make an outsized impact. So I think Gotham is really primed to lift the tristate area and make it like the global capital [of] women’s soccer. And I’m a person who likes to very much get in work with a team and be part of that journey and that transformation. I really wanted to come and be part of that, and I felt my skills and experiences were such that I could be really helpful at this phase. Gotham and I have a shared vision, and we are just starting to really bring it to life.

VN: After coming in last place in 2022, Gotham is currently in fifth place and in playoff contention. From your perspective, what are some ways that you’re looking to maintain that momentum?

MW: There is now a committed and focused, small but mighty team, pairing with investors, starting with [First Lady of New Jersey] Tammy Murphy, who was there in the beginning and now has a chance to see us actually really go after something big. What Yael will tell you is the difference between this year and last year is having a plan and executing it. I have said a few times already that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. But we’re starting a journey that we plan to build on each year to the next.

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VN: You’ve got a fair amount of veterans, but the future is bright at Gotham with the young core. How important is it to have a healthy mix of both as you’re building a dynasty?

MW: Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, Kelly O’Hara, these players already have immeasurable cultural impact. Now here comes Abby Smith and Jenna Nighswonger, and other newer players who have amazing potential and are really contributing to where Gotham’s going. We’ve been really lucky to have the influence of these veteran players. And I hope we continue to find ways like with Ashlyn Harris, to have them still be a part of the team. Gotham’s going to be in a really different place in 10 years and we wouldn’t even be thinking about getting there without what everyone has all done right now. Those are the real components. So these veteran players are really important. As we get ready to send Ali off, we wanted to give hints about the future of where we’re going as a team and a brand.

VN: What lessons are you taking as CEO of NYRR into your tenure with Gotham?

MW: On a personal level, I’m a goal person. So like the idea of [how] running a marathon is a big goal. I relish the steps in the journey it takes to get there. And that’s quite variable in our situation. We have big goals to reach before we get to be the global soccer capital. From a business perspective, I would say there’s a parallel path to our approach, which is what we did at New York Roadrunners when I started there. There are differences and there are similarities. The way I approached it is that we did have to think long-term. Our building blocks at the marathon were about engaging with local community runners throughout the boroughs. When you do that in this region, you end up having roots far beyond here because some of our people are from far beyond here.

So you’ll see us building internally, but you’ll also see us building our storytelling, and partnering with people like Boardroom is one of the best things we can do to raise visibility. We are very aware of the amount of popularity Gotham has brought across the five boroughs and the tristate area and we want to continue building that.

VN: Performance on the pitch is important, but can you add to the ongoing initiative Gothm has of diversity and acceptance both on and off the pitch?

MW: I think the very core of Gotham is being universally diverse and I mean in every way. In people’s styles, methods, backgrounds, and ambitions. We want to champion this idea that everyone can have a home with us. But we have to show that, and so I think it’s one of our greatest strengths and it’s core to who we are. It’s also a big part of our success already. It’s an area we lead in and want to maintain. I think what’s unique about diversity is that we can find a sharing of a mindset of diversity and individual expression being important. We’re also serious about respecting an individual’s background because we all come from different walks of life and that should be celebrated.

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today, and most recently Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University, and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.