Growing Pains: Promoting Skaters and Teams

It is time that derby starts promoting the individual star skaters along with their respective team.

This incarnation of roller derby is still in its infancy.  As time has gone by, this latest iteration of roller derby has continued to face a vast number of growing pains pertaining to many different aspects of the sport.  The main thrust of this continuing column will be to look at these growing pains, individually, and to provide possible solutions – through the initial blog post itself, and the (hopefully) ensuing conversations with you, the reader.

Typical derby promotional material- two team logos & a date.

Interest across the nation world in roller derby has continued to grow at an amazing pace.  However that level of increased interest has yet to result in derby reaching its fan potential.  One of the possible contributing factors could be the way derby is promoted.

The derby fan base was originally largely comprised of other skaters, and friends and family of skaters.  Now roller derby is attracting a base of fans that are showing up to bouts for the sport itself.  As the fan base continues to grow and expand, the way derby bouts are promoted also needs to grow and expand.

Leagues around the country – and now the world – are becoming established entities on a regional, if not national or international, level within the derby universe.  The more the travel teams from these leagues continue to skate at away bouts, the more they – and their individual skaters – become identifiable by a larger sect of the existing fan base.

At this point in time there are a handful of skaters with instant name recognition within derby culture, specifically those paying attention to WFTDA play on the international level.  However there are standout personalities as well as standout skaters in every league.  It is time that derby starts promoting the individual star skaters along with their respective team.

Making Stars of Wearing Stars

Nearly all of the time when a bout between two travel teams is promoted it is done by team names only.  For example, “Two weeks from tonight, come see your Nantucket Derby All-Stars take on the Sheboygan Roller Vixens!”  Rarely is there ever a mention of a home team skater’s name, let alone a visiting skater’s name, in promotion of that bout.

A shining example of how individual team member can be promoted along with the team for which they play can be seen in the promotion of NBA games. A typical promotion for a basketball game usually includes the mentioning of a player’s name, if not the names of multiple players.  “Be sure to watch this Thursday as LeBron James and the Miami Heat travel to Los Angeles to take on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.”

Before you completely dismiss an approach utilized to promote basketball as a possible way to promote derby, think of some of the commonalities between roller derby and basketball.  Both are five-on-five sports.  Participants in each sport play both offense and defense.  And for both, a player at any position can become a superstar.  Michael Jordan, shooting guard. Shaquille O’Neal, center.  Denis Rodman, small forward.  DeRanged, jammer.  Beyonslay, blocker.  Kamikaze Kim, pivot.

Suzy Hotrod and the Gotham Girls take on Carmen Getsome and the Rat City All-Stars

As you can see, there are already skaters that have established themselves on a regional or national level (be that by their skills, outgoing personality, or both).  They have name recognition by people in the derby universe outside their city or state.  So when their travel team travels to play a bout, they should become part of the promotion.  “Be sure to be here in two weeks when Slice ‘N the Family Stones and the rest of the Sheboygan Roller Vixens skate against Perla Jammer and your Nantucket Derby All-Stars!”

Why the Hype?

The benefit here is twofold.  First, promotion of the individual skaters in conjunction with their respective team gives the fan additional incentive to come and watch a bout.  Though a fan may not be interested in seeing a particular team play, that fan may well be interested in seeing a specific skater play.

Trish the Dish - a name and a force on the track nobody forgets. If only I could keep up with what teams she's playing for...

Second, by promoting standout skaters, it becomes easier for sources outside of derby world to take a greater interest in our sport, if not promote it further.  A small number of television commercials, billboards, etc. have featured roller derby skaters already.  Promoting skaters help to give a face – or faces – to roller derby.  These faces and personalities provide an opportunity for a connection between derby and other entities that is not currently present.

Interest in roller derby from the outside world is high right now.  The question remains, can derby capitalize on this increased interest to create additional fans, as well as retain the ones they already have?  Placing additional emphasis on the skaters themselves in the promotion of the sport may be one of the easiest ways to start this process.  That decision ultimately lies with the individual leagues and teams, and it is an idea worthy of discussion.

Contributing Editor: Speed Bump
Photos by Sharkey and Skippy Steve
Bout poster image by Rose City Rollers
Gotham Girls Roller Derby and Rat City Rollergirls logos are property of their respective owners

Images courtesy of Mike Chexx, and Sharkey

About Mike Chexx

I am a play-by-play announcer for the Rose City Rollers (Portland, OR). I have a general love of sports of all stripes, including hockey, baseball, football, basketball, Australian rules football, etc. As such, I am kind of a numbers nerd, and hope that as roller derby progresses, numbers and stats will become more available.