When you believe in what you do, you put every part of yourself into making it happen. That’s Khalia Collier’s motto as owner and general manager of The Surge, St. Louis’ Women’s professional basketball team. “With the support of the community, the Surge will become a permanent member of the St. Louis family. The Surge provides more than entertainment, we provide the social need of empowerment.”
Khalia’s dedication to St. Louis, basketball and business were a natural part of her early childhood. Her interest in basketball began at age 5, with her father as her first coach. She continued to play throughout high school, earning a full-ride scholarship to Columbia College.
Her first entrepreneurial pursuits began in middle school, selling car accessories and auto parts at the local flea market. Her natural drive never left, and landed her a career in sales and finance at Asbury Automotive her senior year of college. To say the least, Khalia is no stranger to hard work.
Like most young people, Khalia wasn’t sure what professional direction she wanted to pursue; she just knew it would involve business and sports. Her first choice was to be a sports attorney, but she took a different path and transferred to Missouri Baptist University to pursue a degree in Communication. Upon graduation, she was promoted to the managerial program at Asbury Automotive and gained valuable experience learning the industry inside and out.
During this time, basketball bounced back into her life. Just before her 23rd birthday, a friend was trying out for a local women’s basketball team called The Surge. Khalia became curious and before she knew it, became a team manager and then practice player. That’s when a light bulb went off. She found an opportunity to combine her business experience and her love of basketball to position The Surge to become the first professional women’s basketball team in St. Louis. She presented her idea to the current owner, with the intent to take ownership at the end of the season. The owner accepted mid-season, and in June 2011, at age 23, she became the youngest owner and general manager of a professional sports team.
Although she admits to a moment of ‘are you crazy?’ thoughts, she took charge and approached her decision with a ‘let’s get it done’ attitude. “My life became a constant game of eat, breathe and sleep basketball and the business of sports.” When looking back over her experience and education, Khalia admits, “It all makes sense now; it built up to this point and now I’m taking it all the way.”
Khalia adds, “A great support team makes it happen.” When she gained ownership, she called her best friend and explained the situation. “In addition to needing a business plan, we had 6 weeks to market the regional tournament. There was a lot of work that needed to be done.” Khalia and her assembled team hit the ground running.
Some of her initial work involved plenty of research. “I spent more time in the library my first year as general manager for The Surge, than I did my entire college career!” She studied everything she could about sports, major and minor leagues, what worked, what didn’t and how to build a team that was sustainable.
Another task was to relocate the team’s venue from a high school location to University of Missouri—St. Louis. Through her efforts to build awareness within the community, she got over 2000 fans into the stands. From there, the growth has been exponential.
With 2012 as her first full season with the team, Khalia positioned herself to leave her full-time job. Even though she knew it was a big risk, the team felt right for her, as did her goal of bringing a professional team to St. Louis. She also knew the worst-case scenario would mean she would get another job. Starting the 2012 season with a coaching staff and a roster, they quickly ranked #1 in attendance, never falling below 1000 people at each game. The Surge became National Champs that year. Even with the growth and positive results, Khalia felt something just wasn’t right. “It wasn’t moving in the direction I envisioned for The Surge and for St. Louis.” In early 2013, she rebranded the team by letting go of the coaching staff and most of her roster; she also created a new team logo.
In three years’ time, Khalia took a relatively unknown team and built it to hosting the national tournament in 2013 and attracting more media attention in 2010. Khalia and her team worked day in and day out to gather support from local media. With the help of the team’s dedicated fans, the Surge proceeded to make the right connections with the right coverage. At the onset, Khalia knew that the problem was people didn’t think The Surge would be viable to the community, which was something that Khalia has worked hard to prove since day one. Though it wasn’t easy, Khalia regrets none of her decisions and sacrifices.
“The toughest part is building credibility,” she explains. “That first year, no one has heard of you and no one wants to touch you. The second year, everyone is surprised to see you survived. The third year is about credibility. That’s where we are now.” Khalia adds that this is true for any business.
Through incredibly hard work, engaging with the community and taking every possible opportunity to spread the word about The Surge and their goals, they have earned every fan they have. “We call our wildest fans and supporters our Surge Protectors; they support us, help uplift our name and protect our brand. It’s amazing how incredible our fans are; we give them quality basketball and they give us their support. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she states.
She also sought support from influential women in the community. “Women’s sports is a hard sell. Women mentors and role-models are also lacking in many communities,” explains Khalia. “I reached out to many influential women in the St. Louis area to rally their support. I call them our Power Surge Supporters. Their influence and mentoring has been invaluable! I have learned so much from every single one of our Power Surge Supporters. They share their ideas and expertise, as well as mentor me; I truly couldn’t ask for more.” Khalia adds that several of her Power Surge Supporters sit courtside at every game and they are truly visionary leaders that support the evolution of women’s sports.
Khalia is motivated every day to make her vision a reality. There were times that people failed to see her vision or believe in her purpose. “There were many gut-wrenching nights that I even thought I was crazy. But I realized it was okay to be crazy and my support group never let me down. Just because others can’t see what could be, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.” She also laughs about the many sleepless nights at the office or her ‘couch-surfing’ days when everything she had went toward the team and her vision.
“Even if your support team falters, or you don’t have the support you need, persistence and determination will see you through to your goals,” says Khalia.
As the 2014 National Champions, The Surge is ready for the 2015 season. Her coaching staff will return, as will a majority of her roster.
Regardless of your dreams, your visions, or your goals, Khalia’s advice is to remain faithful to your purpose and remain true to the belief that your goals will become a reality.