Things continue changing in the girls club volleyball world.
3STEP Sports has made sure of it.
And the changes are going to keep coming.
If you hadn’t known about 3STEP before the company from Massachusetts bought clubs like KiVA, Munciana, Academy and K2, well, if you’re in the club world, pay attention.
What’s more, currently you might play in either the USA Volleyball or AAU national championships.
In due time 3STEP will have a national championship, too, and said it will be open to anyone and everyone. An event series is also in the future.
3STEP calls itself “the nation’s largest and most impactful club and event operator.” Volleyball is the ninth sport for the 21-year-old company that also employs a similar strategy that first started with football and has added youth baseball, baskeball, wrestling, softball, field hockey, lacrosse and soccer.
3STEP founder and CEO David Geaslen said it’s pretty simple. 3STEP takes over from club owners “facilities, apparel, raising money, travel, website, marketing, everything that has nothing to do with the sport. You worry about the sport,” he said.
“So we’ve basically created an ecosystem where we can plug club operators and event operators into this system by buying them.”
Geaslen said 3STEP currently has 101 of what they call operators, or club directors/owners, in nine sports. And in our sport, that number is going to grow soon with announcements coming about 3STEP buying more big volleyball clubs. He wouldn’t say which.
There are 10 clubs in the 3STEP fold, including East Coast Power. Its former owner and director, Brian McCann, runs the volleyball division and, as a first-hand beneficiary, gets what Geaslen said.
“It really does give you some financial stability, because that risk is taken off your plate,” McCann said. “Essentially, what we want to do on the volleyball side of things is grow the game.
“I think some of the powers that be have made it difficult to come and play volleyball. You have to jump through all these hoops, insurance and this and that … we’ve tried to simplify that process and we’ve gone after some of the stronger clubs and we’re going to build out some really neat national events that will be open to everybody, whether you’re an AAU club, a JVA club or a USA club. Anybody can come to it. We self-insure everything so you don’t have to worry about those things, we make sure every single coach and everyone associated has all their background screening and everything like that. We take a lot of the barriers away.”
3STEP owns two travel companies, has its own registration system, and sells sponsorships and apparel.
“We are the largest Adidas dealer in the country, third-largest Under Armour and third-largest New Balance,” Geaslen said. “We have warehouses and printing capability in New England and in Texas.”
He said that clubs can wear any apparel they want, especially if they had previous contracts. Over nine sports, the numbers are huge.
Geaslen noted that 3.2 million kids went through their events in nine sports last year and added that 64 percent were younger than 14.
“3STEP makes the clubs and operators you know better,” Geaslen said.
Being under the 3STEP umbrella has one obvious advantage, he said.
“Together we’re more profitable and better than we are separate,” Geaslen said.
Geaslen, 57, is no sports rookie. The Northeastern University graduate, married 34 years, has two kids. His daughter played college field hockey and his son college baseball. He ran a football scouting service, his company runs the Gatorade national player-of-the-year program and he’s provided information on football and basketball recruiting for ESPN for almost 20 years.
One by one, 3STEP got into the different sports, buoyed by financial backing from the investment firms Fiume (formerly Fertitta) Capital and Juggernaut Capital Partners. Lorenzo Fertitta, a big volleyball fan, Geaslen said, and his brother sold UFC for $4 billion in 2016 after buying it for $2 million in 2001.
So 3STEP has the financial resources.
“We never change the (club) name,” Geaslen said. “We buy you. We make the apparel better, your facility better, your travel, we take all the bookkeepping, we take everything off you, marketing, websites, we take everything. You’ve got 20 free hours and you’re going to be better at what you do.
“I personally am going to come and visit your facility. When I walk in I don’t care how you’re teaching them to serve. Or to set or whatever. That’s your job. I want to walk around and hear the parents say, ‘Hey, did you notice the facility’s cleaner? Hey, did you notice registration was easier this year? Hey, did you notice the apparel, there’s a team store and we can buy stuff online?’ You’re supposed to care about the kids. I care about moms. Communication, schedule, travel, and I basically say all the things that you don’t have time to do, because you’re on the court 12 hours a day, I will do for you.”
Is 3STEP trying to create a monopoly in youth sports?
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with monopolies as long as you’re not monopolistic … Monopolies mean someone has a large share of things. Monopolistic means I price gouge, I change stuff,” Geaslen said. “If I went out and bought 90 percent of all tournaments and doubled all the prices, I’m being monopolistic.”
Which he says 3STEP is not.
“Everybody is being rewarded for what they’ve built, I would say that,” Geaslen said.
The acquistions that got everyone’s attention were KiVA of Louisville, Kentucky, and Munciana out of Muncie, Indiana.
Geaslen said he spent more than a year convincing the respective owners “that this is what they should do.”
Accordingly, KiVa and Munciana are clubs that McCann said he always appreciated and tried to emulate at East Coast Power. NCAA rosters are always filled with their players and the last two NCAA-winning coaches, Craig Skinner of Kentucky and Kelly Sheffield of Wisconsin, got their coaching starts at Munciana.
“In my opinion, pound for pound the two best training clubs, the two most well-respected clubs,” McCann said. “They’ve done it for a long time and I felt that if we could get them into the fold, that would give us some really strong credibility in the market.”
Indeed and the KiVA deal included the massive Bluegrass Tournament in Louisville.
It was no small thing in the world of club volleyball.
McCann likes to relay what Munciana’s Mike Lingenfelter said when someone said he was selling out: “I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.”
The financial boost can’t hurt, as any club director would tell you.
Now they “can take chances,” McCann said.
McCann, who grew up in Philadelphia and lives in the suburb of King of Prussia, remains a huge Eagles fan. He was a baseball player at La Salle University, a school that would remain a big part of his future, and then was drafted by the Kansas City Royals.
“I played in the Arizona fall league, went back to school, and broke my leg in January. Snapped in half, compound fracture, the whole thing,” McCann said.
Two years and a few surgeries later, he realized his baseball career was over.
“And at the time, my brother started dating a volleyball girl and fell into volleyball. So I played outdoors, played indoors, played beach, had a good time doing it in my 20s, and then got into coaching in my early 30s.”
Now he’s coached for 25 years on nearly every level. That includes the 10 years at East Coast that he coached his daughter, Meghan. Meghan is now a sophomore DS at Ohio State. Her sister, Emily, was a setter for La Salle and later was an assistant on the Explorers team we wrote about in March 2021. She now works full time for her father.
East Coast Power Volleyball, which currently has 135 teams, purchased Competitive Edge seven years ago. McCann said it’s now the second-largest club in the country. They’re also in the youth basketball business, too, with teams and tournaments.
3STEP purchased McCann’s events and apparel business in July 2019 and three months later purchased East Coast Power Volleyball and Competitive Edge. McCann, in turn, took over the running of volleyball for 3STEP.
Any club director can tell you of the many challenges they face, not the least of which are financial and administrative. To suddenly be in McCann’s position had to be like winning the lottery.
“It is, but we had actually established a pretty good business here,” McCann said. “As you know, the club business is a labor of love, right? You’re never gonna make a fortune off of it. We were at the point where we were putting together some pretty good events. That’s where the money is. We got two convention-center level events off the ground … now we’re up to seven events. There were about 450 teams at the two events and three years later we’re at seven events and almost 2,800 teams.
McCann, whose primary duties are now with 3STEP volleyball, said the company should have 20-22 clubs by the end of 2022 and then it will begin building an event series and conducting camps around the nation.
“In the Northeast, we have the Northeast Power Series, that’s our event. We’re creating a Florida series with Wildfire and Tribe and we have a couple of others that are going to close in Florida. So we’re going to create a Florida Power Series,” McCann said.
“Now that we have Munciana and KiVa and K2 and Academy Cleveland, we have the Mideast Power League. Those three will start things and we’ll probably do something in Texas and then something in the Southwest. We have a couple of acquistions in the Pacific Northwest, so we may build out three more power series that would lead up to the national event. We’re going to have our own national championship.”
Ultimately, 3STEP will have 25-30 core clubs, McCann said. 3STEP told us more major transactions will be announced soon.
Geaslen and McCann said any time they look at a new club it has to be the right fit.
“We’re not looking to buy every club, we’re not looking to be a monopoly, we’re not looking to take over the volleyball space, we’re not doing any of that,” McCann said. “We’re going to build things the way we want to build them and, again, it’s always going to be open to everybody. We’re going to welcome everybody, we’re not going to exclude anybody, we’re not going to hold anyone hostage for any reason.
“We’re gonna say, ‘We’re holding these events, come. We’re going to have some really good competition, so it might be worth your time.’ ”
Most clubs remain independently owned and operated, but another organization, LOVB (League One Volleyball) is also buying clubs. LOVB’s list includes A5, Aspire, Houston Skyline, KC Power, Mizuno Long Beach and Southern California Volleyball Club. LOVB also has aspirations of starting a women’s pro league in America. We wrote about LOVB last December.