By Phil Brozynski
First step? Marriage. Second step? 3STEP.
A little more than two years after the merger of Wildcat Juniors and Division 1 gave rise to MOD Volleyball, the north shore club finalized an agreement to be purchased by 3STEP Sports, one of the nation’s largest youth sports club and events operators.
MOD’s acquisition in early December was the culmination of a nearly 10-month negotiation process.
“(3STEP founder) Dave Geaslen called me in February of last year and we just kind of got to talking,” said MOD co-owner and executive director Derek Jensen. “It was just, ‘Hey, this is what we can provide for you guys, here’s the future that we see, here’s where we’re going.’
“Essentially, their model is buying clubs that are already doing well and have a good process in place, but could use some stability and resources on the back end,” Jensen said. “It allows us to do our job and help us to do it a little bit better and more efficiently.”
Jensen said he has fielded multiple inquiries about his club’s arrangement with 3STEP, an agreement through which 3STEP provides the resources that help clubs continue to succeed while allowing clubs to remain autonomous in the areas of personnel, philosophy and decision-making.
“It’s a lot simpler than we all try to make it,” he said. “3STEP is an organization helping small businesses run their small businesses better and more efficiently and helps them to provide a better product. They are just doing it on a larger scale.”
3STEP spans more than 40 states and serves more than 3.2 million athletes across nine sports. Among the volleyball clubs 3STEP has acquired are KIVA (Louisville, Kentucky), Munciana (Muncie, Indiana), FarOut (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and Tri-State Elite (Cincinnati, Ohio).
“The Munciana and KIVA thing was certainly a huge part of the reason why we joined,” Jensen said. “Essentially, 3STEP’s model on the volleyball side was to find the heavy hitters, the impactful folks, people been doing it for a while, and get them on board.”
The stated mission of 3STEP is to be the standard of the youth sports experience and create consistency in the industry. 3STEP also partners with the non-profit charity Mission Win, which aims to transform the lives of children through sports participation, leadership training and professional development.
“MOD’s philosophy and approach mirror 3STEP’s,” Geaslen said. “Go fast and seize opportunities while creating better experiences for athletes of all ages. That’s what it’s all about. They have had remarkable success in just two years, and we are excited to help them accelerate their growth.”
Some club owners/directors have expressed concerns that clubs purchased by 3STEP would be expected to compete in the tournaments they sponsor, like the 2023 Emperors Cup-18U National Championship in Las Vegas on April 28-30, which directly conflicts with the 2023 USAV Girls 18 Junior National Championship in Columbus, Ohio.
Jensen said 3STEP has not said a word to him about when or where MOD can compete.
“Of all the rumors that I’ve heard, the biggest one that’s gotten a lot of steam is that 3STEP is buying clubs to have them attend their tournaments, and that’s just not the case,” Jensen said. “We’ve always been big JVA and AAU supporters. We go to their tournaments because they’re well run.
“Our selection process will stay exactly the same,” he added. “Before 3STEP, the USAV versus AAU versus JVA conversations went on every single year. The 3STEP consideration has absolutely no impact on that. They didn’t solicit us about (the Emperors Cup) at all. It’s purely a club decision.
“(3STEP tournaments are) just another great option,” Jensen said.
In fact, MOD has retained its USAV membership and will continue to participate in the Windy City Power League and compete in USAV national qualifiers.
However, Jensen did say that his club is leaning toward sending their 18s teams to Las Vegas rather than Columbus in late April, while AAUs in late June and early July remain the most likely option for its younger age groups.
“We want our 18s teams to go out with a good experience,” he said. “We’re not playing for an Open championship quite yet on the 18s side. And many 18-year-olds are ready to be done with their club careers (by late April). But most importantly, we want to make it more of a celebration.
“To be honest, we’re still discussing our options,” Jensen added. “We‘ll let (co-owner, executive director and former Wildcat Juniors’ boss Karen Sonders) make that final call with the families. Let them decide what’s the best option.
“(The Emperors Cup) is definitely on our list. It’s likely that’s where our 18s will be headed.”
Meanwhile, joining 3STEP has afforded MOD greater opportunities for continued growth and success.
“At the end of the day, it’s just about the advantages,” Jensen said. “Before, it was two random individuals if we want to buy a facility. Or two random individuals if our nets start to go bad and you’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to eat next week, but I also have to buy volleyball nets.’
“It’s different now in terms of that ability,” he said.
For more information about 3STEP, go to https://threestep.com/.
By Phil Brozynski