Prudential Center GM, Donna Daniels, speaks to Jessica Kent about how representation matters because she knows young women are watching
Donna Daniels is only one of a handful of women running the operations of arenas around the country. It’s a big job and one that wouldn’t have surprised her 10-year-old self if you told her she’d be the Executive Vice President and General Manager of a world-class venue one day.
“It was my dream to work in sports, and more specifically I wanted to walk into Madison Square Garden everyday to work, and I was fortunate to be able to do that after 9 months of living in the city,” she explained.
Daniels started her career in the NBA. For 25 years she watched the New York Knicks on the court – but it wasn’t the monumental wins or unforgettable moments that she’s most proud of. Launching the WNBA in 1996 is a career highlight for her.
“Being part of that group I will never forget, it was like it was yesterday,” she recalled. “I love what the WNBA has done for little girls. The fact that you know the players in the [league] were little girls playing basketball when we launched is pretty amazing.”
Daniels says it’s all about representation and is happy to be that role model for young girls today.
Four months ago Daniels was on a business call with mostly men when she got an email from the dad of a six-year-old girl who was also on the call. Daniels explained how the girl saw her dad and asked him if there were any women on the call – he was poised to be able to point to Daniels.
“What he said to me in that email was he wants his little girl to see everything and to have no limits, and he thanked me for being on that call to show her she could do anything and to be anything she wanted to be,” Daniels added.
She thinks of that moment often. Daniels credits her incredible support system growing up and more specifically her own dad for never doubting her ambition.
“We didn’t have conversations in my house about men or women, it was ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’,” Daniels said.
It’s that mentality that keeps her going, even during the tough unprecedented times – like closing a building down and safely reopening it all during a global pandemic.
“It has been quite a year, and we have been managing it quite frankly, day to day, minute to minute.”
Prudential Center, a building that holds nearly 20,000 fans has reopened to only a fraction of ticket holders, but the energy in the building is like music to Daniels’ ears.
“It has been really spectacular, it’s not as many fans as we’d love to have in the building but we’ll take 1,800 passionate New Jersey Devils fans, and it does look and sounds great whether you’re in the arena or on tv,” she explained. “It’s so nice to see and feel fans back in this building.”
Daniels already looks back at her sports career spanning three decades with fulfilment, and is proud to represent diversity in her position of power, even if there are only a handful of other women across the country doing the same.
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