USOC Names USGA's Sarah Hirshland As New CEO
USOC has hired USGA Chief Commercial Officer Sarah Hirshland as its next CEO, bringing in someone with connections to the LA28 organizing committee but no Olympics experience. She will assume the position by late August. Hirshland faces daunting tasks in her new position: Repairing the USOC’s image in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal and engineering potentially controversial governance reforms designed to better protect athletes and satisfy Congressional overseers. She will replace acting CEO Susanne Lyons, who had held the position since Scott Blackmun resigned abruptly in February after an eight-year tenure. Hirshland is the committee’s 12th CEO. “The USOC is at a critical time in its history and requires an energetic, creative and inspiring leader who is capable of building on past success while making sure that the athletes we serve are protected, supported and empowered in every possible way,” USOC Chair Larry Probst said in a statement. Hirshland will earn a $600,000 annual salary, with a potential for a 50% bonus. In '16, the last year for which tax filings are available, Blackmun earned $1.075M in total compensation, of which $646,000 was base salary.
STRONG BACKGROUND: Hirshland, a '08 SBJ/SBD "Forty Under 40" honoree, joined the USGA in '11 as Senior Managing Dir of Business Affairs. She was appointed CCO in April after the USOC search had already begun. She oversees the USGA’s global content and media distribution, marketing and communications, content development, PR, sponsorships, hospitality and merchandise/licensing. Hirshland played a key role in the USGA’s biggest deals, included its 12-year, $1B TV deal with Fox that began in ‘15. The USGA also counts Rolex, Deloitte, Lexus and AmEx as its four partners.
AWARE OF ISSUES FACING HER: Hirshland in a statement called the Olympics a “source of inspiration and admiration on every continent on earth.” She said, “To be invited to lead the Olympic and Paralympic community in the United States, to be associated with Team USA, and to have the honor and privilege of serving America’s athletes is an absolute dream come true. I also recognize the challenges ahead as we navigate this critical moment in the USOC’s history." Prior to joining the USGA, Hirshland was Senior VP/Strategic Business Development at Wasserman in L.A. She also worked in the agency’s consulting division. She was among the first employees of Raleigh-based OnSport before it was acquired by Wasserman in '02. She was also a founding employee of Total Sports in Raleigh. LA28 Chair and Wasserman Founder Casey Wasserman called Hirshland “exactly the right person” to lead the USOC. “I look forward to reteaming with Sarah plus the entire team at the USOC to deliver a new Games for a new era that benefit athletes and our communities alike, and connect the Olympic and Paralympic movements to the future,” Wasserman said.
NO EXPERIENCE IN OLYMPIC SPACE: The USGA is one of the four founding members of USA Golf, the Olympic NGB of the sport. But Hirshland has no experience in the esoteric world of Olympic governance, in which the USOC acts as umbrella organization for 49 independent nonprofits that manage individual sports. The USOC’s complex relationship with those bodies is up for comprehensive review in light of the Nassar scandal. But in her introductory press conference today, Hirshland said there are many similarities in how the USGA and USOC are structured. Both have wide-ranging duties, from the elite competitive level into the grassroots, with responsibilities to many different interest groups. “I do think my USGA experience is incredibly relevant to what I will face as I go forward in this role,” Hirshland said. U.S. Biathlon President & CEO Max Cobb, the Chair of the USOC NGB Council, acknowledged Hirshland’s lack of experience, but is confident she will learn quickly. “She has a super successful career and I think that speaks volumes to her capabilities,” Cobb said. “And unless you’re in the Olympic sphere, I don’t know if there are any real direct experiences that could prepare you for the semi-autonomous business entities. So I think there’s going to be a lot of coming up to speed with that. But someone who has demonstrated that level of success and intellect, I think she’ll figure it out." Spencer Stuart conducted the search on behalf of the USOC.
USGA LOOKS TO FILL VACANCY: Hirshland’s departure leaves the USGA without one of its key senior execs. USGA CEO Mike Davis noted Hirshland let him know earlier this week about her plans to join the USOC. He said in a statement, “To have a member of our senior executive team rise to this position and lead a new era in U.S. Olympic sports is incredibly exciting and a proud moment for all of us at the USGA.” Hirshland will remain with the USGA through mid-August as the organization begins its search. “Through her time with us, Sarah has proven herself as an exceptional leader whose skill at forging new paths of opportunity and new ways of thinking are eclipsed only by her passion for sports and the inspiration athletes bring to all of us,” Davis said. “We look forward to seeing her at future Olympic Games, knowing we have a great advocate for golf in her, and a solid visionary in sports.”