let’s rent a barn and put on a show

Those who want to are finding out it isn’t so easy.  There are a number of leagues who have outgrown their venues, but are finding it very difficult and expensive to take the next step…..I would like to help, and I just found out today that the Philly Roller Girls will be playing 4 times in a great venue in that town with an introduction from me to a great producing company.  Of course it wasn’t all me;  PRG are a very savvy group and they have the management and marketing and following to make this happen..

Many of the leagues are finding that they are either not well served in  their current skating venues or perhaps they can’t present the games as well as they would like.  Some (Seattle, Arizona, Denver, Chicago, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, etc) have been able to take the next step.

One amazing thing you will learn, is that when you go to a more desirable venue, you automatically upgrade your attraction and will usually attract a larger audience, particularly if you have a good solid promotional and marketing staff, a great following, and good games.

In 1965 we consistently (every week) skated at the Oakland Auditorium, a multi-purpose building from the 1920’s with some parking available and consistently drew 3000 to 4000 fans a week, with an occasionally sell out of 5400.  When the Oakland Coliseum opened in 1965 (can you imagine, a 54,000 seat stadium for the Raiders, a 14,000 seat arena for events such as ours, and an exhibit hall and over 2000 parking spots for $25,000,000!), Bill Cunningham the complex manager coaxed us to come in.  Bill, by the way, had been a popcorn vendor at the old Roller Derby in the armories in New Jersey.

Photo byDora Pete from stock.xchng.com

Well, it was considerably more money, but we had the opportunity to be the 2nd event ever in the Arena, and we drew an amazing 10,000 plus people, so we moved all of our games to the facility now known as Oracle Arena.

There are problems with larger venues: more ticket takers, more ushers, security etc, but if your bottom line is better, then why not.  Also, you have to be sure you can attract a decent sized crowd.   Some of the leagues currently play some of the matches in the smaller venues and then others in the larger.  It is very unsettling to have a crowd of 1500 which might have packed your smaller facility, swallowed in 15,000 seat arena.  Sometime you may just want a medium-sized building that will suit your purpose.  Probably a great example of this is the Everett Washington league skated their first match in the new arena and drew over 3500.  Everett is north of Seattle and not a huge market.

As the years went by, I obviously became better at negotiating with the venues or used a local promoter who could get a better deal and provide many of the services I wanted, including promotion.  And we had a number of arenas buy our tracks and store them between events, based upon the guaranteed number of dates we would give them annually.

There a number of ways to negotiate and I am happy to say I am working with two leagues now.  The larger your appearance in a market, the more desirable you become and the more that fans and families and newcomers will want to come and see you.  An obvious example is New York:  in the late 60’s we rented the new Madison Square Garden (our basic rental $25,000 plus $15,000 “reimbursables”), but all the media came out and suddenly we were a hot new attraction.  Financially, we came out better when we rented the Newcastle Indiana high school gym (at 10,000 seats, the largest high school gym in American), paid $1000 to the school and netted the total receipts.  But not better from a perception status.

There are other things you can do obviously and those who know your market can help you.  This is something the Bob Noxious and I will add to our seminar at Rollercon. And we would discuss when to move to a smaller venue.  Obviously, if you want to contact me, I am available on facebook and at jerry@brownpapertickets.com…….advice is free.

16 comments on “let’s rent a barn and put on a show

  1. You know, this is exactly a topic where I think you could really make a positive impact for a lot of teams. You’ve been through some of these ropes before and can help them understand what they need to do, rather than trying to go it on their own. I have seen this issue with all of the local leagues I know, it’s frustrating. Remember also that when you’re in that small venue and turning people away, some won’t come back and some will spread bad word of mouth about cramped facilities, crowded bathrooms, whatever.

  2. thanks, Bob. I have rented every major arena that was available when I was promoting, for Roller Derby and concerts, all the way up to White Sox Ball Park in Chicago. Obviously, every one is different and every venue is different in how they work.

  3. To be fair, Sioux Falls had bouts in a barn and did a pretty good job pulling it off. But they’ve also upgraded to the largest indoor venue in the market in the last year, which caps out at 7500 people. Also consider nearby Omaha which upgraded to the Mid-America Center with a similar capacity and sold it out last month.

    One thing you didn’t touch on was sacrifices made with production in large venues. Either because of sticker shock with staffing or just afraid to take the chance on not making a profit, larger venues tend to have less production. The North Star Roller Girls in Minneapolis used to light their entire venue with four high-power cans above the track. This year they sprung for more production and it shows:
    2011-02-26 pfg_5548

    • first bit of advice for a larger venue, always think not how much will we make if it sells out, but how much do we lose if no one shows up. Then assume you might get 1000 or so more than in your old venue, and do not put all seats on sale….create a “bowl” and figure staffing, etc for that area. You can always expand sales. You should never sacrifice the production…..I am working with two leagues and I can work with you on a fee basis and I am sure save you money if you are really interested. Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis sold out every time we played there.

  4. What about going the other way – our league did the first three bouts in the local Coliseum seating 6,000 – attendance went from 2,600, to maybe 1,000, to 200, and even the 2,600 looked empty. So now we’re trying a smaller venue – but that means we won’t have a lot of the services the Coliseum would provide, and I’m not sure the league is really ready to swing it alone.

    I wish there was a “How to Organize a Bout” book for new leagues – if they’d take advantage of expert advice.

  5. Jerry! We have a team here in Grand Junction called Grand Junction Roller Girls who are desperate to find a venue to hold bouts (they have enought players to split into two teams). Many potential venues here are worried about the ‘Derby’ crowd and what damage the skates could do to their flooring. Is there any chance you can offer some advice or help to the team?

    • The “Derby” crowd are a normal crowd, more likely to attend a basketball game, and not a wrestling or fight crowd…..what is their floor, and do you have any covering? Let me know, and if you like I would be glad to talk to them.

      • They are flat track. They have been practicing in a church and on an outdoor hockey rink and are trying to work with the college here in Grand Junction, CO.The college is mostly worried about their flooring but they also host wrestling and cage fights. Brett Maranville (on your friends list on FB) would LOVE to chat with you. She said they met you at nationals. You can contact her on FB or Brett.maranville@me.com or GJRGinfo@gmail.com. Thank you SO MUCH! They even had a bout in an airplane hangar but the poor guy had to foreclose the space, so now their on the hunt again.

      • Jerry-I disagree with you as the crowd is concerned. The “Derby” crowd usually attends the latest RS fad band.

        Leesa-check out how much Sport/Skate Court would cost. GGRD uses Skate Court for their bouts.

  6. Yes, the biggest argument I have found against having flat track derby in a college or other gym is potential damage to the wood floors. So few places are willing to take the minimal risk that they will shut you down without even a consideration. Not sure how to negotiate with them? It’s difficult for grass roots derby to be able to afford a $12k-20k sport court to transport not to mention the cost of storing it too.

  7. On the floor issue tell them we have different wheels for different floor types so that they don’t damage floors, explain the durometers and make of the wheels and show them if you have too we did. It makes a world of difference.

  8. Reblogged this on RollerDerbyJesus.com and commented:

    over two years ago but still pertinent…….contact me if it makes sense for you……everything that Brown Paper Tickets can do is free, and you get The Commissioner.

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