THE BOB JOHNSTON PODCAST
By Bob Johnston
May 12, 2020
SEASON
1
EPISODE
12
Seattle Storm CEO – Alisha Valavanis

Alisha Valavanis, CEO and General Manager of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. I was pretty blown away by her deft leadership style and accomplishments to-date. And, she’s just getting started. We discussed Alisha's vision for reimagining the team the past several years, which led to the Storm's WNBA championship in 2018. We also covered her approach to leadership, mentors who have influenced her life, and coming from a family with two identical sets of twins (of which she is one!)...and a lot more.

Aside from her on-the-court accomplishments, Alisha is a member of the Washington Roundtable, the Seattle Sports Commission Board of Directors, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees. The Puget Sound Business Journal named her an Outstanding Voice recipient for her commitment to equality, inclusion and diversity. She was then selected as one of the 2018 Puget Sound Business Journal’s Women of Influence.

Hired in June 2014, Alisha Valavanis is currently CEO and General Manager of the three-time WNBA Champion Seattle Storm and Force 10 Sports Management, LLC; a sports management firm that creates world-class sport and entertainment events in Seattle by providing operations, revenue generation, communications and marketing expertise. Valavanis has expanded the Force 10 Sports Management portfolio that has included the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, USA Basketball, Seattle ProAm, Seattle Reign FC (NWSL) and the Seattle Seawolves (MLR).

Valavanis was the architect behind the Seattle Storm rebuild that led to a 2018 WNBA Championship. This began with her first move as GM to use the franchise 2015 No. 1 overall pick to select guard Jewell Loyd, who went on to win 2015 WNBA Rookie of the Year. The following year, Valavanis added Breanna Stewart to the roster, bringing to the Storm the only player in collegiate history to win four consecutive NCAA Championships and four Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. In 2018, Stewart became one of a handful of WNBA players ever to earn both the regular-season MVP and Finals MVP awards. The same year, Stewart was also honored as the FIBA Women’s World Cup MVP and USA Basketball’s 2018 Female Athlete of the Year.

Valavanis led the Storm to a marquee jersey and community partnership with Swedish Medical Center and negotiated a new television partnership with Q13 FOX. This partnership expanded the reach of the Seattle Storm through its live and streamed broadcasts nationwide. Valavanis also expanded the long-standing Carter Subaru partnership to include court-naming rights, a first of its kind for the Seattle Storm. In April 2019, the Storm announced a 10-year jersey patch partnership with Symetra Life Insurance Company, marking the largest sponsorship deal in franchise history.

A native of Valparaiso, Ind., Valavanis came to the Storm with a strong history in women’s basketball. She played four years at California State University, Chico, finishing her career as the program’s all-time leader in three-pointers. Valavanis went on to coach for the Wildcats. In her four years as an assistant coach, the program made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

In 2006, she moved on to the associate head coach role at the University of the Pacific. She has also worked as a WNBA scout with the New York Liberty before the pivot to the business side of sports wherein Valavanis spent time with the front office of the Golden State Warriors. In her final stop prior to the Storm, she served as an associate athletics director for Cal Athletics at UC Berkeley.

Valavanis completed her B.A. in journalism in 2000, and received her masters in physical education in 2004, both from Chico.

Valavanis is a member of the Washington Roundtable, the International Women’s Forum, the Seattle Sports Commission Board of Directors and its Executive Council, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees.

Valavanis was named to the 2019 Sports Business Journal list of Game Changers; a prestigious list of 40 executives across sports acknowledged as leaders in the industry. In the same year the Puget Sound Business Journal listed her on the inaugural Power 100 List, recognizing leaders shaping the region. She received back-to-back recognitions by Adweek; as a 2018 Rising Brand Stars in Seattle and one of The 30 Most Powerful Women in Sports in 2019.

In 2017 Puget Sound Business Journal named her an Outstanding Voice recipient for her commitment to equality, inclusion and diversity, Valavanis was then selected as one of the 2018 Puget Sound Business Journal’s Women of Influence.

Previously, Valavanis received the 2016 Washington Leadership Excellence Award from the Washington Diversity Council; the same year she was honored as the 2016 Distinguished Alumni for Chico State.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox, or your preferred podcast platform.

SELECTED QUOTES
Our work environment is analogous to a startup."
 – on constantly testing new products, engaging fans and working with corporate partners
We as a society need to decide what we value."
– on the importance of pro athletes becoming role models for young men and women
EPISODE MARKERS

Minute Marker 9:30
Importance of ownership group for sports teams to be successful
They meshed well with Alisha

11:15
Rebuilding the team and importance of talent on the business side of the house
Team is the core focus on and off the court when it comes to accomplishing goals

15:30
ON being an identical twin – and her twin is also a CEO
How they’ve been partners and each other’s ‘back court’ throughout life

16:50
Force 10 sports management to expand financial model
Owners and other properties, assets and interplay
Launched first women’s pro 3-on-3 league in US

21:30
WNBA is still a young league
Measuring fan engagement
Measuring growth as a fiduciary

26:45
On her initial focus on journalism as as profession
Writing is an important part of her process
Gives time to reflect
Puts her in a meditative state to focus on priorities

29:25
What’s changed from the coaching perspective over the years from her college playing/coaching days to current day status
Quality, diversity, inclusion

31:45
Approaching community involvement and how to prioritize/partner
Showing up in the community and discussing health, wellness and access to sports for youth
Partners are heavily activated in community
Changing the game for next generation of young women

34:55
Collective Bargaining Agreement to move league forward
Pay parity for pro athletes
We all need to buy in
Corporate America should go all in on women’s sports too

38:10
Women’s sports becoming fabric of society, families and social get togethers

38:55
What she’s jazzed about for future of sport
Momentum with fan base
Powerful return to community and society

42:01
Mentors and books that have influenced her
Her mother was her first coach
Father big part of journey and development
Twin sister different joinery but serve as each other’s back court
Sandy Barbour, Penn State Athletic Director

45:40
On trying mediation during quarantine
Simply being still and not have mind go to the daily task list
Using Jay Shetty’s Pure Wow free meditation tools

GUEST FOOTNOTES
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