The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has named Sarah Hirschland as its new CEO. Hirschland was previously the chief commercial officer for the United States Golf Association.
In the press release announcing Hirschland’s hiring, the USOC touted her background in business and marketing. Prior to USGA, Hirschland had been the senior vice president for strategic business development at Wasserman Media Group, working with sports marketing strategies for a number of major companies.
The USOC has been looking for a new CEO since February, when embattled CEO Scott Blackmun resigned, citing health concerns. He had been leading the organization since 2010, but came increasingly under fire at the end of his tenure as sexual abuse scandals rocked organized Olympic sports. Most notable was the Larry Nassar case, in which a former U.S. national team doctor was convicted of criminal sexual conduct and sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.
The USOC announced athlete protection reforms the same week of Blackmun’s resignation, and more recently hired a former FBI executive as its new senior director of athlete safety. But the organization has still taken plenty of heat about its CEO search. The Committee to Restore Integrity (made up of many former Olympians and sports stakeholders) publicly called on the USOC not to promote Larry Probst, the Board chair, calling him an “insider” who would make athletes “no safer.”
The full USOC press release is below:
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The United States Olympic Committee today named Sarah Hirshland as its 12th chief executive officer. Hirshland, currently chief commercial officer for the United States Golf Association, brings a unique and proven set of skills and experiences to the USOC at a time of transformation and change for the organization.
“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,” said USOC Chairman Larry Probst. “I’m thrilled that Sarah has accepted the position and thankful to the diverse slate of candidates who participated in our process to hire the very best person for this important responsibility. I’d also like to acknowledge Susanne Lyons for her superb leadership of the USOC for the last several months, while ensuring that America’s athletes continue to receive the support they need during our period of transition.”
In her current role, Hirshland is responsible for the USGA’s global media and content distribution, corporate partnerships, merchandise and licensing, marketing, communications, community outreach and Golfer Handicap Information Network. Among her accomplishments at the USGA, she established a centralized marketing function, transformed relationships and service offerings with the Allied Golf Associations, oversaw media rights negotiations, secured and managed global corporate partnerships, and guided the transformation of tournament management services.
Prior to joining the USGA in 2011, she was senior vice president for strategic business development at Wasserman Media Group (now Wasserman). She also previously worked in Wasserman’s consulting division, leading the development of sports marketing strategies for clients such as American Express, Nationwide, Nokia, Scotts and Wachovia. In addition, Hirshland has served in key executive positions with sports and entertainment firm OnSport, and sports news and technology company Total Sports.
“The Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the movements they help advance, are a source of inspiration and admiration on every continent on earth, and one of the few things in history that can bring the world together in celebration. 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,” said Hirshland. “I also recognize the challenges ahead as we navigate this critical moment in the USOC’s history. We must protect, support and empower athletes, young and old, elite and beginner. Olympic and Paralympic sport in the United States must be a shining example, able to provide athletes with the benefits of participation in an environment free from abuse of any kind. The USOC has made great strides in this area and I look forward to carrying on that critically important work.”
Hirshland takes over as CEO from Lyons, who has served as acting CEO since February 2018. Lyons succeeded Scott Blackmun, who had held the position since January 2010.
“It has been an honor to serve during this period of transition,” said Lyons. “My goals were to stabilize the organization, develop an aggressive action plan to increase athlete safety and respond to the challenges currently facing the organization, and to assist in hiring the very best person who can take those plans forward and redefine the role of the USOC in years to come. I feel we have accomplished those goals and I’m absolutely committed to helping Sarah in any way that I can.”
Max Cobb, chair of the USOC National Governing Bodies Council said, “Sarah brings a wealth of sports business experience and a unique perspective to the USOC at a transformative time in its history. Her appointment is an opportunity for the Olympic and Paralympic community in the United States to come together, continue to make progress on the critically important area of athlete safety, and support the constant advancement of sport in our country. I know the NGB leaders will enjoy working with her as we shape the future together.”
“I know firsthand that Sarah is a visionary leader and exactly the right person to lead the USOC as we collectively build to the LA 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said LA 2028 Chair Casey Wasserman. “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.”
“Sarah has been a wonderfully impactful leader as we have worked to preserve, protect and enhance the game of golf,” said Mike Davis, CEO of the United States Golf Association. “With golf’s return to the Olympics a couple years ago, the game already has a strong working relationship with the USOC and now with Sarah at the helm this connection will only be strengthened.”
Hirshland is a graduate of Duke University. She and her husband have three adult children and will relocate to Colorado Springs, Colorado, Olympic City USA.
Spencer Stuart conducted the nationwide search. Hirshland will commence her role with the USOC by the end of August.