Seattle Storm's Valavanis: Community Connectedness Key To WNBA's Sustainability
Armed with two of the top three picks in tonight’s draft, the WNBA Seattle Storm’s ALISHA VALAVANIS has plenty of firepower to make a franchise-shaping move in her first season as President & GM. But while she gets “fired up” to discuss the team’s roster on a daily basis, her conversations soon pivot to those of ticket sales, sponsorships and community relations. "As a league, we’re constantly talking about increasing exposure, generating more interest, and then taking that interest and turning it into engagement," she said. Here, Valavanis discusses her leadership style and keys to the league’s success, among a variety of other topics:
Q: In a city that includes the Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders, the latter two of which have seasons overlapping the Storm’s, what do you do to avoid getting lost in the shuffle?
Valavanis: I want to work as partners with the other professional sports teams to figure out how we can expose Storm basketball to their audiences. I heard from executives of all those franchises within my first couple weeks of being here, and they were very open to talking best practices, talking business, talking team, and talking Seattle. It was really a great welcome to the city and made me aware of the fact that we’re all in this together.
Q: What do you believe are the keys to the WNBA’s growth and sustainability?
Valavanis: There’s continued awareness around the need to develop relevance. From a business end, we’re all looking for ways to diversify our revenue opportunities and build sustainable, long-term partnerships; that’s a critical part of it. We need to partner with local companies and brands whose values align with ours and through which we can make an impact in the community and can help ourselves thrive likewise through the partnerships. It’s all about connectedness in the community. We need to continue to talk about what makes the WNBA different, how we can find our niche, and why this league matters in our cities and in our country.
Q: How did KAREN BRYANT’s seven-month lead-up toward stepping down as CEO affect your transition to your position?
Valavanis: It was a really strategic move by the ownership group to give us a six-week overlap as she transitioned out and I transitioned in, and it turned out to be invaluable for me. It was great to have the opportunity for the two of us just to engage in conversation across the enterprise on both the basketball side and the business side. She was the lead here for 18 years, so there was a ton for me to pick her brain about, and to this day, I continue to talk with her and glean as much as I can.
Q: How would you characterize your leadership style?
Valavanis: My leadership style began on the court as a player and has since developed as I transitioned into coaching and executive positions. It comes down to two things for me: invest in people and build a team. Both on and off the court, the focus is on culture and putting talented, motivated and driven people in a space where they can perform at the highest level.
Q: While coaching at Pacific, you also led the program’s marketing and community relations efforts. How has wearing many hats helped you in your current role?
Valavanis: As a mid-major, each sport really looks at a holistic approach to the business, including how to position your team in the community from a marketing and PR standpoint. I had a real interest in that, and because it was a small enough operation, I was given the opportunity to lead those efforts for the women’s basketball program. Once I was exposed to what it took to build and lead a team in that regard, it kind of just built.
Q: How has G SUE BIRD’s participation in State Farm’s new ad campaign helped bring attention to the team?
Valavanis: It’s been great for women’s basketball not just in Seattle but around the league. The ad has given us an opportunity to have a bit more visibility and has created awareness for both the Storm and the WNBA. It’s been a great conversation starter, too. Certainly the company she keeps in that commercial is excellent, and it just speaks to Sue, her game and her legacy. It’s not about male or female point guards; it’s about the best, and she’s one of the best.