At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Houston Dynamo Football Club majority owner Ted Segal introduced the first-ever Houston Dash team president, former Charlotte FC Director of Marketing and Communications Jessica O’Neill.
O’Neill, who comes to Houston after nine years with Tepper Sports and Entertainment, said that the chance to lead the revenue and growth of the Dash was too good to pass up.
This was “an opportunity that I could ultimately not turn down,” O’Neill said. “It was the right city, the right league, the right ownership, and enough potential to be able to have the trust of Ted to be able to run this organization alongside an incredible team that's there and help improve and enhance the steps that they're already doing.”
Prior to leading the marketing and communications of Major League Soccer’s of Charlotte FC, O’Neill worked for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, starting in ticket sales. She hopes to draw on this experience in the NFL and MLS, while recognizing that the NWSL is its own entity with specific needs as well. From her perspective, the key to growing the Dash, and the league as a whole, is about connecting to the fans.
“I know that there will be growth that happens in the fan experience and putting fans first as much as possible,” O’Neill said. “The NWSL has an opportunity to do that from the forefront to be incredibly community-minded, incredibly visible, have players, myself, members of the team out and about as much as possible. I've seen that difference so far, in my experience here (in Charlotte), and I'd like to continue that.”
In his introductory remarks at the virtual press conference, Segal described the hire as an important step in the direction of the franchise.
“As we were assuming control of the Dash last year, we recognized that they were long overdue in having dedicated executive leadership reflecting the Dash's importance within the sport of soccer and the Houston community,” he said. “Indeed, the operations of this team are too important to not have someone solely focused on how to bring out the best for our players, our fans and our community.”
O’Neill will not officially join the team until March, after Charlotte FC plays it highly anticipated inaugural home match on March 5. Once she does make it down to H-Town, she is fully prepared to hit the ground running, while also recognizing that all of the changes that she hopes to see will not happen overnight.
“I joke that I walk fast, talk fast, and am hardly ever stationary. So a challenge for me personally would be understanding some of this stuff takes time. It's unfair to organizations to go in and not take the time you need to make sure you understand the needs of the folks there,” O’Neill said. “The challenge will be for me is that it won't happen overnight, that's the biggest piece and I will be patient in that process, I will push and I will use the leadership that (Club president) John Walker brought to the Club and a lot of the executive team there who knows the community.”
The announcement coincided with National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and just a day after the NWSL agreed to a historic Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players’ Association that will run through 2025. O’Neill herself is committed to making the Dash as representative a franchise as possible, and her hire is a step in that direction.
“It boils down to representation,” O’Neill said. “At the end of the day, I believe wholeheartedly that the more different voices, backgrounds, ages, genders, sexual orientations you have in a room, the better an organization is going to be, the better those decisions are, the better the outcome. So, continuing to make sure that there's representation across the board is really important.”
While the fast-moving O’Neill will not officially start with the team until March, she is already making plans to begin the work of connecting with the team, and the greater Houston community. That work starts this weekend, when she will join the Dash at HSP for her first visit with the team.
“I’ll be in town, and I will be able to introduce myself to the team. It will be a brief visit in search of a place to live, but the icing on the cake is being able to go to by HSP and introduce myself to the team, she said. “As much as I can do that, in person, I'd prefer to. I've had a great conversation so far with (Dash head coach) James Clarkson and I believe we will be an awesome team. And the players themselves, I can't wait to meet them and I have no doubt that there will be a lot of great energy and a lot of excitement, especially at the beginning of camp."