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.

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