I was coming up with some new merchandise ideas for our team when I thought of the concept of “Derby City, USA.” I thought that would be a neat thing to brand our city of Des Moines. I mean, we DO have 2 WFTDA teams, one more women’s team, a men’s team (the reigning national champions), and a junior league. That’s quite a few teams. But could Des Moines, Iowa be considered “Derby City, USA?”
What city would YOU consider to be Derby City, USA? New York, home of the 3-time world champion Gotham Girls? Austin, Texas, home of the modern roller derby revival? Seattle, WA, home to one of the highest attendance-drawing teams, the Rat City Rollergirls?
Well, that was quite the blogging hiatus. I’m fresh off of the WFTDA Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and I hope it has energized me enough to return to full-time derby blogging.
One of the sessions that I attended was all about the rankings calculator and what people thought of it. Without giving too much away, the calculator in its present incarnation is not popular with the villagers. There were so many opinions going around that I didn’t even think about raising my hand to offer what my thoughts were on the subject. So I’ll dispense them here.
The rankings calculator, as we know it now, is very bad for the sport. Period. It’s no surprise and can’t be contested that the calculator encourages blowouts. Many teams have done the math as to how much they need to beat a particularly ranked team in order to move up favorably in the rankings. They’re also aware of what the consequences are of not just losing, but even just PLAYING a very low-ranked team. As it stands, if you are the 40th ranked team and you play the 100th ranked team, and don’t demolish them by 400 points, you stand to LOSE ranking, based on the current system. This is a terrible flaw. Low ranked teams are finding it difficult to schedule much higher ranked opponents.
Have you been to a bout where a team is getting destroyed by more than 200? They’re BORING. Fans hate them. I’m not making a sweeping generalization here, it’s fact. People leave football games when the score is lopsided by 20 or more points. Baseball when it’s maybe a 5-run deficit. Basketball arenas clear when a team is losing by 20 or so. Think about it… two. hundred. points. Nobody wants to watch this kind of derby. But, the current rankings calculator not only encourages it, it all but mandates it. If fans know that their home team is going to win (or worse, lose) by 200 or more points every time, they’re less likely to attend games, costing the team money. This system must be fixed.
Point differential needs to be taken out of the equation.
I’m not a math whiz here. I know hours of hard work went into the creation of the current calculator, but after just a couple results, we can already see that it’s broken. With all due respect to Kansas City, how are they ranked 21st in the world with 3 wins and 8 losses while No Coast is ranked 25th with 18 wins? I understand there’s quite a lot of difference in number of games, and that’s a topic for another time, but seriously. Killamazoo is 48th with a 12-5 record while Minnesota is 6-11 and ranked 10th in the world with a win percentage of .352. Again, with all due respect, how does this all make sense?
We need to run, not walk back to the drawing board and rethink the current rankings calculator. The WFTDA is filled with very intelligent women and men. I know they can do it better than this. What are your thoughts?
I should make it clear right away that I don’t think that the WFTDA is broken, by any stretch. However, WFTDA is the Brady Bunch living in Will and Grace’s apartment. The league is growing at an almost alarming rate. I always see people celebrating how many leagues are popping up and yes, it’s great, but at what cost?
We’re likely to see 1,500 leagues around the world before we know it. Of those leagues, 147 are WFTDA member leagues with 67 more in the ‘queue’ as Apprentice Leagues. For me, the WFTDA is growing too quickly. Is it really that special anymore to become a WFTDA league? It seems that all it takes is to show that you’re a reasonably stable league and that you know how to fill out some paperwork. Do that and BAM! – everyone gets a pink logo patch.
I don’t want to take anything away from leagues that have worked hard to become WFTDA leagues, including my own. It was a great day of celebration when we became the first WFTDA league in the state of Iowa. We take our standing with the Association very seriously. But in the short time that we’ve been a member, I’ve seen that changes need to be made – and soon. Otherwise, the WFTDA is going to become just a watered-down shell of what it really could be. Here are a couple of my ideas and suggestions:
1. Too many leagues/teams
It’s so difficult trying to explain the WFTDA to those that are new to derby. I tell them that they’re the NFL of roller derby, only instead of 32 teams, we have nearly 150. WFTDA needs to slow their growth. Instead of graduating teams every quarter, what about once a year? It makes the graduation mean more and makes it more desired and competitive. If I could imagine an ideal scenario, the numbers in the WFTDA and Apprentice programs would actually be flip-flopped, but it’s too late for that.
2. Stricter acceptance guidelines
If you’re good at bookkeeping, chances are, your league can become a WFTDA league. That’s really the hardest part of the whole process. Otherwise, your team just has to show basic derby skating skills and the appearance of stability to get into the Association. I would like to see more facets of a league taken into account for WFTDA membership. Leagues should be required to have at least two WFTDA-certified referees on their staff. This would make great strides toward balance in officiating around the Association. I’ve seen WFTDA member leagues with fantastic officials and I’ve seen long-standing members with awful ones. There needs to be some balance here. I only hope many refs are taking advantage of the Officiating Clinics that the WFTDA is offering.
The regions becoming a mess. I’m sure they were great when there were 30-40 WFTDA leagues. 100 leagues later, it’s out of control. The South Central, in particular, covers from Iowa in the north all the way to Florida to the south. The South Central, as well as the North Central have fewer teams, forced to travel longer distances to play WFTDA opponents. There are more teams in the West region alone than there are teams in the whole of the NBA, NFL, and in Major League Baseball (not combined).
So how does this get remedied? WFTDA could seriously look at the model of college athletics. Instead of regions, create conferences. Imagine 12 conferences around the Association. 12-14 teams per conference. Leagues could be grouped with other nearby leagues in order to cut down on travel expenses. Inside the conferences, create boards that could handle scheduling. Imagine a round-robin with your conference. It just makes sense. You could have a set number of conference games and a few non-conference ones so you could play teams from other areas of the country, should you so choose. Your record determines your seeding/ranking in your conference. Each conference has a season-ending tournament with the winner advancing to the 12-team WFTDA Championships. Creating conferences familiarizes your audience with your opponents, rather than having a hodgepodge of different opponents every year. Natural rivalries would be allowed to form, creating more excitement for the fans. I think you see where I’m going with this model. However, one big thing would need to happen for the conference model to work.
4. Standard seasons
With so many leagues playing at once, the roller derby season essentially runs 12 months out of the year. It’s crazy! Some leagues are finishing their seasons just as another is starting theirs. There is no rhyme or reason to the derby season. If you forced me to explain a standard season, it would be intra-league play for the large leagues in the spring and travel team play in the fall. Leagues that aren’t big enough to field multiple intra-league teams primarily use the winter and spring to play their seasons. Of course, this isn’t the same for all.
It’s become more and more clear to me that summer is a killer for derby. I’ve been to games by large, established leagues during the summer that are very poorly attended, yet they draw like crazy in the winter. Face it, derby is a fall/winter/spring sport. By playing in the summer, we’re indoors when people want to watch sports outdoors. In my mind, the derby season should almost mirror the school year. Start in September/October and run until April/May. That’s roughly 35 weeks to play 12 season games, have conference tournaments, and a championship tournament. More than enough time.
This just scratches the surface of what derby and the WFTDA could be should it get much more organized and unified. I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave me comments.
*Start Shameless Plug*
One other thing, if you’re coming to RollerCon in Las Vegas this July and you want to hear/talk more about promoting your team or league, I’ll be leading a seminar on Saturday, July 28 called “Beyond the Flyer: Marketing Techniques.” I’d love for you to come to my session so we can talk/debate derby marketing. I’m really looking forward to it!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I guess it’s because I just haven’t had anything to say to get the masses riled up. I’m starting to think that my place in the sport is to be the Andy Rooney of roller derby (“ya know what I can’t stand?…”). I’m fine with that if it means that people start thinking differently about what the sport can be. So here goes an old fashioned rant.
I’ve spent my professional career working in radio, owned by a large company. My station plays top 40 pop music and caters to the masses. I can write a whole blog about why stations play what they play and whom they target, but you didn’t come here for that. My point is that I have been taught for the last 20 years how to attract the most people in particular demographics. Every time I bring my lessons to derby, I get shouted down because I’m “too mainstream.” However, derby needs to stop thinking that mainstream is bad. Yes, we play in a punk rock, non-conformist sport. I get that. It’s called “mainstream” because it’s where the main stream of people go. Meaning the greatest number. Do you see where I’m getting at here? More people = more fans = more tickets sold = more money = healthier leagues and a healthier sport. This is not rocket science, people. Can you tell me where the downside is in that?
So stop worrying about “being mainstream.” Hell, I WANT my team and the sport to be mainstream. You know what mainstream sports get? They get regular television, print, and radio coverage. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
“For the Skaters”
Another phrase I don’t particularly care for is the ever popular “by the skaters, for the skaters.” This phrase (to me) says that we’re doing this for ourselves and we don’t give a damn if you (the fans) come out and watch. Your league should have a “by the skaters, for the fans” mentality. Yes, your league should govern itself and do what it takes to survive. But that also means that you stop being selfish and start playing and doing what you do best for the people paying money to see it.
I was recently reading the code of conduct of the Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers (AFTDA). There were several items in that document that I disagreed with so completely that I felt compelled to mention here.
Announcers should never show bias to one team or another, regardless of affiliation or the current score.
I really don’t understand this part of derby. Our announcers (me included) are supposed to remain totally neutral when calling games in-house. This includes inter-league games and tournaments. Being neutral at tournaments is totally understandable. I would completely follow these guidelines, even if my home league was playing. But what this rule is saying is that at my HOME arena, I can’t be excited about MY league in any way. This is a weird and dumb aspect of derby announcing. WHY? Fans of my team have come to my arena to cheer for my league and you’re telling me that I have to be just as excited about the visitors gaining lead jammer status as I would be for my league? Forget it. This passage is reason enough for me to never join the AFTDA because I would receive weekly complaints that I’m in violation of this rule. When my team scores, or does something impressive, you better believe I sound excited. Because MY crowd that paid to see MY team expects it. Listen at a baseball, football, or basketball game. Does the announcer sound excited when the home team scores? Yes. How about when the visitors score? NO. It’s part of the advantage of being the home team. I could write a whole blog on that passage alone, but I think I’ve made my point.
Announcers from a visiting league will get equal representation during inter-league games. During inter-league bouts, the host announcers will make accommodations for at least one visiting team’s announcer to be on-mic. If equipment limitations prevent the use of more than two announcers, the host announcers should relinquish one of their mics to the visiting announcer.
No. Pure and simple. No. In our league, we don’t have single emcees, but we have what I call a “broadcast team.” Both our all-star team and our B team have their own set of three announcers. They are a team. They work together to learn the game and learn symmetry with each other. There is no way that I’m going to train my announcers, then bring in someone I don’t know on the mic to dismantle the chemistry that we’ve worked to build. No other sport does this that I can find. Oh wait! We’re roller derby! We do things differently because they’re different ways to do things! Come on, man. Your home team shouldn’t be forced to accommodate outside announcers and you should have every right to get excited and be a homer for your team.
For a sport that wants to grow and “take over the world,” we have a pretty stuck-up attitude about ourselves sometimes. Why does derby do things differently for the sake of doing them differently? Do you want your league to start drawing in the thousands, rather than the hundreds? Maybe you need to start swallowing your pride and remind yourself that it’s a sport and a show. Try catering to the masses rather than the “indie-punk-rock” crowd and you just might be surprised.
Quit worrying about being a sell out and start selling your games out.
We spend a lot of time cultivating our social media and our primary websites to make sure we have current information. However, there is another website that can really tell the story of your league. Wikipedia is a site that everyone should be familiar with if you actively search the internet. The default internet encyclopedia is the 6th most visited website in the world, according to the Alexa 500. That’s a higher rank than Twitter, Amazon, and MSN. Your Wikipedia page isn’t something that you’ll actively promote, but it should still be there.
Does your league have a Wikipedia page? If the answer is no, you need one. In addition to being another outlet for people to learn about your team and derby, it’s another way for your SEO (search engine optimization) for your own website to be bolstered.
Wikipedia can be intimidating. It works on it’s own code and it can be difficult to learn how to start a page. The best thing to do (and the exact thing I did) is to completely copy the code of an existing team’s page and use it as a template for your own. This will help get you familiar with the code that Wikipedia uses.
To create a page in Wikipedia, you need to create an account. Once you do, do a search for your team’s page. Use proper capitalization because if your page doesn’t exist, it will use the exact capitalization used in your search. If your page doesn’t exist, it will tell you that you can create it. When you click the link, it will take you to a new page that asks for your code. This is when you open another tab and search for another derby team’s Wikipedia page. Look at several teams to make sure you’re not getting a bigger template than you need. If you’re a two-year-old league, you won’t need a template like what Gotham uses. Look for smaller, newer leagues with smaller templates. When you’ve found one you like, click the Edit link in the upper right corner. Copy all of the code and paste into your page. Now, you can begin changing out the information. Before writing your page, read others to get a feel for how they are written. Make sure to change all references to the other team’s city. DO NOT use the same text that the other team uses. Wikipedia is the story of your team. Write about your history and your team’s major milestones.
While you may be passionate about your team, remember to write your team’s page from a neutral point of view. Also, make sure to site references about your team. If you don’t, your page could be flagged to be adjusted. Wikipedia wants true informaton posted, so make sure things like your WFTDA certification are corroborated with a link to the WFTDA site that backs it up. It’s best to read through Wikipedia’s Best Practices page to get an idea of how to structure your page.
Once you have your page completed, don’t forget to update it frequently. Update with season records, milestones, retired players, whatever. It’s your page. The more updated, the better. Your team’s Wikipedia page can and will act like a written history of your whole league. Treat it with respect and keep it current.
That said, remember that anyone can and will update a Wikipedia page. People you don’t even know will update your page. This is okay, so long as they’re updating it with the best interest of the content at heart. Stay vigilant and keep an eye on your page. Make sure that nobody is putting false/disparaging/defamatory information on your page. This means often reading the WHOLE page, start to finish. People can put libelous remarks in the middle of average paragraphs. If you see anything like this, change it immediately. Check your history often to see who is updating your page. If they are a registered Wikipedia user, it will log their user name and will also tell you what they added/deleted.
In my opinion, Wikipedia is vital to your online presence. If done right, it can be a powerful tool for any derby league.
I have loved the conversation going back and forth regarding my last post, “It’s time to move on from derby names.” It’s been so much fun reading everyone’s opinions and perspectives. On the coat tails of that blog post comes word that the women of Team USA will be using their real names at the Roller Derby World Cup this year. I think it makes a strong statement to not only the country, but the whole roller derby world.
The best quote came from “Bonnie Thunders,” AKA Nicole Williams:
“Well, we come here and we’re putting on the U.S.A. jersey, so we felt it was important to use our real names,” Williams said. “I think it’s okay to be serious about our names.”
This will undoubtedly be the most unpopular post I’ve ever made on this blog. But, if I didn’t feel it, I wouldn’t say it. It’s time to move on from derby names.
Picking out a tough derby name has been a long standing tradition in our sport. Newbies look forward to it more than even playing in their first bout. I’ve seen people take more time picking their name than they do the protective padding that will ultimately save them from terrible injuries. Derby names need to go the way of old school derby. Back when our sport was fake, overly theatrical, and at best, a sideshow.
There’s been lots of talk in derby PR circles about players taking names that are sexually suggestive, gross, or a just not family-friendly. Why should this be something that derby needs to concern itself with? Leaders of teams shouldn’t have to spend any time deciding whether a skater’s name is appropriate for the masses. It’s just wasted time.
If you’re a skater, wouldn’t you rather get recognition for yourself and not your derby persona? It’s YOU putting the work in every practice. It’s YOU sacrificing your body for the good of our sport. Wouldn’t you rather young kids come up to you and say “I love you Susie Smith!” rather than “I love you Killer Krusher!”
During the 2011 WFTDA Championships, a jammer for the Kansas City Roller Warriors was called by her real name. The jammer formerly known as Snot Rocket is now just Kelley Young. And it sounded awesome. It sounded right. It sounded legitimate.
Lots of people talk about roller derby needing to be taken seriously as a sport. Let’s be honest, aside from derby’s past, the other great hurdle that people use to discredit derby is the use of derby names. You want to be called a real athlete, but you don’t use a real name? What are we then, pro wrestling? Pro wrestling gets tens of thousands of fans to come to events. They use fake names. So clearly, they’re doing something right, right? No. People walk into a pro wrestling match knowing that the events they are about to watch are not only predetermined, but they are carefully choreographed. Pro wrestling is fake, roller derby is not.
Let’s lift up the women that make this sport what it is to a higher level. Let’s make them stars by their birth names. Let’s stop performing incredible athletic feats behind fake names. Let’s take a page from Race City in Charlotte and use our real names when competing.
Even though I’m not a player, I will still practice what I preach. From this day forward, I’m retiring my derby name, “ExploSean.” I will no longer use it as part of my activity in roller derby. I’m proud of my name and proud of this sport. I’m no longer going to hide behind a false name just because “it’s what we’ve always done.” I hope that the rest of derby can some day follow suit.