Off The Pitch
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
MLS Cup Champion turned Chief Growth Officer at FanThreeSixty. Learn how Sasha's commitment to education at a young age helped foster a winning culture on the pitch and in life.
(2002 LA Galaxy Team Calendar)
A few weeks ago we sat down with Club Eleven and Sasha Victorine to talk footy, life, and the evolving sports, entertainment, and technology space. Sasha, a former MLS and USMNT player, provides insight into his journey with soccer and how the dynamic of sports, coupled with a curiosity to keep learning, can help you find your passion. From world class soccer player to high performing C-suite executive, Sasha provides a unique perspective on life after hanging up the boots.
Sasha was drafted in the first round of the 2000 MLS Superdraft and enjoyed a successful 10 year career with the LA Galaxy, Kansas City Wizards, and Chivas USA upon retiring in 2010. During this span, he lifted the US Open Cup, the CONCACAF Champions League, and the MLS Cup playing an integral role in helping his teams pursue success on and off the pitch. Today, he resides with his family in Kansas City helping teams and leagues better understand and optimize the fan experience across different digital touchpoints.
To begin the virtual conversation we shared a few photos from his 01/02 LA Galaxy team to keep it casual, fun, and engaging. After a few laughs and a trip down memory lane, we dove into getting to know Sasha, his passions, and his journey from Division 1 college soccer at UCLA to Major League Soccer and beyond.
What inspired you to get involved with the game and where did your passion for soccer start?
I’ll go on a little bit of a tangent to start and then I’ll bring it back together here if that’s alright. I mentioned my interest in the behavioral economics side of things and there’s a great book out there called Drive. One of the things it talks about is this idea of intrinsic motivation; not being focused so much on the external factors, like your parents pushing you to do something, but rather focusing more on the internal drivers that fuel your desire to grow, develop, and naturally keep learning. This intrinsic motivation has been a passion of mine from the very beginning. I’ve had a drive from an early age and I think it starts with curiosity. The drive and the curiosity to continue to get better, learn and to do the work I think ultimately takes people from good to great. Anyones who’s able to accomplish things in life has this drive - not that you can’t without it, but a lot of times I’ve had a good portion of that.
For me, it started around when I was 3-4 years old in my neighborhood. Kids in the street were just kicking around soccer balls and I went and played with them. I enjoyed it, my parents started to recognize I was pretty decent at it and I started playing. I think one of the areas that made me really enjoy it over time was the recognition that it was a game that anyone could play at any age. When I was around 8-10 my dad would take me to Cal State Fullerton and I’d play Sunday pick up with a bunch of European guys in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and we’d just kick the ball around. We had these lacrosse goals that were these triangular frames with chain nets and the whole idea was just to hit the goal. Reflecting on those times, I think I started to realize the nuances between playing soccer because it was something to do versus playing soccer because I was passionate about this thing that continued to drive me to want to get better. That’s innately how I got to the desire of playing soccer. When you got into it and you saw you could be really good, the talent and the ability and the desire to keep learning self-fulfilled that opportunity and the things I could potentially accomplish in life. And that was it for me.
Fast forward to your time on the LA Galaxy and the 2002 MLS Cup. If there was one takeaway during that championship run, was there a moment that resonates with you to this day?
Man, that’s a tough one. I don’t think there was a single moment I would look at and say, “Ah, that's the one!”. Obviously the moment of winning the championship aside, I think the dynamic of the team sticks out the most. By the time you got close to the end of the season, one of the things that you need to have as a championship team is you have to have the belief that no matter what happens on the field, no matter what the score is, you always have a chance to come back and win the game. Innately, this team had the belief that no matter what was happening on the field or issues that may have caused us to be down, we knew we could come back and win. One of the dynamics of the team that you probably don’t recognize is there were a lot of older guys who had been playing pro for a while. There were also a bunch of younger guys starting to come in and go. Knowing your place within the team and fostering those relationships with the older guys created this belief and confidence as a young player that you could be great, perform, and have an incredible career. The thing that you realize when you have a good combination of both experience and youth is that it creates an ease, or calmness, around the team. That’s what you walk away on, and if I look at my career going forward after, that existed everywhere else. But there was a unique aspect of how this LA team blended the youth side and experience in a way in which it actually showed on the field.
Community + Culture
The team was a pretty diverse set of guys. How did having a culturally diverse locker room help you guys in ways that we may not have been able to see from the outside?
Absolutely. I’ll give you some background on how I see the world of professional sports, but especially in soccer. Culturally, I think soccer is one of the most unique sports in that respect; I would look at basketball as one that’s comparable and maybe baseball at least here in the US, where you have the cultural dynamics of having teammates from all over the world. When you look at our team and what we were doing one of the most unique aspects was that we had a core nucleus. At the time in which we were in MLS and the state of MLS as a growing sport, one of the key dynamics was the uniqueness of establishing foreign players and American players; it’s still a common practice today. The teams that did a great job as far as coming together as a unit were able to look at those two dynamics and create a common connection. We had a lot of Southern California based American players and a handful of guys who grew up in the LA area as little kids, so one of the great foundations was the local connection that was established with the guys that grew up living and breathing soccer culture in the area. We were able to use that foundation to then help build that connection with the international players that came through and the other American players that came to the city. I’ll give you some dynamics that most people won’t talk about if you look at MLS today. Most teams today have their own world-class training centers. Back then, we were practicing on the baseball fields outside the Rose Bowl. On other days we’d go to the Rose Bowl, hop on vans and drive into the heart of LA to train at USC. So for us, there was the cultural element of the team, but we also became very close with the city and communities around us. LA was a melting pot of different cultures, so having a team that shared that similar cultural identity was a good thing for the team and a good thing for the city.
Establishing clear roles and responsibilities can take a team or organization from good to great. What role did leadership and setting clear roles and responsibilities have in developing a healthy and challenging vision for the team?
Roles are so important right? It’s no different and ties back to our conversation earlier; using sports, athletics, soccer, as a way to develop leadership and individualism. And it ties back to what you see in the work environment, which is understanding and creating clear roles and responsibilities for people so that they can actually perform well; that’s part of the coaches job and it’s also part of the team’s job to make sure everyone understands their role and has what they need to be successful. I remember one thing very specifically about the MLS Cup back in 2002. My job for that game as left midfielder was to shut down Steve Rolston, because we knew that the majority of their attack came up the right hand side with him sending balls into Taylor Twellman. We felt pretty confident that if we could minimize those crosses we had a really good opportunity to win, especially playing on their home field at Gillette Stadium. So this idea of adapting who you think you need to be on a global stage to what the team needs at a specific point in time, in this case the MLS Cup, played a large part in our success and I think that is the important takeaway. Also, there’s recognizing the importance of the team’s strategy, but you can only do that when everybody buys in to making sure they play their role and they do their part. When you have that trust and common belief as a team that this is today what you need to do versus tomorrow might be different, you’re able to step into your role and perform at your best. I think this showed the nature of the team and the connection we had on and off the pitch.
Life After Soccer
On the field vs. off the field. Can you provide a little background around your transition out of soccer into the business world.
I learned very early on the importance of education. As I was growing up I watched my dad leave college early, go into the workforce, and then go back to college when he was older to finish his degree. When I left UCLA, I left without my education complete so while I was playing for the Galaxy I actually finished my degree. In 2002, the year we won the championship, there was a game in New York that we played and we got sloshed. We got the crap beat out of us. We walk into the locker room and Sigi (Shmidt) is pissed off at us. I look at my watch and I’m supposed to leave right after the game, jump on an airplane, fly back to LA, and the next morning be able to graduate and walk at UCLA for my degree. Funny story, after an hour and half of being reamed out on our performance, I’m looking at my watch like, “I gotta go!”. I finally got out of there, but it’s an important story for me in that I’ve always seen the importance of education. I always felt as an individual, it’s important to feel like you’ve got something you’ve created and that you can build upon. Sports in general has always been an opportunity to develop leadership skills, knowledge around how you evaluate and create strategy, and I think the same goes with education.
When I left school and joined the Galaxy one of the things I thought about was how I could put my education to use while I was playing. So I helped create the MLS Players Association. Along with a few other guys, we spearheaded the negotiation process for a few collective bargaining agreements with various ownership groups. When I finished playing one of the dilemmas you face in the transition away from soccer and into regular life is what do you need to do versus what you want to do. I always knew I could go coach, no problem. I think it’s a great life, but I challenged myself to think about what other avenues were available to me. What could I go do, at least for a little bit of time, to see the other side of the world? Through many different conversations, one of the things I found I was most passionate about was joining Kansas City Wizards as they were going through a rebranding, developing a new stadium, and trying to implement a strategy around pushing technology as an emphasis of their business. Fortunately for me, as they transitioned into becoming Sporting KC, building a state of the art stadium, and starting a technology that was identified in 2012 as one of the most innovative technologies in the sports industry, we took that and launched FanThreeSixty as a company from the Sporting KC side.
What is FanThreeSixty? What is your role there and how is that technology helping teams and leagues better understand their fan base?
FanThreeSixty is a complete fan engagement hub. The sports industry has not evolved in the ways in which we see with other technologies, specifically around personalization and understanding how we can help improve the end to end fan experience. You show up in a stadium today and it’s the same experience - maybe a bit more modern in what some folks are doing - but innately, you walk into a stadium, you sit on some plastic seat, in a concrete bowl, and you yell and scream and cheer and hope your team wins. What we really try to do is understand the data around fan behaviors and the nuances between different interactions and touchpoints across the organization. We use alot of our data science and data analytics to be a little more predictive and prescriptive around things that we think can benefit the fan experience. The goal is to increase that fan’s engagement with the team and optimize the team’s ability to engage and maximize their investment with the customer. That’s a million foot view of what the company does. Today we do this across universities, NASCAR, MLS, and almost all of the USL.
My responsibility has to do with the revenue growth side of the business as well as part of the product strategy side. One of my main roles up to a few weeks ago was supporting our product strategy and product management side. Over the last few weeks I’ve actually transitioned into Chief Growth Officer at FanThreeSixty where I’m heavily focused on expanding the business, increasing revenue and looking at adjacent markets and opportunities to enter into; whether that means expanding our existing product feature set or expanding new offerings or services that we can take to the markets, I oversee and drive those conversations with our internal and external teams.
The technology industry is moving away from the one-size-fits all model and more to vertically integrated solutions. Yes, there are the Salesforces of the world that fit many different market types, but there are still narrow slices of tech companies that are disrupting because they are hyper focused on the challenges within that industry. The question for us is, "How can we create a vertically integrated solution within the sports and entertainment space that starts to understand all fan behaviors?". Through a lot of research, qualitative, and quantitative data we’ve created the ability to orchestrate fan journeys and that’s the ultimate goal. In an industry where resources are very limited, leagues and businesses don’t have a lot of individuals who can do all of these things. So our goal is to help them automate their processes and create value across various touchpoints of the consumer, or fan, journey.
In terms of industries where you have seen some opportunity, where are you guys focusing your resources for the next 6 months - 1 year?
We’re heavily focused on the university space over the next few years. Even during COVID-19, we’ve brought up around 10 different university properties. We’ve aligned with our channel partners and different groups that we work with and that’s really one of our main focus areas. We think the college space is an industry that has the problem, but doesn’t have a solution or the resources to solve it themselves. The second is we work with multi-property organizations (i.e. governing bodies, leagues, conferences, etc.). We can come in and create a holistic strategy with the organization and implement the solutions behind it. That’s in essence what we’ve done with USL and are starting to see success.