Ryan Asdourian’s jobs couldn’t be more different.
During the week, he’s in Redmond talking about new Office software to important company shareholders, or demoing the latest Microsoft device on stage with Steve Ballmer in front of thousands.
Everything changes on Sunday, though. That’s when Asdoruian takes off the business attire and transforms into a big-beaked, beastly bird known as “Blitz,” the Seattle Seahawks’ mascot.
Yep, that’s right: The same guy helping explain Microsoft’s products to the world is also the high-octane mascot for Seattle’s professional football team.
“It’s a different type of adrenaline with both jobs, but in both cases, it’s something I’m passionate about and I love getting to share that excitement,” explains Asdoruian. “In one place, I’m sharing excitement for the team, and in another place I’m sharing excitement for the Microsoft story in devices and services.”
But that’s not all. You see, Asdoruian was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2008. Yet he didn’t stop working at Microsoft nor did he stop being “Blitz.”
Instead, Mr. Do-It-All found ways to raise awareness and money for MS, in part thanks to “Blitz.” In just four years, he’s helped put $300,000 in donations toward MS research through events like MS Walk or Team Blitz Pub Crawl.
Asdourian’s career path is certainly interesting, to say the least, and we caught up with him earlier this week to learn more.
GeekWire: Let’s start from your early mascot days. How does one go about becoming a mascot?
Ryan Asdourian: During my first semester of my freshman year at the University of Florida, I had a random roommate who was on the cheerleading squad. One day we were watching a volleyball match and we were thinking how it would be so cool to actually be the mascot.
Then, my roommate told me that the cheerleading squad and mascot program shared the same boss. He asked me if I wanted him to put in a good word for me. So, he did, and the next thing you knew I was trying out. I never looked back from there.
GW: Hah! What exactly happens during a mascot tryout?
Asdourian: Tryouts change every year and it depends on how many people the program is looking to hire. When we did it, you did a prepared skit and then an improvised skit. For example, it’d be like this: You’re at a basketball game and you accidentally knock over a little girl’s ice cream cone. How would you react? Then, we’d do a group interview — out of costume, of course.
I ended up doing that for all four years before moving to Seattle for Microsoft after I graduated.
GW: Once you came to Seattle, how the heck did you get the Seahawks gig?
Asdourian: I didn’t think the mascot was going to make a reappearance, but I was out here and I was like, “Man, the Seahawks look great and that would be fun.” I missed the adrenaline of being on the field. It’s really an adrenaline pumping thing to be on the field for a game. At Florida, there were 90,000 people cheering like crazy and you’re on the 50-yard-line.
So I just emailed the Seahawks mascot at firstname.lastname@example.org and said, “Hey, here’s who I am, I moved to Seattle and this is what I did in the past at Florida. I’d love to help out if you ever need anything and just figured I’d reach out.” The guy responds and tells me he’s actually leaving the team. Then he asks me if I want to get a beer, and mentions that his roommate is the Mariner Moose — I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is perfect.”
Next thing you know, I was doing the mascot for the Seahawks in 2006.
GW: You balanced schoolwork and being a mascot at Florida, but taking a full-time gig at Microsoft is quite the time commitment on top of “Blitz.” How did/do you do it?
Asdourian: I look at it this way. Right now, I just got married a year ago and don’t have any kids. I look at people who balance a job while raising a family, and I know that would take even more time than being a mascot takes. You put in that perspective, and I think it seems a lot easier to figure out how it all balances out.
Yes, you’ve got to find time to relax. But I think that the Seahawks thing is, in a lot of ways — although technically a job — a lot of fun for me as well. I enjoy bringing joy to a lot of other people and that’s what a mascot ends up doing. You end up really having a lot of fun with that. It’s a pretty fun job.”
GW: Yeah, so what’s that like, being a mascot at an NFL game? How does it feel down there on the field and in the stands?
Asdourian: Part of doing the job is you get to give that mascot a personality. When i have the costume on, I walk with a bit more of a swagger. You’re all excited and running around — obviously when I’m not wearing the costume I act a little differently. But the big piece of fun is, if you think about a football game, you’ve got all the excitement going on and you can run into the stands at any time. People go crazy when you do and they’re crawling over other people just to get a picture. That’s a lot of fun.
At the same time, you do a lot of charity events, corporate events, birthday parties, all sorts of random events. Those are some of the most special moments, where you get to see yourself bring joy to other people. One of best examples is just about every year I go to the Special Olympics. You get to participate with everyone, play in the stands with everyone. It’s kind of one of those special moments where you get to interact with a lot of people in a lot of different ways that being in the costume allows. That, for me, is what makes it special.
GW: What does your typical Sunday look like at a Seahawks game?
Asdourian: I usually get to the stadium a number of hours before kickoff. I’ve got my locker room to get ready in and I do a couple things to prepare. First, I walk around the field to just kind of feel some of the energy. Being around that environment just gets you pumped up, so I do that a little bit to get the internal juices flowing.
Then in my locker room, I’m getting a gameplan together of all things that will happen. I might be throwing t-shirts with cannon, so I get ready to fire those off, or if it’s confetti cannons then I’ll prep that and get it ready to be fired. Then I go over all the different things going on in the stadium during game — for example, promotions I’m taking part of, people I have to visit, etc. I build that plan so I know what the rough gameplan is for the game.
During the game, I have a pretty flexible schedule. I love to be in the end zone when we are about to score, so I’m there following the action. I love the game itself, so for me one of the perks of the job is I end up having a front row seat to the game. It’s really fun.
GW: OK, what about during the week at Microsoft? What do you do every day?
Asdourian: Right now I sit on our Developer and Platform Evangelism Team. We work on apps for the Windows platform and I’m on the marketing side. I actually started as a technical engineer since my degree is in computer science. Then I kind of moved over and did some work on the sales and marketing side earlier in my career. Since then, I’ve moved to product management and product marketing. Right now, I’m in our business management group.
GW: Man, you have two really unique jobs. How are they similar? How are they different?
Asdourian: The difference is really interesting. The first one, and most obvious, is that I can talk at one job. That’s the biggest thing.
In terms of similarities, they both allow me to do things that I’m passionate about. In the sports world, just being on the field and being part of that, I get to let my passion show through the mascot.
On the Microsoft side, at heart I am really a tech geek. I love devices and playing with all that stuff. When I was a small kid, I was always playing with computers and in elementary school I’d teach my Dad’s friends MS-DOS.
I’ve always kind of been into the tech side and getting to share it with people is something that’s fun for me. I enjoy that, and getting to do an end-to-end Microsoft demo like I was able to do at the shareholders meeting this year, that’s really exciting for me. There’s a lot of preparation and work that goes into building that story and putting it all together, but for me, the adrenaline race — while not quite the same type of adrenaline as being on the field with the lights on you — while doing a live demo is a pretty fun-filled thing to do.
It’s a different type of adrenaline with both jobs, but in both cases, it’s something I’m passionate about and I love getting to share that excitement. In one place, I’m sharing excitement for the team, and in another place I’m sharing excitement for the Microsoft story in devices and services.
GW: Have you learned skills from being “Blitz,” that you carryover to Redmond? Or maybe the other way around?
Asdourian: I don’t know if there are a lot of transferrable skills from the mascot to the Microsoft job — except for putting the customer first. Customer service is a big part of being a mascot. You’re dealing with people all the time. A lot of times the people want to request an appearance and you’re dealing with them on email, talking to them about what are the needs are, what do they want, what the event looks like, etc. That’s transferable between all things. It’s how you focus on customer, whether it’s Microsoft customers or Seahawks fan.
The other side of it is that I’ve taken technology solutions that I’ve had through Microsoft and just technology in general and used it to help me as a mascot. For example, I built a Sharepoint calendar that helped track all the mascot appearances and it digitized our entire process. It’s increased our efficiency and productivity.
I also built a little listserv for all the mascots in the league. We’re already all friends, but we didn’t have a way of contacting each other. So I put that together for us to have a cool way to keep in touch.
GW: Wait, so there’s some sort of mascot brotherhood?
Asdourian (laughs): Mascot brotherhood is a funny phrase. We’re all friends. We get together every now and then, whether it’s at the Pro Bowl or mascot halftime shows. We like to stay in touch. Two years ago, I brought 11 of them out here for the MS Walk.
GW: Yeah, let’s talk about that. You were diagnosed with MS in 2008. That must have been a huge shock. Walk me through that.
Asdourian: I kind of waited a bit before telling anyone. When I was diagnosed I didn’t know much about the disease and it was all a surprise. It was scary. But I had a good support system within my family and started taking medicine, seeing doctors and getting MRIs.
But then I decided I could do something big with this. I started working with the Seahawks and a Team Blitz fundraising effort began taking a life of its own. I had no idea that it would become as big as it has that one day you and I would be talking about it during an interview. It’s the most exciting part, that’s it’s gone viral. When you combine the prominence of MS in the northwest, which is where it has the highest chance of manifesting itself, and combine the efforts with Microsoft and the Seahawks, it’s been a pretty fun ride to see it all take place.
(Editor’s note: Asdourian founded the Team Blitz Pub Crawl (raised $23,000 last year for MS research), formed a team to participate in the MS Walk in Seattle (raised $80,000 last year) and sits on the Greater NW chapter of the MS Society board.)
GW: That’s pretty special that you were able to raise money and awareness, on top of your day job and being Blitz. With everything already going on, how did you find the energy to do even more? Why did you do that?
Asdourian: That’s a good question, and I don’t know if I have a perfectly concise answer. It was just an opportunity. I thought there was potential to do some real good and I took it. I never though about, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to be too draining or take too much time.’ I’m always one of the people that says I definitely have time for that, even though I might not in some cases. I always think we’re capable of doing bigger and better things, and I saw an opportunity that I just kind of had to take.
I forget sometimes just how big it’s grown. In four years we’ve raised $300,000. It’s just an incredible amount of money, and not only money, but the awareness it’s done. All of this work continues to excite me. We’re able to help other people.
One of the things that really makes me forget about all the time I put into this is that I end up talking about it with people who reach out to me. They say, ‘Hey, by the way, I just wanted to say thanks so much for what you’re doing because my mom, or my sister, or my brother, or my dad, or so-and-so also has MS. This has really helped them. You helped raise their spirits or helped do something for research.’
Those are the things for me that kind of make the time component and work component of the fundraising and awareness work we do just kind of go away. It’s the best part of it.”
GW: When will you stop being “Blitz”?
Asdourian: I definitely think about it. The truth is, when I put the head on and costume on, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, this might be my last year,’ I realize how crazy I’d be to give this up. It’s too much fun and too exciting. I’m not sure when I’ll stop, but at least for now, I absolutely love it.”