No Plans for World Roller Derby Week? Make Some

redcross-blooddrives-rollerderbyPut on your party boutfit. Roller derby turns 82 this year and we’re celebrating in a big way during the inaugural World Roller Derby Week (August 13-19). Join us at two exciting events in Chicago or come out in summer and fall to donate at one of our Red Cross roller derby blood drives.

How much do you know about roller derby? Here’s some trivia: Chicago is the birthplace of roller derby and the sport is one of a just handful invented in the U.S.

If you’re in Chicago (or… need a good excuse to visit), celebrate the big 82 and World Roller Derby Week at these two events.

Celebrate Roller Derby’s Birthday and Birthplace

Happy Birthday Roller Derby. Join roller derby skaters from across the Midwest at Coliseum Park for a skate and cake. Junior derby skaters will serve cake to passersby and we’ll honor original players. Athletes, fans and families from roller derby are encouraged to attend. Sunday, August 13, 12:30-2:00 PM, free.

Time Hop. Travel back in time and into the future at Fleetwood Roller Rink. This jam-packed double-header explores the past, present and future of roller derby. Saturday, August 19, 2-6 PM, adults $15, youth $5. Midwest All Stars’ home teams will play the first game under the classic 1970’s rule-set, while wearing commemorative uniforms.

The second game showcases young, emerging talent from the Midwest JRDA member leagues in a regulation level-three junior game. Artistic and speed skaters will put on an action-packed show at halftime.

Can’t be there in person? Be there in social. Catch the action or give a shoutout at #TimeHop2017.

Nationwide Roller Derby Blood Drives

The 4th Annual Make ‘Em Bleed derby blood drives roll out again this year, in partnership with Brown Paper Tickets and The American Red Cross. They will be going on coast-to-coast and for the first time, rocking the Midwest with a blood drive in Chicago (home of our newest office) on October 29.

Roller derby athletes will offer autographs, photo opportunities and more, making these community service events the most popular blood drives of the year in many of the cities they occur.

Summer is a difficult time for the Red Cross to get blood donations and they could really use your help. Make ‘Em Bleed roller derby blood drives have collected more than 900 units of blood over the past four years–enough to have helped save up to 2,700 lives.

To pre-register as a donor visit the Red Cross, tap “Find a Drive,” and enter the sponsor code, Derby.

There’s still time for your league to join this wonderful effort. Email derbyblooddrive(at)gmail(dot)com if you’re interested. And catch all the inspiration at #MakeEmBleed.

Make ’Em Bleed Red Cross Blood Drives 2017

Wednesday, July 26 (Pottstown, Pennsylvania): Rockstar Roller Derby from 2-7 pm at Ringing Hill Fire Company, 815 White Pine Lane.

Saturday, July 29 (San Jose, California): Silicon Valley Roller Derby from 10 am to 4 pm at Silver Creek Sportsplex, 800 Embedded Way.

Saturday, Aug. 5 (St. Petersburg, Florida): Deadly Rival Roller Derby from 5-7 pm at The Slayground, 4033 35th St N. (donors asked to sign-up here.)

Friday, Aug. 11 (Woodbridge, New Jersey): Dirty Jersey Roller Girls at a time to be announced at the VFW Post.

Sunday, Aug. 13 (Chicago, Illinois): Roller derby athletes from across the Midwest for the inaugural World Roller Derby Week, a public skate-and-cake blood donor pledge event at Coliseum Park, commemorating the public debut of the sport at that location in Chicago in 1935.

Friday, Aug. 18 (Santa Cruz, California): Santa Cruz Derby Girls from 9 am to 3 pm at Santa Cruz Strength, 151 Harvey West Blvd Suite D.

Friday, Aug. 18 (Livermore, California): Quad City Derby Bombshells at a time to be announced at Asbury United Methodist Church, 4743 East Ave.

Saturday, Aug. 19 (Chicago, Illinois): Roller derby athletes from across the country for Time Hop at Fleetwood Roller rink. This bout is also a public pledge to donate event where roller derby athletes will skate in the style that the sport made its debut in Chicago 82 years ago, in 1935. A limited number of tickets are available online through Brown Paper Tickets here.

Thursday, Aug. 25 (Santa Rosa, California): Resurrection Roller Girls and the Sonoma Roller Derby; at a time to be announced at the American Red Cross, 5297 Aero Drive. Both leagues have teamed-up for this blood drive in competition for which league can attract the most blood donor registrants, in competition for the Brown Paper Tickets cup.

Wednesday, Oct. 11 (Stonybrook, New York): Strong Island Roller Derby from 10 am to 5 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Sunday, Oct. 29 (Chicago, Illinois): Roller derby leagues from across the Midwest at from 10 am to 3 pm at The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, 2200 West Harrison Street Chicago, IL 60612.

Saturday, Dec. 2 (Antioch, California): The Undead Bettys at a time and place to be announced.

How will you celebrate World Roller Derby Week? Let us know in the comments.

Roller Derby >

Losing Your Following? How to Keep Fans Coming Back

RollerDerby_Entertainment(Part two of a series on roller derby fan retention.)

In the previous blog post on fan retention, I suggested changing the notion of “by the skater, for the skater” to “by the skater for the fan.” The post received an outpouring of comments, questions and ideas. Thanks everyone for ringing in.

Nothing is more important than playing. Period. The sport draws a rich subculture and instills confidence unlike anything else I’ve experienced. If playing is the focus and drawing a crowd isn’t, that’s fine.

But if your business model includes playing to fans, make it a goal to continually get more attendees to return and one day build a sustainable fan base.

Change Your Perspective

First off, don’t confuse family and friends with fans. Those who know skaters and staff account for a significant number of people, but their attendance fails over time and they often don’t return after “their” league-member leaves.

Fans are customers. If a restaurant sells food the owner likes, but customers find unappealing, change the menu or accept the consequences. Separate your opinions from that of the paying customer. You can give fans the night they want and they’ll return.

You can give fans the night you want, which might work, but fans won’t necessarily grow to like it.

There is no second chance.

Consider Your Impression

Are skaters qualified to play? New leagues sometimes rush into games without the skill or the stamina to make a good impression. As excited as it is to get out there, slow-moving, unstable, sloppy skaters trying to execute high-level strategies are difficult to watch.

Those who play prior to mastering minimum skills jeopardize themselves, teammates and opponents. Many serious injuries I’ve witnessed, (such as compound fractures) occurred during a league’s first game. As badly as we feel for the skater, the medical attention and screams impact the crowd. Imagine how it affects kids in the audience.

Be patient. To get your skating fix, scrimmage until the team is ready.

Speed of the Game – Controversial?

It need not be. The WFTDA rules allow for many styles of play. Can game play or speed itself create retention problems? Yes, but to what extent is unknown. I’ve had many exchanges with hardcore fans that left dissatisfied with the experience. My family no longer attends games.

In 2010, using the same/very similar pack definition rules, Detroit’s Racer McChaser put up a short-lived record of 36 points in one jam. Amazingly, her opponent was on the track the entire time. No stopping, no bracing and she put up a 36-0 run against her opponent. It took a skilled use of both offensive and defensive blocking. Would that look the same today? It’s highly unlikely, though many elements of the speed differentials used and the offensive blocking remain valid strategy today.

There are many ways to play. Half the fun of coaching is developing something new. I see 50 games a year or more and quickly notice teams that execute situational defenses/offenses all night, when offensive blocking would produce far greater points and excitement.

Simple Solutions

Try to keep nights within 2 ½ hours. Warm-up time is a necessity, but 30-minute halftimes (especially during double headers) and long breaks between games thins the crowd quickly.

Often, leagues leave seating wide open. Don’t. Put the skaters on the far side of the venue and the crowd on the other, facing them. Cordon off a section specifically for the fans so that they all sit together. The venue looks more full, the crowd feeds off each other and it’s easier for the league to interact with the audience.

Plus, it’s louder.

7 Pre-game Entertainment Tips

  1. Don’t allow fans to walk into a quiet venue with only player warmups to watch.
  2. The time prior to the anthem and intros is where a DJ can really go all out.
  3. Run league trivia on the scoreboard. You could even have announcers do it. Make it suspenseful, with a list of answers—have each wrong answer disappear until the right one is chosen.
  4. As fans enter, make sure they are walking through the merchandise area. Always put this in a high-traffic area.
  5. Set up a table near the entrance that is clearly labeled for derby newbies. Explain the game with a sketch of the track, moveable pieces to represent skaters, and a single-sheet handout of basic derby rules. Encourage them to return at breaks with questions.
  6. Run video compilations for the crowd showing great moves, big hits, revving them up for the action to follow.
  7. Have each team finish their warmup by forming a pace line. Take a few minutes to get that line moving as quickly as possible, wowing the crowd and blowing the hair back of those in the suicide seats.

Dramatic Intros

If you have entrance photos or videos for your teams, run them while players are introduced. Make it dramatic. Dim the main lights and run specialty lights if you have them. No need for taglines, just announcers projecting with emphasis on player names, like they do in pro-sports arenas.

Engaging Fans During the GameRoller-Derby-Fan-Retention

Kudos to WFTDA for appointing emcees to this year’s playoffs. As emcee of the D1 Madison tournament, I hyped the crowd, ran fan games during halftimes, and was turned loose to entertain. The role generated a lot of positive feedback.

Give announcers an appropriate, family-friendly leash. During timeouts and downtime, let banter flow. If announcers are having fun, so are fans.

Fan games. During some D1 tournaments, fans looked forward to musical chairs and scavenger hunts. In Madison, we threw dance contests, lip-sync contests, hula hoop races and had original games.

Kids’ games. Make them clever, don’t just give in to running races, dress-up races, three-legged races. I am the biggest kid in the room, no matter where I go, so interviewing the little ones is a must. What they say during interviews is half the fun. Besides, it’s catering to families.

Skater skills contests. Hold a skills contest at halftime and raise money for charity. Have buckets with each skater’s name at the merch booth. Have “runners” take the buckets into the stands to sell raffle tickets. Give the audience a stake in who wins – the audience places each ticket into the container of the skater they think will win and the winning skater then draws the ticket from his/her bucket.

7 Contest and Entertainment Ideas

  1. Fastest average lap. It takes a stopwatch and a little math, but you can time skaters and translate a lap’s average mph. I’ve done it and the crowd loves it. Run each skater one at a time to prevent contact.
  2. Backwards laps. Same thing.
  3. Measure Apex jumps.
  4. Run an obstacle course. Limbo bar, cone slalom, obstacles to jump. The fastest wins.
  5. Ask local entertainers to participate. Jam skaters, extreme sports athletes, family-friendly comedians, dance and tumbling squads.
  6. Jeerleaders, a more tongue-in-cheek cheerleading squad. Milwaukee’s Beerleaders not only cheered, they did a dance routine at every game.
  7. Supervised kids’ areas, where the little ones can color, bowl down pins with skates or play other games.

Be creative, keep the night moving and above all, enjoy it.

How do you keep your fans entertained? Ring in below; we would love to hear your ideas.

Roller Derby >

Dear Derby, the Honeymoon is Over. Now What?

Fan-Retention-RollerDerbyMarketing(Part one of a two-part series on fan retention).

For nearly ten years, derby enjoyed amazing crowds with little marketing. We were a viable entertainment option. So why, in the last few years, have so many leagues cut back on travel, lost money or their venue? They are not catering to the fan. Rat City’s crowd funding to save their practice facility should have been the wake-up call of all wake-up calls. Keep in mind that this is the same league that set the national attendance record a few years ago.

No more mainstream TV shows or movies about derby. The honeymoon period is over.

Business Acumen is Crucial
Lately, my role announcing is not nearly as important as being a business resource to leagues. My BA in Business Management followed by years running department stores, helps me see wasted money and missed opportunities. I managed budgets, marketing and personnel issues for stores that generated millions of dollars annually and was accountable when sales went up or down.

Trust me, when I say that general proper business practices lack at all levels of roller derby.

By the Skater for the Fan
Once you sell tickets, you are a business. Don’t worry about losing control; your league is yours.

It’s time to look at fans as customers. There are many decisions to be made in order to make a profit. Profit increases by generating more income (grow your fan-base, sell more merchandise, increase fundraising) or lowering expenses.

So, if your league is struggling, what will it be? “By the skater, for the fan?” I hope so. Unless you don’t mind playing for fun behind closed doors (nothing wrong with that), adapt your production, strategize your ticket sales and give fans a night to remember.

Fan Retention
Even if you pull in a fair number of fans, why do so many not return? There is a disconnect between what you offer and what fans hope for. I can give you solid ideas on how to increase the crowds coming through the door, but if they’re only coming once, your pool of new fans continually gets smaller.

Wondering what your fan retention is? To get a good visual, use your phone and take a panorama of the crowd at the beginning of your event, then after halftime and again at the night’s conclusion. You’ll see about how many stay for the whole game.

Speed of the Game
First off, it’s not WFTDA’s fault for the speed of the game and the way it’s being played. They made revisions to try to better define the game and it only takes one to find loopholes that many follow. Yes, the slower, stop-and-go-style of game confuses fans.

My job, as an announcer is to succinctly explain what is happening. It’s impossible, in a few sentences, to relay pack destruction, reformation and why they stop. People are confused; they don’t understand how a game on wheels can be slow.

You decide if this ends or not. If you are unsanctioned, play the game you want to. If you are sanctioned, use it when it makes sense. If you hate it, let your WFTDA BOD know.

Make the Night Memorable
Don’t kill production value; make it better. The evening needs to entertain from start to finish. A few ideas:

• Engaging openings for teams and videos for the screens or jumbotrons
• Keep skaters accessible to fans – autograph tables on the way in and way out
• Make each half-time short but memorable with acts or contests

Nobody wants teams to experience financial issues or constant worry that every bout has to be “the one.” Give fans what they want, make it consistent, sell more tickets and get fans to return.

Stay tuned for my next post in the series on fan retention. I’ll explore specific, creative ways you can keep ’em coming back.

How is your league retaining fans in derby’s post-Honeymoon stage? Comment below with your tips and experiences. 

Roller Derby >

5 Tips to a Happy, Profitable Derby Holiday Season

Derby League Marketing Tips - HolidaysFor most, derby season matches the “when weather sucks most” of the four seasons. Cold winters, insanely hot summers, basically when people search for indoor entertainment.

One exception: the holidays. I don’t care if November through December has terrific weather in your area, the holiday season is the best time to make money, raise funds and promote your league.

“Really Bob? Everyone is running around with holiday parties to attend, family functions and shopping to do. Where does roller derby fit?”

1. Don’t Go Without an Event During November or December

I understand you’re skeptical. But consumers spend more money during the holidays. Lots of money. How much?

Enough that retail stores live or die by their fourth-quarter results: sales and profits October through December. In the U.S., holiday sales of consumer goods are as high as 40% (dollar value of annual consumer purchases). And you wonder why retail managers develop nervous ticks. As a retail manager, I recall a single day our department store was to make (raise pinky, make Dr. Evil face): one million dollars. Today, that same store probably projects seven days with sales that high.

Chalk it up to holiday cheer. Remember, you are a business and need to make money. Is that what derby is about? Of course not. Yet as we hear continual stories of leagues in financial trouble, we know money can bring security, keep skater costs low and the league can increase charity contributions if it does well. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy profit.

“Seriously Bob, with the parties, family gatherings and shopping, how would we draw a crowd?”

Don’t let the grinches fool you. You would be surprised how attendance for the arts, professional sporting events, concerts and even alternative sports thrive during the holidays.

Two personal examples:

Twice in my son’s 14 years (good lookin’ like his dad; smart too), the man in red surprised him with event tickets as his main gift. Did he feel slighted? Nope. We had a blast. Last year, the boy wonder’s gift was trip to Minneapolis to see Nitro Circus at the Target Center. This three-hour show featured 50 X-Game professionals and many performing tricks. Best gift ever.

Nitro Circus changed my view on how showmanship, announcing, and production planning can propel an alternative sport from a mall performance to attracting enough people to fill an entire arena. The thrill of the atmosphere turned the audience into immediate fans. Patience, smart marketing and well-executed promotion can accomplish anything. The most interesting part?

It was planned and practiced about three years before it was brought to the U.S. They shot for the long run and it paid off. The shows were sold out worldwide in 2014 and already selling for 2015.

Patience could be 18 months of recruiting, training, business planning and networking within the community before ever skating a public game. What do you think the odds are of long-term survival between a league who practices patience and one whose first game is five months after forming? Who’s to say derby wouldn’t attract large crowds if planning was better? It used to. Derby once sold out Chicago’s old Comiskey Park. Over 50,000 fans.

2. Create a Fun Holiday Game

Derby-Santa-Clause

Derby can achieve success all the way into mid-December. And who’s to say a New Year’s Eve game and after-party won’t work?

A holiday game is a nice start. It could be the first home game scheduled or an exhibition game. Exhibition games, with amusing themes carried through in all of the little details are a blast.

I worked a handful of these. The theme dictated the entire production. Teams created boutfits for the event and had names related to the holidays, with a twist: Sugar Plum Scaries for example. Yeah, it was kind of a warped twist, but a fun one. In one instance, each skater created a name just for that night. An announcer’s dream (sarcasm alert).

Money flows during the holiday months. So consider what a game during this time could mean to the league. Then do what’s necessary so both skaters and the fans have a blast. Do some silly things with penalties, change the rules you don’t like (it’s not sanctioned) and win over some new fans.

 3. Remember, it’s the Most Wonderful Time of Year…for Selling Tickets and Merchandise

single-game-vouchers-derby

The gate is always important, but less so for a holiday event. Gauge ticket sales and give as many tickets away as you near the date. Why? They will spend money.

Again, the holidays have people in a buying mood and it’s not just for others. If properly planned for, it could be a boon for merchandise, season passes and you’ll love this: a single game ticket voucher.

Every league I know who has instituted the single game voucher has had success. Why wouldn’t they? Season passes sell during the holidays, but the one receiving the pass must either be at the game or know the recipient has a derby habit. I noticed leagues almost getting the idea by offering advance sales for specific dates.

Most people don’t have any idea what game-dates the recipient can attend. Make it easy. It’s simply a ticket good for one admittance to one game during the specific home season. Amazing stocking stuffers. Have them on hand and make sure announcers mention them a thousand times.

Better yet, sell them cheaper than usual game tickets. Why? Many of them will never get used. A sizeable portion of vouchers will get lost, forgotten, so sell more of them. Sell them online too. Use ticket blitzing to push sales. If you use Brown Paper Tickets, call our Client Services department who can help you create these.

Merchandise Ideas

League shirts are always important, but make sure you have plenty of standard merchandise inventory, dig out any outdated merchandise, mark it down, separate it from the new stuff, and use your creativity from there. Create a “Stocking Stuffer” section at the merchandise area. I’ve seen league craft clubs make a killing on handmade, one-of-a-kind things with or without the league logo.

Don’t forget kids. Though kids clothing is not always an easy sell and the range of sizes is a real investment, look through sites selling promotional items and find kid-friendly merchandise. There are a million different, inexpensive things you can have made with the league name on it. Never forget your profit margin goals. Choose items that will handle a healthy markup. Kids rule how parents spend money; so make them happy with cool, age-appropriate goodies. A multi-pack of team pins and stickers is perfect for kids and adults.

4. Don’t Take the Holidays Off from Public Appearances

“Well, everyone wanted the time away so we’re taking November and December off. We all need the break.” Yes, you do. Everyone deserves a break, but one or two league commitments during that time isn’t much to ask.

Think about it. Every mall is looking for groups to wrap gifts. Fill a few shifts and have girls in their boutfits. Hundreds, maybe a thousand people, in larger malls, could be easily exposed to the league. Bring schedules if your season starts shortly after the New Year. Go caroling in subdivisions where the fan base is low.

Don’t forget local holiday parades, various charities or supervising a toy drive or giving tree. If you work with a charity, promote it. These activities could produce interviews on TV, photos in the local newspaper or promotion on the radio. The closer the league is to the community, the more success you will always have.

5. Have a Happy Holiday Season with Family and Your Derby Family

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Roller derby is not a hobby; it is a lifestyle. We all know this to be true. Though this blog may sound like I’m a proponent of a never-ending season, that’s hardly the case. I get it. I know the time commitment. My balancing act between derby and my family commitment outside of the sport isn’t easy.

That said, I have a derby family too. You can do fun parties and activities with your derby family while maximizing your holiday marketing efforts.

November and December is my down time as well, yet I help the league take advantage of what the season provides us. Those holiday derby events and functions account for many of my favorite moments. So make it memorable, enjoy each other and if everyone helps a little, you end one year with setting up a better next year.

Peace, love and wheel grease.

Photo credit (1st photo): Papa Razzi

Event Tips >

The Best Derby Marketing Tool You’re (Probably) Overlooking

Derby Business Tips - AnnouncingBy now, I hope your league knows its best marketing tool: announcers.

This blog is not self-indulgent nor written to over-justify the role of announcing. It’s to dispel the myth that announcing isn’t all that important. I am going to tell you how a lack of good announcers can hurt your league, what good announcing looks like, why “borrowing” announcers isn’t the solution and one way to try out announcers.

What Happens When You Don’t Develop Announcing

A heck of a lot. Six things that could happen if your announcers are underdeveloped or do a poor job:

1. The crowd disconnects from the game. Announcers connect the game to the crowd. Don’t downplay this idea. If you do, please ask someone to kick you. Kicking yourself is totally ineffective. I’ve tried. Takes balance. Doesn’t leave a mark. ‘Nuff said.

2. Nobody knows who you are. The crowd may not know your name or it may be pronounced incorrectly, enunciated poorly, or purposefully “played on” all night. For example, imagine the horror of fans yelling, “Lyin’ Fart” instead of “Lyin’ Heart.” And heaven forbid if the league’s name is never mentioned.

3. The game remains a mystery. The crowd has no idea what’s going on.

4. Spectators will not return. If spectators leave not knowing anything about the game, league or skaters, odds are they’ll never return. Spectators are one-timers while fans come back. Sure, you get their money once, just not twice. Spectator and fan retention is at an all-time low.

5. Long-time fans leave. A change to less-developed or less-known announcers could alienate long-time fans.

6. Sponsors will not renew. Let’s just say, solely as an example, your sponsors never hear their names (I know, that never happens). Worse yet, the name was pronounced incorrectly or used as part of a “harmless” comment. (Now I’m swinging with full sarcasm.) But it’s important. You lose revenue and the goodwill of a local business.

“Bob, What IS Good Announcing?”

I’ll forever feel strongly about my time with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls, ten years go. Our co-founder understood the importance of announcing. The league absorbed Baam Baam, my highly esteemed co-announcer and me. We had roles within committees and league operations open to us, and I loved it.

Based on my routines and ideas adapted from announcers all over the world, here are three ways I define good announcers:

 1. They come prepared. It takes me 8 hours to prepare for Brewcity league night. I compile all the information into one document with everything in the evening’s timeline. Rosters, order of introduction, the charity (including what they represent), team records, standout statistics on skaters, every sponsor (with reads, not just names), names of staff, the entertainment for all three halftimes, upcoming games and appearances. I also add news regarding the travel teams, groups in attendance, anyone we should thank and even the name of our national anthem performer.

Having all this prepared and in order of flow means Doc (my co-announcer) and I rarely miss anything.

2. Good announcers not only know rules, they know the officials’ hand signals. Every announcer should know these. They can be found as rules appendix at the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Knowing the signals allows announcers to explain the infraction.

3. Great announcers explain the game. There is so much focus on explaining what skaters can’t do (fouls), it can overshadow explaining the game. Explaining the game can be done without coaching from the mic. Early on, announcers were hounded about knowing skater names, rules and penalties. I realized we were leaving out why the skaters did certain things: basic dynamics and strategy. Since then, most of the compliments I receive from fans go something like this, “I learned so much about the game.”

Announcers with great emcee skills own the crowd. By pitching what’s next, keeping excitement levels high and entertaining the crowd, people are less likely to leave early and more likely to return. Plus, they always push merchandise, another under-utilized profit center I’ll cover in an upcoming post.

 How Announcers Learn the Game

Derby Announcing
I have a saying, “You can’t announce what you’ve never seen.”

If you close practice to your announcers, how on earth do you expect them to reach their potential? It’s impossible. An announcer’s ability to learn the game relies on the league. I’ll defer, again, to the Mad Rollin’ Dolls who gave me total access to practice. In fact, coaches allowed us to step onto the track as they were teaching skating techniques, moves and strategy. I would never have known nor continue to dig into the game if not for that experience.

 “Bob, we solved the issue. We borrowed good announcers from up the road.”

Here’s where criticize my own. Most dedicated announcers work for too many leagues. They love it, find more opportunities and hone their skills. So why am I being critical? It’s OK for a while, but it hurts the growth of the overall announcing pool. They take the place of others who should be developed. Eleven years later, I bet the sport still does not have enough accomplished announcers to permanently staff half its leagues.

Borrowed announcers are not yours. An announcer’s home league takes priority. If your game conflicts with the home league, you’re stuck.

Worse, after years of travel, many burn out and stop. Remember, they don’t have a travel budget either. They love you; you show them more appreciation than their home league, who is used to their excellent self (yes, that’s a “Bill and Ted” reference), but you will wind up back at square one.

My rules? I only do events for my home league (Brewcity in Milwaukee), and will help Madison on occasion (my first league and in my backyard). Otherwise, I will only announce for a league if it’s their first-ever bout or if they have dedicated announcers to train. I will arrive early and talk about roles, bring them training materials, work with them that night and be available to mentor at any time. This way, I’ve fixed the issue, not contributed to the problem.

Finding Permanent Announcers

roller derby announcing Don’t give the job to anyone, not even dedicated league members. Every role has a different skill set. Advertise on social media, your site and even in the newspaper. Have tryouts. Be creative.

One of the more popular ways is to get the league together for a night at a sponsor bar. Bring in a DVD of a recent bout and give every applicant a set number of minutes, or jams, to call the action as they see it. It’s not about accuracy; it’s about how quickly they think on their feet. Hand them some sponsor reads to throw in between jams. You can teach them the game later; just make sure they have the skill and personality first.

Training Materials

Make sure every new announcer understands the rules. Download the WFTDA/MRDA rule set. The Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers (AFTDA) also has some helpful material, including the official Announcer’s Handbook (an invaluable resource), which can be downloaded from the front page. It provides an expected code of conduct, and the forums are a great place to learn of upcoming events, to ask questions and keep up with derby changes. They also certify announcers, a requirement to work major WFTDA events.

If questions go beyond that, simply contact me at bob [at] brownpapertickets.com

 

Bob Noxious is a Doer specializing in roller derby for Brown Paper Tickets.

Roller Derby >

14 Best-Kept Roller Derby Recruiting Secrets

roller-derby-recruiting-steel hurtin' copyBrown Paper Tickets is proud to present our new roller derby blog series. Take a rink-side seat as we explore the business side of derby with Bob Noxious, a veteran of modern derby. Bob will share lessons learned, advice and tips to make your team or league even more fierce. Our resident “Derby Answer Man” has a BBA in business management and over a decade of experience announcing bouts. Read more about Bob Noxious.

Take it away, Bob.

Derby’s biggest recruiting issues

Today, I’ll dispel roller derby recruiting myths and provide improvement tips. And at the bottom of the page, you’ll find a four-minute video created by Brown Paper Tickets. Watch it and feel free to use it during your functions or share on social media.

Finding fresh meat is one of the most difficult tasks a roller derby league will face, especially in the beginning. Successful recruiting is a continuous, machine-like process. You probably already know the biggest contributor to recruiting breakdowns: letting it stop.

Don’t push the league so quickly

Roller Derby RecruitingBob, though we have a mix of both new and tenured skaters, we’re proud we took time to build our membership, train patiently, and design a method of continual recruitment to keep skater numbers where they need to be.”

Yeah, right. And I’m a 24-year-old Brad Pitt.

The problem:

1. Leagues push too quickly to play. Once they begin play, they lose focus on recruiting. It takes 30 skaters to sustain an inter-league team. You will start with 20 trained skaters. You roster 15, play a few bouts, skaters get hurt, quit, can’t travel and suddenly that 20 skaters becomes 10. You’ll skate 10 and that number quickly becomes seven or eight. Now you can’t skate without borrowing skaters from another league – and don’t do that or you’ll never fix the problem.

2. You push new skaters to play too soon. Under conditioned and under trained equals injury.

3. And as you face these issues, what recruiting is happening? After years of seeing this same problem, I’m guessing none.

Recruiting never stops

Remember, training new skaters doesn’t have a season.

4. Generally, the core group of original skaters will produce ones who can teach skating and conditioning all year.

5. Some leagues have a separate “new skater” practice night for training, which works well. There’s no competition for practice space and new team members tend to feel more comfortable around those with the same learning curve.

6. If these practice nights have skaters coming in and advancing to the tenured group with regularity, the class can go on all season. You shouldn’t waste time, energy, and potential space rental on training two people, but small leagues can maintain a group of 5 to 10 newbies.

My experience with skater trends

7. Derby doesn’t have a strong history with universities, as undergrad students rarely surface. I spent nearly six years in Madison, WI, one of the largest university towns in the Midwest (student population over 40,000) and can only recall one undergrad skater from the school.

8. The college students who join leagues are typically non-traditional students working on post-grad degrees or returning to school at a later age.

9. Reach beyond your immediate community. Skaters are willing to go the distance to play with a league. A 60- to 90-minute commute to practice is not unheard of.

Want to attract new team members? Hire a babysitter

10. It’s shocking how few leagues cater to athletes with kids. This deters many from starting or causes them to start and quit. Offer free babysitting during practice hours as a perk. Moms skate too. Well ok, not my mom.

For crying out loud, reach out and sell your sport.

11. Host a “Skate with the Skaters Night.” Roller derby leagues charge about a $5 entrance fee to skate with derby women or men over a 3-hour period. Anyone can attend, but it’s also a way to get league members talking to curious skaters about signing up.

12. Make appearances at town/city functions. A table at a local festival is cheap, if not free. You can recruit at these town functions and they give you more exposure to the community, which grows your audience. Wear your uniforms, including your skates. Do short, demo scrimmages in the parking lot or street and become part of the entertainment.

13. Prepare a kit and take the following to your recruiting events:

-League banner
Photo album from bouts, with your best shots. Try to include photos with fans and kids.
League schedule
Recruiting info for skaters, refs and volunteer positions
Advertising opportunities
Newsletter sign-up sheet
If there will be power, take some of your better bout footage to play on a small TV.

14. Be creative in your recruiting. Have themed recruiting events: bar party, rummage sales, restaurant tasting event or “Ask a Derby Skater” nights.

(Photo credit: Feed My Kids Productions)

 

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