Roller Derby is a game on skates

This week I am scheduled for an interview on a CBS TV network program called “Through the Decades”.  It will be part of the whole program which will be seen on CBS stations throughout the country around the 13th of August, the date of the very first Roller Derby in Chicago in 1935.

History has been a problematic topic in current roller derby, all amateur composed of 2000 women and men and junior leagues throughout the world.  Some (and boy have I run into them!) believe derby is modern, created by women around a table in Texas in about 2002; Others glory in the history, even though in most cases it is a far different game.

Now the reason this TV program came about is because a wonderful group in the Chicago area got most of the leagues together last year for World Roller Derby Week, a celebration based on the history of the game in Chicago; there was a public display and skating at the Coliseum Park, what is remaining of the original arena, and a contest skated with juniors and then adults at a skating rink.  And Barb Morgen of Brown Paper Tickets PR working with Jane and Cheryl and the others got almost Super Bowl coverage in Chicago and throughout the US on TV, Radio and on line media, and the result was a blood drive with the Red Cross that set a record of our 30 drives with Roller Derby leagues of almost 200 lives saved.

And that is why Decades is interested this year.  The history is an asset.

So yes Virginia, there was a Roller Derby in 1935 and up until 1973 and it was skated on skates, originally with maple wheels on a banked track.

As the game evolved Leo and Oscar Seltzer wanted to make certain the players had skates designed for the games; they founded the Roller Derby Skate Company and even after I took over the stewardship of the enterprise in 1959, that is all we used.  Then Oscar developed a urethane wheel and that changed the game.  The skates were costly; if the skaters had to replace a pair and break in a new one (they hated that worse than anything), we had to pay $27 for a new pair.

After we shut down Roller Derby in 1973. the skate company continued to grow; it was now run by Oscar’s son, Ed Seltzer, who was a physicist graduate of Cal Tech.  They developed the first outdoor shoe skate for kids (the Street King; I actually sold the first pairs to a retailer in Southern California) and produced skate boards, hockey and in line skates, ice skates and more, and are in retailers throughout the world under various brand names.

But what did Ed miss?  The re-emergence of Roller Derby.  I called him immediately after the first Rollercon, but they were doing so well and others in the company saw no need to enter the field, that they missed out for the first years.

But then they found Tony Muse, who some (me) consider the best speed and derby skater in the world.  Now what many don’t know is that the Roller Derby Skate Company has patents and they are the only one that can have Roller Derby Skates as the title; also, they have the exclusive rights for the name on merchandise but Ed chose never to enforce that (good move!).

So some of the upcoming women’s World Cup leagues will be using the Roller Derby Elites, and about half of the USA Men’s Cup team will be wearing them….I have examined the skates, and against the competition, they are a great value.  And I have nothing to do with or no interest in the company…..

So I guess this is an endorsement of my friend Tony and his co workers; and I love to see Roller Derby Skates as a part of the sport as a further tribute to Leo and Oscar.

And if the history bothers you, what a shame.


How to present yourself

Image by Billy Alexander from

After Rollercon several new sites appeared on Facebook.  One is Roller Derby PR which is a needed meeting place of representatives of leagues who are trying to present their organizations to media, fans, potential sponsors, and the communities as a whole.

You have quite a story to tell and the willingness of the PR and other directors to help the new, the confused or whomever is extremely impressive.  But how to do it on the best basis appears to be quite an issue.

I have to admit, the name Roller Derby is a blessing and a curse.  Modern Roller Derby, although basically the same game from which the old one is derived, is a much different animal.  And as there are more and more stories, TV and web features, there appears to be a couple of patterns in which the current leagues are shown.

There are two recent videos from BBC and ITV television in Britain.  To show the lack of awareness, BBC either ignored or didn’t know that there are some 70 leagues in the UK, and their reporter in South Florida did a pleasant feature on a great league in the Sunshine state.  And the opening footage was of 50’s Roller Derby and then had two girls fighting.  And the focus was how Roller Derby is back in the US (no mention of the 1015 leagues at this moment worldwide).  The ITV was a longer piece and featured a “presenter” as they are called on that side of the pond visiting an English league and “skating’ with them (a man, by the way).  Again, very pleasant.

So it seems there are two variances of when a league is able to get TV coverage (which everyone should strive for):  Rock ’em sock ’em Roller Derby is back, or a housewife, school teacher, psychologist has a full-time life and also skates in this current women’s hobby thing, Roller Derby.

Nothing wrong with that, but as one comment mentioned, why do all these cute pieces have to be the same?

What is TV looking for?  fillers, personality pieces, oddball features, etc.  How can you change that or do you even want to?

One of the benefits of having the 400 plus joining Roller Derby PR is creating a unified POV that can change as is required.  What if instead of sending out the usual press release or newsletter or posting on your site that gives the next game, the score of the last game, who scored, etc, you create a semi-standard paragraph that most can use.  For example, modern Roller Derby was started in 2002, and has spread from a few leagues in a few states to well over 1000 today in 36 countries encompassing some 40,000 participants.

All leagues are amateur, no skaters are paid, they volunteer for community activities, etc, etc,…….And build some stars, with photos and bios so people will be intrigues to see Battling Betty Page, the skating Brain surgeon and mother of three, etc.  And if you are a WFTDA league or some other that has a championship tourney, stress how the upcoming match may determine your qualification to get into the regional tourney and maybe make it to the finals in Denver or whatever……many of your fans have no idea what meaning your games have.

Stress the seriousness of the sport, the national championship, the different types of leagues, the upcoming World Cup, teams and players involved (big story!) and of course your league is a part of this worldwide association…..And check out Derby over 40 on Facebook:  almost 500 have signed on and many are over 50 who are skating…..that is a story in itself, and you will find many others within your league.

Take it outside your local story, although that is obviously a big part of it.  Make certain you distribute to all media to expand your base; sometimes it may seem all you get is friends and families to your games.  And you want to send on a consistent basis, not just when there are games.

It seems like too many stories because someone suddenly discovers “Roller Derby is Back”.  It is really up to you to let them know this is a serious sport far more over ground than even any of you realize, and you want to be treated with respect and admiration.  Not all will want to get away from the pat on the head features as that is at least some coverage, but everyone within your organization must be prepped on what to say and feature if they are interviewed;  and that is why I suggest you create your own version of what I state above so it becomes your continuing mantra.

How are they finding you?

I was on a very nice phone conversation this morning with a woman who is moving to Hawaii next month to be with her daughter and her partner as they are expecting their first child, and the woman cannot take her cat with her.  Well after I lost Larry and my two cats (Fanny and Lily) within a matter of months last year, I might be ready for a cat.

She lives in Richmond near Craneway Pavilion, and she mentioned that a friend had been bugging her to see Roller Derby there ,and she and 7 or 8 friends were going to put on heavy duty makeup, tight tee shirts and go this Saturday.  Lo and and behold, I will be there, sans makeup and tight tee shirt, so I will stop and see the cat on the way.

This made me think again about how do you get new people to attend your games, if that is what you want.  Our whole world seems rather incestuous, we reach people through websites, facebook, etc.  Now that is great and saves heavy advertising dollars, but I am always amazed at how few people really know what is going on with Roller Derby.

Since the game is not professional, there is usually little promotion that is standard practice for other events:  buying TV spots, radio, billboards, continuous press features on media about the individual players, etc.  Of course there are notable exceptions:  in Denver where the two leagues are tied in with two different promoting companies; in Seattle where a very professional marketing campaign and a very professional presentation of the events creates the ingredients necessary to draw excellent attendance.  And we all know that when you have a very large and enthusiastic crowd, the game is often better and everyone goes home happy (unless of course, there is a huge blowout with the home team on the wrong side).

Image by Keith Syvinski from

I am glad to see that steps are being taken to make Roller Derby more fan friendly; taking the people out of the infield is a good first step.  And some organizations are skating games that have fewer restrictions, but that alone won’t generate increases in attendance.  A good product, a focused and pleasing arena venue, and a good marketing campaign are needed.

Most of the league organizations were created for rules and other procedures and not to create a promotional organization.  The professional publications that are out now help, and certainly DNN is a wonderful tool to expose the game.  I have a feeling most of these media do not reach out of our community, and that needs to happen.

Of course promotion and marketing is what I have done all my life:  with Roller Derby, Ticketmaster, concert and other promotions.  Who out there is willing to work with me on creating an organization that would be available to all leagues to help teach promotion, promote for them, bring them to promoters and more?  And profits made would go back to the leagues themselves.

We have 940 leagues, 40,000 participants worldwide and claiming it is an underground sport is ridiculous.  Some will want to grow and get more revenue to help their members and others won’t.

Just heed the clarion call from someone who knows how to do it and let’s start now!  Contact me here, on facebook, or email me at  You have nothing to lose except empty seats.

how many different directions

There has been a lot of discussion about the future of Roller Derby.

Image created by Sigurd Decroos from

I think it is time for everyone to realize it is not a monolith and therefore it will not follow one course.  It seems like the only thing many of the different organizations have in common is the name of the game.  Many of the players see it as their possession, their thing, unifying their leagues and their sisters in the fact the revival occurred almost spontaneously and, no matter how big it becomes or how many people know about it, just leave them alone.  I certainly respect them.

And I don’t even think I could count how many different styles, leagues and games there are.  Even though the WFTDA is the central body for a large number of leagues, particularly flat track, there are so many different rules and styles out there.

Some leagues have proven they could become successful with the ability to operate very professionally, even though they are still amateur leagues.  That would include Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver (2 leagues), Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia and about a dozen others.  (I am sorry if I didn’t include you…..I am sure you will let me know).  And I am  talking about your present rules with a legitimate game.

As a long-time promoter (in the good sense; the most recent events I have promoted have all been benefits for non profits and charities), I know that a collection of the better leagues could set up a circuit to play in major arenas across the country (I am not even including Europe, Australia, Canada, Asia, etc) to perhaps finally contributing to the cost of the individual players.  This would be a different path and schedule than is currently being utilized.

This level of the game could become a very profitable enterprise for all concerned.  There are definitely business applications that would work here, including promotion packages, larger sponsorships and access to larger arenas on a consistent basis.  I am going to see the B.A.D birls All Stars play the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls at Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, a very comfortable building with no fixed seating.  Here in the Bay Area I would love to see this game at Oracle Arena in Oakland.  And we have 17,000 seat arenas in Sacramento and San Jose, and a great 6000 seat venue in Civic Center in San Francisco.

Obviously, this kind of schedule could be implemented around all major metropolitan areas with teams of equal skills competing.  And it could be done soon before the opportunistic promoters move in on the game.

This plan would raise the public image and help all leagues.  There are a number of people all ready in place in the various leagues who could make this occur.  It all depends on if you really want it to happen.

On the highest level, this game is a business whether you approve or not, and it should be operated in a business-like manner with as much expertise as possible.