This time it is staying around


Paris Rollergirls’ Practice.  Photo by Carole Dodeman.

I think the photo says it all about the state of Roller Derby today.  You can tell people there are 1472  leagues, 1-100,000 women skating in 41 countries , men now skating, junior Roller Derby etc, but it really hits you when you see the Paris Rollergirls’ practicing at the Eiffel Tower.  This is the fastest growing sport in the World!

We could also see them in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Bogota,London, Sao Paulo, Toronto, Montreal, Antwerp, Berlin and every major US city.  The women just form their leagues, pay to play, buy their own skates and uniforms, and commit an enormous time to volunteer not just for their leagues, but to help out in their communities and donate to charities.

There was no master plan that made this happen;  there is no super league or highly paid commissioner (I volunteer for that job!); there is the WFTDA, the OSDA, the Australian rules committee, UK and others who set up standards for training, skating and scheduling.  For the first time this year when the WFTDA  eastern regional championships are held there will be an international team.

Seattle’s Rat City with record attendance of approx 6700 people. Photo by Axle Adams

The Rollercon in Las Vegas had over 2000 participants from all over the world who came to skate, learn from others, attend seminars and have a great party time with each other.  There are publications like Five on Five that sell out every issue, a new beautiful magazine from Australia (Hit and Miss), Derby News Network to live stream the games, Derby Radio, I can go on and on. And there is even Roller Derby the Musical, which will soon be playing a city near you.

How can this remain “underground” and is that even important.  My dream is to see these wonderful participants in the Olympics and as a professional sport also, fully legitimate as it is now.  How can you say it can’t happen when it has already.  Many thousands attend the games, with fans following them on the social networks and on the other media I mentioned.  Anything in Sports Illustrated or ESPN the magazine? Of course not.  But you don’t need that anymore with almost a millions “friends” on facebook and other networks.  The WFTDA has almost 23,000 “liking” their Facebook page.  And if you go to www.derbyroster.com you can check out each league in each city and go to their pages.

There has never been anything like it.  And what do you see on the sports channels?  Poker, lingerie football, paintball, and all kinds of junk.  And the Derby like crabgrass just keeps growing.  By next year, probably 10 more countries (Japan, Mexico and more).

And that is why I am saying it won’t go away.  The players are not demanding huge salaries – in fact not any, although it creates hardship on many.  And if attendance keeps growing (crowds of 4000 to 7000 are not unusual, at prices from $15 to $40), many of the leagues can become extremely solvent.

Where are the big moneyed people who bring in another unneeded pro football league, or basketball, or soccer?  This is the game of the present and future.  The structure is already there.

And why are the participants willing to work so hard to make it happen?  Here are some excerpts from my informal “research”:

Hayley – I was unfit, boring, now confident and have approval and friends.

Angela – It is an addiction….I have to skate.

Tami – An abused wife, Derby built the confidence and balls.  No one will every beat me up again.

Leann- It’s unexplainable – like being in a family of endorphin junkies.

Mark – An addiction from the start…once you skate Derby, you will always be with Derby.

Kristin – All I needed to hear was they were gonna let me skate and hit people – so I showed up.

Cori – Strangers recognizing me, people asking for autographs, I was even on a billboard and am kind of famous.

Lauren – It made it OK for me to enjoy feeling sexy and being a woman – with the empowerment of the Derby women it made me enjoy womanhood.

Jessy – As an 8-year old I wanted to be a Roller Derby Queen.  I found a league, I am not a queen or a star, but my 10-year old daughter wants to be a professional skater when she grows up.

Carrie- – Derby for me has offered me an extended family.

Corinna – There is a new found confidence in every aspect of my life – nothing like it!

Just like the spoiled athletes you read or hear about every day (Where is Lebron going and who gives a crap).

And there is this extraordinary relationship amongst all the skaters and leagues….one team can demolish another, and they go party afterwards….they really are an extended family, all around the world.

No network can cancel them, no league owner can shut them down;  what they have created is truly unprecedented, and I am so glad that I have lived long enough to see it happen.  Stay tuned, because no fat lady is going to sing.

31 comments on “This time it is staying around

  1. Love it Jerry….meant to give you feedback but been very busy. Sorry.
    But what you did get made for a good blog along with all your personal knowledge. I’ll share this.

  2. jerry i really feel an all mens league would give the sport more credibility. men tend to be faster, trickier, and can endure much more punishment, and men also seen to stay in shape better than the women. just recall the exciting mens lineups in the early 70’s roller derby teams. they were hard to stop.

    • there is room for all….there will be men’s Roller Derby (there is now) as well as women. The game was meant to be played by both sexes…..It just won’t be the same as before.

      • That’s one of the beautiful differences between derby and “mainstream sports”.
        When women compete in football, baseball, etc. it tends to be a sideshow, lark, joke, or what have you.
        In the modern derby renaissance, it tends to be the other way around.
        The all male derby IS a sideshow that is generally shown as a half-time act that no one around here really takes too seriously.
        If it takes men to give credibility to derby, then I hope derby remains a fringe, underground sport.

    • “men tend to be faster, trickier, and can endure much more punishment, and men also seen to stay in shape better than the women”
      Wow. Yeah, if that’s what we need for credibility, happy to stay on the sidelines. No men’s league in Scotland yet but we do have a UK ‘MERBY’ scene which is fun to watch, but I don’t think many of the men in it would make the claims you have. If you saw the dedication a typical derby girl shows to her sport (attending practices, working out at homeusing every spare minute they have to learn to skate better) I don’t think you could claim that ‘men seem to stay in shape better’.
      Sadly, these are the kinds of attitudes derby girls would have to face if the sport became mainstream. Is this what we want?

      • Not all men feel this way. We recognize that modern roller derby is about women’s empowerment, and we support that. I am a male roller derby player. I have learned more from and been hit harder by women. Roller derby isn’t about skimpy outfits or women beating each other up. It is about athleticism. These women are try athletes. It is sad that men who support women’s roller derby are now fighting to gain legitimacy in the sport. Sexism at it’s finest.

    • there have been women derby skaters since the 30’s. the teams in the 70’s & 80’s men & women alot of them still skating!

  3. Jerry, you got this right! People tell me all the time it is a passing fad, and I just smile and know in my heart we have something truly amazing. When those people can’t get into my sold out banked track game they will see it’s not just a passing fad… We all want this too bad to let it die! Thank you for continuing to support and promote us, none of us would be here without you and your family!

  4. There ARE all men’s leagues! On the East Coast there is the MFTDA which is often referred to as the men’s answer to WFTDA. They use the same rule set.

    OSDA leagues have mens teams and womens teams, and they often practice together and present co-ed Flat Track games.

    OSDAPRO is currently training skaters in what we call the Old School style, mens and womens teams on the Banked Track in a legit game format.

    There are many opportunities available for the men to skate now, if that’s what they decide they want to do.

    Granted, the women are well on their way to the Olympic competition they aspire to. But having birthed the resurgence of Roller Derby, none of them seem to resent the many offshoots their efforts and success have inspired.

    Thanks, Jerry- we all appreciate your continues encouragement and support!

  5. I discovered DIY roller derby in 2006 (LA Derby Dolls) and then discovered the sport in Arizona in early 2007. Ever since then, I have been a derby lover. When I first got involved, we had Arizona and Tucson Roller Derby which are the two WFTDA leagues, Arizona Derby Dames which played a game style that I later called “Arizona Rules” and the Arizona Renegade Rollergirls who were homeless at the time and was doing demos on tennis courts in local parks. I went to many derby bouts during that time and covered them in what I called the “Michi-chan Derby Love Tour”. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of this sport.

    Now in Arizona, we have 13 leagues in the state including women’s leagues, men’s leagues, one of the first junior (brat) leagues in the nation and a couple of more leagues that are playing an “Arizona Rules” style of game. Arizona Derby Dames went banked track and something tells me that a recent experience will hopefully result in the banked track bug biting in Tucson. (Cross your fingers derby lovers!)

    When I got into derby in 2007, it was all about drama and animosity. This is mainly because the additional leagues in Phoenix at the time were formed as a result of hostile splits. There was even some bad blood between the two WFTDA leagues in the state.

    Now in 2010, the two WFTDA leagues in Arizona have let the past be the past and are now working together again and with them and two independent leagues in the northern part of the state (who play by WFTDA rules) have formed the Arizona Roller Derby Conference. This derby season, all TRD, Northern Arizona Roller Derby and Dirty Verde games are all interleague games involving their home teams. Many AZRD games will be against the other league’s home teams. There will be a state conference championship at the end of the season. This is the first time this is being tried and I hope it works out. Since 2008, I have been ranking all Arizona home teams (including those who do not play WFTDA rules) using an “Arizona Power Rankings” system.

    In 2010, Desert Dolls Roller Derby, a new league that plays Arizona style has gone in just over year from forming to selling out their second demo bout!

    What has changed? The realization that running a league is SERIOUS business and that we need to chill on the drama. Leagues that are managed by people who know how to operate a business and not by people who use it as an ego boost will be the ones that are successful.

    From 2007-2010, I have had some great (and some not so great) experiences with this sport. Definitely some of the best years of my life. This sport is growing. DIY leagues are expanding to Japan and the UAE, organizations such as the OSDA and NRDA are recognizing the importance of a professional product, efforts to bring a version of the sport to the Olympic level and new leagues forming all the time. So, why doesn’t ESPN see this? Why doesn’t the local papers see this?

    This is a place where we need to improve awareness of TODAY’s game. I feel that the national organizations, especially WFTDA are doing the best they can but it’s also up to the local leagues. Leagues need to do a better job informing the public and the media on news from the league. This is more than just when the next bout is, which band is playing at the after party and which bar is having the karaoke night that is going to raise money for the travel team. They need to report on the skaters and teams. When a skater is switched to another team, updates on injuries, etc. They also need to report results including statistics that can be put into a box score format. As a member of the media, sometimes, getting just a final score for a league is like pulling teeth.

    As long as leagues do not take the statistical aspect of the sport seriously, the event will just be a show of hot tattooed women on skates crashing into each other and won’t be taken seriously by the sports media. Perhaps, it’s going to take professional roller derby franchises to do things that will wear off into the DIY leagues.

    I am looking forward to those pro leagues.

  6. When I was with my league, I offered to have a media relation expert consult with the league for free. She has been a top sports publicist for 25 years working on the professional women’s tennis tour, pro beach volleyball, and the LPGA and IHL ice hockey. I ran to be the media relations rep for my league too and they selected a nice girl w/ no experience instead. It’s these type of popularity decisions that ruined my leagues chances at having a free consultant who is extremely connecting in women’s sports — TELEVISED women’s sports. I was really turned off by that experience as was the publicist. I work in sports broadcasting today and no one from my league was kind enough to approach me and ask for help. It’s gross oversights like this that can make or break the sport’s image with professionals. I know that there are 599 other leagues out there that would not have passed up opportunity, but I must say that not one person has seriously approached me for assistance. Secondly, I was at Nationals and personally approached a member of DNN and was told, “I’m sorry, we are focusing on Nationals this week. I’ll listen to what you to say when I have time. Well sir you had your time and you just about blew it.

  7. BTW our publicist they selected turned out to be very good – and she is a great gal, but when you are offered assistance from those who really want to assist, it’s probably better to take advantage of the information and networking possibilities when professionals come knocking. I personally think the hosts of DNN should have their own show on ESPN or Turner’s new sports network. Sometimes networking can speed the process.

    • Not to speak out of turn, but like derby itself, DNN is fuelled almost exclusively by pure love of the sport. At an event like Nationals, they also happen to have literally thousands of derby fans who couldn’t make it to the event depending on their coverage to keep them up to date on the action. If they politely suggested that you contact them after the tournament was over, I would say that this is precicely BECAUSE they are highly competent, capable and passionate individuals who were there to do the job to which they have so long dedicated themselves. Primarily, DNN is an entity that has become invaluable to the derby community for this very dedication. It seems that’s the very dedication you’d desire in a group you might want to help expand their reach.

      • DNN is fantastic as are the people who run it.It would be great if they could hook into a cable network that would show the games.

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  9. I always dreamed of being a derby girl as a kid. Then a failed marraige, two kids, and a meth addiction later I FINALLY became a member of The Salt City Derby Girls. This is a FANTASTIC article, and true on EVERY account!!!

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  11. oh and one more point with respect to: “Where are the big moneyed people who bring in another unneeded pro football league, or basketball, or soccer? This is the game of the present and future. The structure is already there.”

    The structure isn’t there because (among other reasons) there is no labor contract! The “unneeded” pro football and “unneeded” pro basketball and “unneeded” pro soccer leagues have something in common: labor contracts.

    Every single top recognized skater in the WFTDA could quit tomorrow and all the sponsors and leagues would be left holding an empty bag. With no labor contract, none of us ought to be discussing ANY expectations on the WFTDA’s skaters or OSDA’s skaters or MADE’s skaters or WORD’s skaters. What kind of sponsor would enter into a long-term million+ dollar development contract with a derby league or derby association without a labor contract on its athletes, to guarantee their appearances? An insane one, that’s who.

    Cart before the horse. Again, there is SO much more work to be done. It can happen but only with sacrifice, vision, work, time, and more work.

    • you are right with the way Roller Derby is today, and how to make each league market better is what Val and I will be discussing at our seminar at Rollercon.

      Please realize that there are so many different leagues at there and some may want to go a different way….that is all I am saying.

  12. Oh I’m not disagreeing that it’s going to be great – and I’m not disagreeing that everyone needs to get their marketing ducks in a row – Thanks for getting everyone in the same room together to discuss the path forward and to get everyone to commit to it!

    Too many leagues simply expect marketing success just because they strap on some skates and because there’s 899 other leagues in the world. It’s work, let’s get our hands dirty!

    • And thanks for realizing our seminar is not about trying to form a professional league, but Val with her great experience and I with mine will try and give (and get) from those in the room what to do to increase awareness, ticket sales, fresh meat, whatever in their market. I will also be available for individual advice afterwards..

  13. and now there are 1100 leagues in 38 countries and yes, South Africa, Israel, and Eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia, Hungary) and more.

  14. Bring on the men, banked tracks and proper uniforms. Flat track, spectators able to get injured on the sidelines and the oddball outfits do nothing for me. I skate with a few of the derby girls here in Sydney and am a fan of the 60s and 70s Roller Game (can you tell?)

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