By Alicia Venter
Jennifer O’Sullivan grew up in an extensively athletic home, spearheaded by her sports-loving father, and played three sports in her home of Clinton, New Jersey.
Soccer was not one of those sports.
However, O’Sullivan now finds herself sitting in a position that can change Major League Soccer (MLS) at its core — to her, there is no better place to do it than Queens.
“The diversity of Queens as a borough cannot be denied,” O’Sullivan, 48, said over a phone interview. “It’s a true example of how the global game of soccer can really be used as a catalyst to bring people together culturally within the community, but also an economic boom for the borough and the city.”
As the C.O.O/Chief Legal & Administrative Officer at New York City Football Club (NYCFC), O’Sullivan has prioritized helping her club find a permanent place in Queens. The Willets Point Stadium, announced by Mayor Adams on Nov. 16, is a privately financed facility set to offer 2,500 affordable homes, a 25,000 seat stadium and a 250-room hotel. It’s expected to be completed in 2024.
O’Sullivan joined NYCFC in April 2020. Her role broadly encompasses running the operational and administrative areas of the business — human resources, IT infrastructure and facilities, navigating some of the contractual relationships with partners and working closely with NYCFC II, the reserve team and minor league affiliate of NYCFC.
Currently, NYCFC has no permanent place to call home. The team has been bouncing around from venue to venue — including Yankees Stadium — for their matches, but with a permanent stadium for their matches, they will be able to focus on the fan experience, and developing the talent of their organization, which is coming off the heels of a championship.
“I think in New York, you have this melting pot of people, many of whom came from nationalities and other areas of the world where the global game of soccer is just a way of life,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re really trying to identify people who have this strong love and passion for the game and say, ‘It’s okay for you to have your Mexican home team that you follow, but we can be your time here in New York,’”
MLS is a relatively young league in the United States, founded in 1993. NYCFC joined the league eight years ago, and in O’Sullivan’s three years with the organization, she has seen the program grow throughout the five boroughs, with a youth program or organization in approximately 70% of the city. In her time within the industry, she has seen soccer grow in New York City exponentially — instead of wearing NBA jerseys exclusively, her children and her friends are seen boasting soccer jerseys.
The United States hosting the 2024 World Cups, along with the men’s and women’s teams performing well in their performances in the past world cup, will likely add to this excitement around the sport. She hopes that this, plus the hard work of NYCFC to be involved in the community and be a presence beyond on the field, will help turn the occasional fan to an avid one.This involvement includes adding programs to schools and distributing food.
O’Sullivan hopes that the next step for NYCFC will be to add a women’s team and a women’s academy to complement their male teams, as “we see real opportunity in the women’s game as well.”
Despite being so young, she doesn’t want NYCFC to settle in their victory with the stadium — as C.O.O, she expects to continue growing the organization as forward as she can.
“We’re really doing everything we can do to ensure that this stadium journey and the stadium process is successful. Not just for us, but for part of the larger development of Willets Point and the borough of Queens, and growing out what those community initiatives look like,” she said. “If we can be a real catalyst for growth and change on the women’s side of the game, we would welcome that opportunity as well.”