Whoa, a post on Roller Derby Inside Track? While we aren’t posting as much as we used to and I am living off my lucrative roller derby announcer retirement package, every once in a while something happens in the world of roller derby that makes me blow the dust off my keyboard and start click clacking away. A few months ago Derby News Network wrote their first editorial in the history of their website, which focused on their distaste for WFTDA’s pay per view model (I wonder how awkward things are around the Derby Life office right now). We here at Roller Derby Inside Track know a bit about editorials and opinion pieces, they have been the foundation of our website since its inception. DNN’s editorial took aim at tearing down WFTDA.TV’s pay per view model, while at the same time trying to endorse their own brand, which is focused on a fundraising model. There are a few things that DNN does well, such as score updates, their Power Rankings, and Justice Feelgood Marshall’s writing (seriously, dude could write a book on how to properly dust antique furniture and I would read it). But two things that they haven’t done well in the past is doing business that benefits both parties equally and creating a quality, dependable place to watch games.
Let’s get in our time machine and go back a few years. Back in the day, Derby News Network and broadcasting games was one in the same. If there was a tournament, more often than not DNN would be there to cover it. The DNN website became the place to watch bouts, even though the production and video was amateurish at best in the early years all was forgiven just for the chance to be able to see a game that was 2,000 or more miles away. At the same time DNN, began to ask for more money through its contribution drives giving people who were watching the games at home a chance to kick in donations to help keep the stream alive. I figured my money was going towards better equipment to help the stream, new cameras, new microphones, paying for camera men’s salaries, etc. At the time I was not only willing to work for free but to donate money to do so that the stream would stay alive. When I was contacted in 2010 to be a part of the DNN Brewhaha announce team, I declined gas money from them and said, “I haven’t donated this year, put it back into the stream.” That same trip, I discovered things weren’t what they seemed.
Although DNN was broadcasting the games, it generally wasn’t them setting up the video crews. Instead, the local leagues were booking and paying for the video crews and then allowed DNN to control it from the production end. I guess the thought was, “Well you brought the encoder to upload the feed to the web, and you do all the other tournaments, so you should do this one too.” The even crazier part was DNN was schilling their own sponsors and presumably collecting money from them for it but not giving the hosting leagues of these tournaments a cut of that sponsorship money. The leagues were recouping the costs of filming the event by selling DVDs of the games or just straight up eating the costs. This set up a business model that a) Allowed DNN to sell sponsorship for video content they didn’t produce and b) Allowed DNN to claim ownership of this content as their own. In the real world, a distributor would pay for the product, which did not happen here. So to recap: Not paying for the cameras, not paying for the talent, not paying for the tech crew, yet somehow having full creative control and getting to keep all of the money from sponsorships? If you think this is a good deal for anyone but DNN, then you probably think the Louisiana Purchase was a fair trade as well.
Draggin Lady of the Rose City Rollers was one of the first people to stand up to this lopsided business model when she was doing production work for the West Regional Playoff hosting league, Sacred City. Together they told DNN that they would not be covering the West Regional playoffs in 2010. This was not taken well as DNN had already sold sponsorships for content they did not own. Draggin’s reputation suffered from it, as uniformed people who were unaware of what was happening behind closed doors in terms of sponsorships and creative control left multiple comment threads/Facebook posts blasting her, made multiple threatening prank phone calls, and even a death threat. And while Draggin was the first, she certainly wasn’t the last, as ECDX took firm control of their video rights as well in 2011. WFTDA as a whole followed suit and decided to move the entire Big 5 out of DNN’s hands and put on their own production.
This brings us to today and this editorial, “Pay Per View: The Enemy of Success,” in which DNN points to six different reasons why this model doesn’t/won’t work. These points tend to come back to the same two points: People don’t get it for free and thus less people see it. Allow me to address three key points to this argument. 1. Price 2. Television 3. Who is watching?
Under the WFTDA.TV model, you have 3 options: 1) Buy a regional playoff tournament for $12 2) Buy the Championship weekend for $20 or 3) Buy everything for $50. RDIT friend/constant comment section devil’s advocate John Maddening said to me, “It’s 71 cents a bout if you buy a 3-day $12 package.” If you paid $50 to get all five tournaments, that breaks down to 15 days’ worth of roller derby consisting of 80 bouts at 62 cents a bout. In comparison, monthly UFC and WWE pay per views cost $55 for 2.5-3 hours’ worth of action. $55 for 3 hours vs. $50 for 15 DAYS, all of which is carried via a high quality multiple camera set up. On top of this, this is if you are one person. I generally don’t watch sports alone and when I do get things on pay per view, I have my friends give me a few bucks for it.
If your argument is “but it’s not free,” I can’t argue that point and I concede to you, yes it’s not free. But, I can say that you get what you pay for. Blaze Streaming Media knows how to shoot roller derby and they do it well with 3 or 4 high quality camera set-ups. WFTDA.TV also has a solid stable of volunteers working for them including a few who have a background in television and are genuine sports fans who understand what sports show is suppose to sound and look like. This brings me to the announcing which has grown leaps and bounds over the past two years as the WFTDA and AFTDA have partnered together to make sure that the people who are talking about the game can actually do their jobs. Gone are inexperienced skaters who have never called a game before talking about how drunk they will be at the after party and in their place are announcers who take great pride in their craft. You get what you pay for and everything that WFTDA.TV is doing is better and worth the money I am paying for it.
Why are people still talking about roller derby being on television in 2012? WFTDA, under its current model, is never ever going to be television in the way we know it today. As of September 2012, there are 160 full member leagues and 87 apprentice leagues internationally. What network(s) are going to be able to carry that many games with that many leagues? The closest model is Division 1A NCAA football, which has 119 teams and is carried by multiple cable channels on Saturdays, and still you can’t see every game. There is no way that 247 derby teams are getting that kind of coverage. The only way this would be feasible is if someone did something much smaller like an eight-team league and did weekly featured match ups.
What television, can’t do, the internet can. You don’t have to convince a television executive to air your content or worry about being renewed for next season. You can broadcast as many games as you want, whenever you want, as long as you have the money and bandwidth to do so. At some point, the internet and television are going to be the same thing, so the need to be on television really shouldn’t exist because it’s not needed. At the same time, what is expected out of an internet broadcast in 2012 is at a much higher standard than it was just five years ago. With this type of technology available, why would you not want to see roller derby at this level of quality and professionalism? And again, at this point WFTDA is not beholden to a network but to themselves, their sponsors, and their fans.
Finally, let’s talk about who is watching these games. Roller derby is going to continue to grow, but currently it’s a niche sport or hobby. I know a lot of people don’t want to hear that. I know for a lot of people this is their life, their identity, and they want the rest of the world to love it as much as they do, but you have to realize that they don’t and that’s fine. I work out with five guys who play rugby and it’s very important to them. And while I think its great that they go scrum it up every Saturday, ultimately I don’t care. The same way they don’t care that I create artwork, the same way people don’t care that you play roller derby or not.
The arguments that pay per view aren’t good for roller derby don’t have much in the way of teeth. Even when the tournament streams were free on DNN, the average person didn’t know about them, hell they didn’t even know what Derby News Network was. Let me ask you this: what is the most popular lacrosse website or rugby website? Do you know where you can watch field hockey games? Without a large marketing campaign that not only tells the world about roller derby and where to watch it, then it doesn’t matter if it’s free or not. You can’t watch what you don’t know exists.
WFTDA realizes this; they realize that roller derby exists in a microcosm with a small (albeit rabid) fan base. And they are banking on the fact that you will pay to see the Big 5 because you are emotionally invested. You want to see the teams you love win, you want to see the teams you hate lose, and all the action, excitement, and drama that comes with it. If you want roller derby to succeed, to be available to you watch, then you are going to have to pay for it, the same way you would pay for a ticket if you went to see a game in another city between two leagues. What is the average ticket for a live derby double header? $10, $15, or $20? For $12 per playoff, you are getting to see 10 of the Top 40 teams in the world play for 3 straight days.
Am I saying the DNN fund drive model is wrong? No, I am not. I personally found it annoying in the past when I would go to DNN and when I opened a new page, another “donate to DNN” link would pop up. I question where my money is going if I did decide to donate to them and what it’s being spent on, but I am not saying it’s wrong for others. If you want to have a fund drive, have a fund drive, if you want to donate money to DNN then do so. Obviously, there are multiple ways to fund these projects.
DNN is now streaming USARS and MRDA games this year. I can’t speak to whether their business model and sponsorship contracts have changed, but these streams are free to anyone who wants to tune in. The quality of the video production for these games continues to be a crapshoot and sometimes doesn’t include vital graphics (score, clock, etc.). Honestly, I am happy to see USARS and MRDA streaming their games online because competition breeds innovation, and I hope the same can be said for DNN and its video production and streams.
Like or not, The Big 5 for 2012 is pay per view only. Will it stay that way? Who knows? But what I do know is that WFTDA.TV is presenting the sport of roller derby, emphasis on the word “sport,” on the highest-quality level I have ever seen. The games are presented like a real sport with previews and interviews, the announcers are talking about strategy and informing the viewer, and the picture is so good that I can see the mustaches drawn on the Chicago Outfit’s players’ faces. It may not be free, but as I said before, “you get what you pay for,” and with the quality of content that WFTDA.TV is producing, I am more than willing to pay for it.
-About the author: Anthony “Tank” Mansfield is a retired roller derby announcer and a founding member of the Announcers of Flat Track Derby Association (AFTDA). He plans to spend the 2013 Cincinnati Rollergirls home season, tailgating, sitting in corner 1, and writing previews and recaps for all their games. When he isn’t watching roller derby on his laptop, he can found creating artwork (www.anthonytankmansfield.com and www.ghostempirecollective.com) , preparing for his upcoming wedding, and spending time with his fiancée, retired Cincinnati Rollergirl Miss Print, and their smelly Boston terrier, Doyle Von Frankenstein.