For Alisha Valavanis, sport is far more than a profession and a passion—it’s a way of life. “Sport has been at the center of my life from the very beginning,” says Valavanis, who leads both the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and its management company, Force 10 Sports. “I grew up in Indiana, a basketball state. My twin sister and I started playing ball as soon as we could walk.”
But according to Valavanis, the culture of sports that marked her childhood had less to do with the sports that she played and much more to do with the values that her parents espoused.
“From very early on, I felt like I was part of a team—my family’s team,” Valavanis explains. “My mother and father were and always have been my greatest coaches. So I was learning about team, and the power of communication and collaboration, long before I had the language for it.”
That understanding is what helped propel Valavanis to success on her high school team and later on the basketball team at California State University–Chico, she says. “Once I stepped on the court, it was very clear to me what you can achieve as a team, and that there is nothing better than winning together.”
Even after Valavanis graduated in 2000 and transitioned from a player to a coach, she remained focused on that passion for team dynamics.
“At the Division II and midmajor Division I levels, I was involved in more than just the basketball team itself,” she says of her years working as a coach at major universities in California. “That was such a great landscape for me to learn about everything from operational scopes to marketing, communications, and development.”
Valavanis came to Force 10 Enterprises and the Seattle Storm in July 2014 following a nearly three-year stint as the assistant athletic director at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to her work as president and CEO of Force 10 Sports Management, Valavanis also serves as CEO and general manager of the Seattle Storm team.
“This is something unique to the WNBA, the opportunity to be a CEO on the business side but also the general manager on the basketball side,” Valavanis notes. “As the CEO, I’m responsible for the business operations, and on the general manager side, I’m responsible for the development of our roster, scouting management, and the management of the coaching staff.”
But as Valavanis emphasizes, she is never forced to shoulder the responsibility of those dual roles entirely on her own. “I have a phenomenal coaching staff and support staff around me doing exceptional work,” she says, “so my roles on both the business side and the team side are highly collaborative.”
Challenges and Championships
The organization-wide commitment to collaboration has done far more than just make Valavanis’s life easier, though. It is also what helped carry the team through one of the biggest challenges a professional sports team can face: a complete rebuild.
“In professional sports, success is cyclical. There are times when a team is at its highest level, and there are times when you have to rebuild. I faced that in my first season here,” Valavanis says. “And that whole process reinforced how critical it is to have ownership and team buy-in, to execute a game plan and goals.
In the first year of Valavanis’s tenure, the team and the entire staff came together to set goals related to development, momentum, and future success. And just a few years later, in 2018, the Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship—the team’s third win in franchise history.
“That’s the thing about a team like this,” says the CEO. “No matter what challenges come up, we’re in it together.”
“I was learning about team, and the power of communication and collaboration, long before I had the language for it.”
A Force for Good
Valavanis also credits collaboration and teamwork with driving Force 10’s mission to make a social impact. “We are really looking to support teams that may not have the size or the resources of some of the larger teams out there, to use the power and the platform of sports for positive change,” she says. “The idea is that we can diversify our revenue opportunities and also directly align with our mission to advance opportunities for women.”
Force 10 has been working for years to promote women’s basketball championships and support women’s sports teams, and according to Valavanis, the organization has also recently launched the first professionally owned three-on-three pro women’s basketball team in the country.
“Sports has a really unique space in our lives; it brings people together, and here at the Storm, we are focused on using this platform to drive positive social change.” Valavanis says. “We always ask ourselves, ‘Will this help advance our efforts to create a more equitable and fair landscape for women and girls?’
“Our little girls as well as little boys come to games and watch these elite athletes, many of whom, are women of color compete on the court, these women become their role models,” Valavanis continues. “I think about the impact that has on the children coming to the games because that is inherently what the WNBA is: a representation of our work towards equality and diversity and inclusion.”
But just as it takes a team to achieve victory, it takes a team to drive values like diversity and equality across the city and the country. The Seattle Storm and Force 10 wouldn’t be nearly so successful in their efforts to drive social good without corporate partners like Symetra on their side, Valavanis says.
“Sports has a really unique space in our lives; it brings people together, and here at the Storm, we are focused on using this platform to drive positive social change.”
When Symetra was exploring potential sports relationships in 2019, Trinity Parker says the partner organization would have to not only elevate Symetra’s brand but also authentically share its values around diversity and inclusion, empowering women and youth, and commitment to community.
“Alisha and her team at Force 10 got this immediately, and it was pretty clear at our very first meeting that we would enter into a long-term partnership with the team,” says Parker, who is the senior vice president of marketing, communications, public affairs at Symetra. “She has been a true partner for Symetra as we work to advance our brand and help drive positive change in our Pacific Northwest community.”
“Those marquee-community partnerships are a critical part of running a sustainable WNBA franchise,” Valavanis says. “We are so fortunate to be in Seattle—our mission is reflected in the community here, and people and companies across the city really show up.”
BECU is Washington State’s leading member-owned financial cooperative, committed to improving the financial well-being of its more than 1.2 million members and their communities. BECU supports many organizations, teams and groups dedicated to community betterment. Learn more about the credit union and membership eligibility at becu.org.