The best era for Old School Derby and how I learned to promote the hard way.


In 1959 at the age of 56 Leo Seltzer decided to shut down Roller Derby.

It was getting to be too much aggravation, the managers were inept (skaters were great), and he was involved in a land project (scheme) in Lancaster California, about 70 miles north of LA.

The common story is that he turned Roller Derby over to his 26-year old son.  That is not true.  I approached him and said I thought I could make a go of it.  He said fine, but he couldn’t help.

So with an initial funding of $500 and the use of the tracks, uniforms, and the cooperation of skaters who wouldn’t be paid until we started making money, I revived the game in Northern California.  At that time an independent television station had come on the air and needed programming….a marriage made in heaven.  We were able to promote our games (a series of one-nighters in our area) with the banked track being moved to a different nearby city each day (a maximum of 5 games per week) and a new group of men and women superstar skaters.

Videotape for television was developed that year and we started taping our games. We sold our program to over 110 stations throughout the US and Canada and our games were seen on a delayed basis each week by over 15,000,000 viewers.  We skated our home season in our area during the spring and summer and then toured the country in the winter from January to the start of April with remarkable results.  We had sellouts in virtually every major arena in North America, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Montreal,etc.  Our attendance ranged from 12,000 to 20,000 per game.  We then scheduled some games in stadiums with over 35,000 in attendance in Oakland, California, and the largest crowd ever in excess of 50,000 in a baseball park in Chicago.

see story on biggest crowd:     http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/photo/2008-08/41462952.jpg

The pack was required to keep moving in a counter-clockwise motion; to stop or block backwards warranted a penalty.  So when the jammers caught the pack, the blockers were in motion.  Jam time was cut to 1 minute as the speedier skaters who were jammers caught the pack more quickly.  Obviously, this kept the scores low, and with often one or two opposing jammers out on a play, a 5-point jam was very difficult, and more than that really impossible.  Average game scores were in the 20 to 30 point range, with a blowout maybe hitting 45 points.

I knew nothing prior about marketing or ticket sales, and I had to learn fast.  There were no computer services when we started, so it was all “hard tickets” which had to be distributed to agencies or we took phone orders and filled them out by hand.  Since credit card sales weren’t known, all of our tickets were will call the nights of the games.  About 30% were never picked up.

Ticketron came into being in the early 60s and we were one of the first national clients, and it did make a difference, especially with our promotion and telecasts telling people to go to a store near them and get tickets….You will find that the impulse to attend a game on behalf of the fans diminishes the harder it is to get access to tickets.

After we shut down Roller Derby in 1973 (if you have the time, read my blog at http://www.rollerderbyjesus.com), my partner and I started BASS tickets in  Northern California and eventually franchised to Canada and Australia.  We operated from a producer’s point of view rather than a computer ticket company.  We created reports that let the teams and producers know who was buying tickets in which areas and other marketing information.

Then I joined Ticketmaster as executive vice-president, sales and marketing, and was able to create a sales and marketing team across the US, Canada and the UK.  Our principle was to help the producers market their event, giving advice and help on increasing ticket sales.  Unfortunately, the policy of the company was to buy clients, so huge payments were made to major arenas, promoters, and sports teams and theaters, and the only way to make that policy work was to increase service fees, which is why they are so high in the US and elsewhere.

In one of the Ticketmaster’s current venues where a local Roller Derby team plays, the service fee is equal to 125% of the ticket price; in other venues it ranges from 50% up.

I left  Ticketmaster in 1993 and recently joined Brown Paper Tickets because I feel they are what a ticket company should be:  extremely low service fee, no charge to the producer, fair trade and not just for profit, and they help all suppliers of entertainment and sports whether they are clients or not….Too good to be true!  And their total of Roller Derby leagues worldwide is fair greater than the total of all other ticket distributors. (about 300 leagues!)  Often leagues don’t succeed because they are not maximizing revenue at their games. Check out http://www.brownpapertickets.com to change all of that.

And believe it or not, selling tickets is a form of marketing…..you want to sell your tickets on a site with other Roller Derby so fans know where to look and where the sport is appreciated and supported…and we are proud the Gotham Roller Girls, Oly Rollers Girls, and London Roller girls are among our friends who use us……and remember, you have the Commissioner on your side!

3 comments on “The best era for Old School Derby and how I learned to promote the hard way.

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