“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.”
Tyler Durden’s speech in a dank, subterranean basement worked to keep a few dozen followers quiet and in lock step with his vision of the lost, modern man seeking to find himself. There are many organizations that have a code of silence, fraternities, sororities, secret societies, the Freemasons, and others. The main difference between these organizations and the WFTDA is none of these are a sports organization that is trying to market itself internationally. You would think the first rule of WFTDA would be to talk about WFTDA, but that is not the case.
One of the WFTDA’s biggest past, present, and presumably future problems is how information is communicated and shared. Everyone who is part of a WFTDA league must sign the Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA). This agreement allows WFTDA to regulate what information is distributed amongst it’s members. This covers a large amount of information and even extends to people who have quit WFTDA for up to a year. This is supposed to keep information in house until it is ready to be presented to the world at large or not depending on what it is. While good in theory due to the amount of people involved (thousands) and how information is presented league-to-league by their WFTDA reps it fails in practice.
Why does the WFTDA NDA not work? Let’s start on the most basic form of communication, peer to peer. After parties are the most commonplace for this; conversation and gossip between members of different leagues. This is where a game of telephone generally begins with people spreading what they have heard coming down the pike in their league from the top; all leagues do not share the same amount of information as some are more transparent than others. What is spread in these conversations is sometimes factual, sometimes fictional, but not traceable as it is all word of mouth.
The bigger area where WFTDA falls short in terms of communicating with the public is their marketing and PR departments and where the NDA overlaps. The urge to play things close to the vest is not always a good idea. In the worlds of journalism and marketing it is important to make the first statement, to be the one who sets the tone, and fires the first shot. WFTDA rarely does this and instead often reacts second. Two RDIT articles can be traced to this.
The first is linked to my article I Would Rather Go to a Tournament Than a Convention which was released on Feb. 15, 2011, which focused on ideas on how WFTDA could independently record and broadcast roller derby on the Internet. 2 hours later, WFTDA released via their website, WFTDA Accepting Bids for 2011 Big 5 Tournament: Video Production and Broadcast. This was a first as in the past, the Big 5 had been broadcasted by a different video crew at each venue which was set up by the hosting team; now WFTDA was looking for crews to work with them to build a consist look/brand identity. Whoever won those contracts has not been released to the public.
Recently RDIT published the story Victory Through Destruction: A Look at Game Play Destroying Strategies on July 14, 2011. A few hours later wftda.com announced the new “Rules Central” which discussed the same strategies that were talked about in the article and professed that these things had been talked about prior to ECDX but no official action had been taken at that time. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not since WFTDA’s positions are almost all volunteer staffed without pay, things are not always going to get out on time.
The way things are shifting and changing, 2011 will be WFTDA’s “Death Hallows Pt. 1″ to 2012’s “Deathly Hallows Pt. 2″, a much-needed bridge that leads towards a very epic conclusion and change. My question is how does not letting the public know where this is going help roller derby? We no longer live in the 60’s where information is funneled through 1 or 2 sources, instead thanks to the Internet, the main catalyst that fueled the expansion of modern roller derby in the first place; we now can receive information mere seconds after it has transpired. Instead of letting things set on the burner for months at a time, WFTDA needs to strike first and make their big announcements before they become old hat. Currently roller derby’s largest fanbase is the people who are some how part of it. By doing that new announcements will be met with excitement and not the ho hum reaction of “oh I knew about that 6 months ago”.
What would I do differently? My focus would be on two distinct marketing campaigns 1. The Big 5 2011 and 2. WFTDA 2012. I would play up the 2nd quarter rankings, treating it akin to the NCAA Tournament aka March Madness. Create a 20-30 minute video that can be virally spread along the web. Who made it, who didn’t make it, who was on the bubble, and highlight new teams that are making a first appearance. Follow this up with a series of videos highlighting each region (who is playing who first round, who is expected to win, who can pull an upset, etc). You could either use the same video crew for all 5 of these or different video from across the nation, but under the same guidelines and protocols. These are the things that sports fans expect, background to get them to care, to tune in.
Once the Big 5 is in full swing, I would then execute the next wave of marketing WFTDA 2012. I do not know if WFTDA will officially shift to a No Minors game, but after the positive feedback from ECDX 2012 and the fact that those games were highlighted in a very big way, I think the writing is on the wall for some major rule changes in 2012. IF this happens it will be the largest change in game play in the modern game. To not overshadow the 2011 Big 5, it wouldn’t be wise to put all the focus on 2012, but simple banners that said things like “2012: Change” or “2012: Evolution”. This gives people a small teaser that something is coming but doesn’t take the main focus off of the current Big 5. Once 2011 was over, then I would announce a week or so after the WFTDA Championships what is new for 2012 and would do interviews with every media outlet that would have me. Also a push should be made to go outside the derby microcosm and take out ads for non-derby websites and magazines that share a common fan base (skateboarding, BMX, softball, volley ball, MMA, tattoos, etc.).
There is a part of me that wants to give the WFTDA the benefit of the doubt. Roller derby has had to evolve under a spotlight that many sports have not. In a world where the owners are the players, everyone has an opinion for better or worse. With that in mind, every decision is under a microscope. The more people that learn about roller derby, the more microscopes there are and this sport is not ready for a huge fan base yet as many parts of the game play and rules are still being worked out. It’s like being in a band, its better to make mistakes in front of a 1,000 people instead of 70,000 people. Hopefully as the game becomes better more emphasis will be put on marketing it.
I understand the need to keep some things under wraps and on a need to know basis when important decisions are in the discussion phase. This works when you are dealing with a small group of people who are empowered decision makers. What I don’t understand is the naïve thought that you can release information to over 7,500 plus people in your organization and that none of them are going to talk about it. Instead of silencing those people, use them instead as part of your marketing to spread the word of what you are doing. For Fight Club to become Project Mayhem, it had to move out of the basement and out into the world, Tyler Durden couldn’t do this alone, he need others to spread his message, which they did, and did quite well. Hopefully WFTDA does the same and the sport goes from being seen as that quirky roller skating thing that you do to a legit sports phenomenon that controls it’s own destiny because it has positioned itself to do so.