“Leo must be jamming!”

That is what Frank Deford’s response was when he heard that the Olympics would be considering Roller Derby as an additional sport for the 2020 Olympics.  I will write on that topic in a future posting.

What a week for Roller Derby!  I know there is something every week.  1200 leagues worldwide, but it is impossible for me to keep up with everything everywhere, although I am certain some of you think I do.

Photo by bigevil600 from stock.xchng.com.

But the other thing that occurred is that “Derby Baby” – the film that we have all been waiting for the past year and a half is finally emerging!

The Sonoma festival (www.sonomafilmfest.org) will have one showing of “Derby Baby” at 3 PM,  Saturday, April 14th.  And fully tying it in with Roller Derby, there will be a Roller Derby demo and and flash mob  in front of the Sebastiani Theater at 2 PM, with Derby girls from the various leagues nearby (Resurrection, Sonoma County,  BAD girls, Sacramento, etc) on hand in their team uniforms and skates participating.

Then they will join the festival goers in seeing the film.  Tickets are still available at http://www.sonomafilmfest.org.  And superstars Suzy Hotrod and Val Capone (both who appear in the film along with The Commissioner) will also be on hand.

OK, I have a confession;  I saw “Derby Baby” this past week – well a rough cut, not color or sound-balanced or fully edited.  Obviously I can’t review it for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is The Commissioner is in it, but I will tell you a few things.

This movie is a labor of love.  Robin and Dave and Ron and all the others at Robin Bond Media have put their heart, soul, and money into it, and the fact that they are great filmmakers certainly makes a difference.  Right up until and through the World Cup, they have gone to regionals, nationals, Rollercon, skating rinks in Ireland and you name it to really get the essence of the sport that is really a culture.

There is not an exploitive minute in the film, and we get to hear the athletes and participants tell who they are, why they are doing what they do – often at great personal sacrifice – and what the game means to them.  You see the chills, spills, and thrills, of course, but this is the kind of feature you will want to take your friends, fellow workers, whomever with you to see and you can say “Now do you understand, just a little?”  Just hear Suzy Hotrod, Val Capone and the others put these things in words.

Derby Baby

Now let’s talk about film festivals, and why you should come to Sonoma, besides the fact that I live here.

Even if  you are not someone who would travel to Sundance or Cannes,  Sonoma is a wonderful fun casual affair:  All screens are within walking distance of the Plaza, the center of this town where California declared its independence from Mexico in 1846.

There are wonderful restaurants (all prices, all casual), history around you, and of course the famous wineries.  And Director Kevin McNeely has many features, documentaries, short films, workshops between April 11th and 15th in 8 venues running continuously every day.  Individual tickets for “Derby Baby” are on sale now at http://www.sonomafilmfest.org.  Sonoma is just an hour northeast of San Francisco.

This has become one of the west’s favorite weekends.  Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis, John Lasseter and others have been honored, and this year John Waters will be on hand talking and showing his works.

But most importantly, Sonoma is my home.  Come and meet Robin, Dave and Ron and hear them talk about their Roller Derby experiences, and the Commissioner will hold court, possibly even an open house for my Derby denizens.

And those of you elsewhere, please see how we all can make this film a success around the US and the world…You will be called upon!  Oh by the way, not only did my father invent the game, and I ran it later, but I live in Sonoma and Co-founded the festival in 1997……small world.

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now about the so-called World Cup

I don’t like it.

First of all, as a promoter/presenter I always check out the environment. Could there be an uglier, ill-lighted, no seat hall than Bunker?

And the pillars in the infield certainly don’t add to the ambiance.

You knew there would be a lot of one-sided games, but it really was ridiculous. I know, it is exciting to see nations getting their best players on a national team and coming to compete.

And you have to admire Toronto Roller Derby and Blood and Thunder magazine for pulling it off, but I have a few suggestions.

First of all, all teams should have been seeded. Let the 7 lower seeds compete in one bracket, the 6 higher seeds in another; then the winner of the lower bracket move into the semifinals with the three survivors from the higher seeds.

Since this is not a WFTDA tournament, why not modify the game slightly to help avoid all the 377 to 8 scores: shorten jam times, limit the amount in the penalty box at one time, whatever.

I really think the venue bothers me the most. If you cannot hold a World Cup in a World Class venue, don’t hold it at all. I just think of it in the 1st Bank Center, Key Arena, UIC Pavilion, etc etc. If it is in Toronto again hold it in the major hockey arena; if you can’t afford it, don’t do it.

I think you all know how I feel about the game, and this to me is such a step backwards, even though the players are obviously thrilled; the USA team is amazing.

Don’t do this again in a dump.

I think there is a good reason….

It seems that the rapid worldwide growth of Roller Derby has really slowed down…….probably not more than 10 new leagues in November.

That may be a good thing.

Everyone has been excited about the rapid growth, the new skaters and all of the benefits.  But I think we are all aware that there is a lot of work to do on the underpinnings of the game…..Obviously, I am speaking generally, because no one voice can address 1100 plus leagues.

Image from stockxchng.com by rore_d.

The following is what I (the uber fan) see as what is needed for cleaning up:

1.  WFTDA had done a good job of setting up rules and conditions for safety, but not everyone skates WFTDA.  It has become obvious that there are a number of skaters who would prefer to skate OSDA, MADE, Renegades and other forms of the game.  I was amazed to find out that MADE is now in 40 leagues and is not only skating their version of the original rules, but also has co-ed skating (optional).  This is a good time for all to look at their game and see what can be done to make it easier on the officials and skaters, and certainly more easily watched by the spectators.

Spectator growth is essential to the prosperity of all leagues; not only ticket sales, but merchandise, concessions, sponsorships (the more fans and awareness of the league, the more dollars) etc.

2.  All leagues are anxious to get teams going as fast as possible.  This is a very dangerous practice.  If you have people skating who are not proficient, they not only will get hurt but will also hurt others.  And it is important to figure how to get teams to play others of equal ability.  There must be a way to take or change rankings so that not every match becomes necessary to beat up on a less powerful team.  As I have stated before, it would be a good thing if leagues not affiliated with each other were allowed to play.  Right now each game has no standing in importance to the fan (LA versus San Francisco, Denver vs Denver) and normal rivalries with more than one game against each other would be great.  Skaters who are paying to skate would be able to get more games for their money.

3.  National PR sucks.  That is so clearly shown when no major US media or newspaper to date has focused on the World Cup.  I would like to see each month some topic that is included in every league’s press release that doesn’t pertain to who scored how many points in the game, etc.  For example, The World Cup, Derby for Change (against domestic violence), Suzy Hotrod in ESPN magazine.  You can make your market and league bigger by bringing in the outside world.

4.  Presentation.  I have covered this before.  It is so important that your rink, Arena, or Hall be an exciting place when the fans arrive.  Banners, music, people greeting them……a specified autograph time…..and most important, give your track area a feeling of an arena….extra light, good sound, (can you dim the other lights when game starts?), etc.  And the announcers must make the fans feel they are part of it, explain the game, tout the great plays and skaters.

5.  oh yes, get rid of slow play and no play, minor penalties, have jammers on every jam, shorten jams, eliminate power jams.

I am sure you agree with all of the above.

Even if you don’t, please concentrate on getting your league’s act together….Let growth be slower and much more consistent.

Derby Love……..The Commissioner.

It boggles the mind

I am writing this on July 22, 2011.  In one week Val Capone and I will be giving a seminar at Rollercon in Las Vegas on how to promote your league, a bit of history and a lot of advice…..between us we have almost 70 years of Roller Derby experience.

But at this moment my head is spinning.  Checking with www.derbyroster.com  which keeps track of all the registered leagues in the world is like watching the moving numbers of our national debt on that board in NYC, well maybe not quite.  But yesterday there were 951 leagues, today there are 952….By the way, if you haven’t done so, go to the aforementioned site and go through a bunch of cities and countries and check out the teams’ sites.  The posters, the merch, the designs are amazing, reflecting the interpretation of this true American game throughout the globe.

And I am so excited about this year’s Rollercon; I know so many more of you through Facebook, my blog and our interchanges;  and most importantly, Val and I are tying the Derby knot.  I really want to meet and talk to as many of you that want to talk to me.  Also, I have great information on a new and easy way to sell tickets for your games; Judi Flowers will be on hand to put her design talents to good use for Roller Derby.   She has already been featured on Oprah, on Good Morning America, Vogue, Sex and the City, Will and Grace with her unique fashion statement, and she is dying to get your input.

And now, my www.rollerderbycommish.com website is available.  We are starting out with just a book, a video, and before and after skating footwear, but many more items will be available soon.  (There, that’s my commercial).  Be sure and scroll down on the home page to hear what Brandy Rettig has to say (unsolicited), and don’t tell me she is two-faced.

My one overriding desire is to find a way to not make Roller Derby such an expensive endeavor for the participants.  They have to pay dues, buy all their own equipment, contribute to the community, and road trips are not easy and much is out of pocket.  I know that in many leagues skaters can not get paid, but if there could be a way to alleviate these additional hardships, it would be meaningful.  And since there are promoters who are making money from these games, there must be some way of creating an equitable payment for reducing dues or whatever.

Collage elements from stock.xchng.com work by Billy Alexander and Steven Goodwin.

And now the World Cup!

It’s in Toronto December 1-4, with many additional skill and other events that weekend.  Bring your longjohns and whatever else.  There are 13 countries participating:  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden and of course, Team USA.  And two great coaches, Buster Cheatin and Bonnie D. Stroir, will put together which should be the most powerful squad.

As I write this, the final tryout for Team USA is in Florida.  A certain amount of seeded and other players have already qualified, but so many are fighting for the just 20 positions on this prestigious team.  And of course there is the cost and financial sacrifices that are made to do this, but what could be better than this once in a lifetime experience.

Now remember, we had less than 150 total participants in the Roller Derby of our day, and that was their only job in most cases.  And a skater joining us from Canada was a big deal.  Please just stop a minute and think about this thing from inner space that has 952 leagues worldwide in 35 countries with some 40,000 participants and hundreds of thousands watching them play monthly and THAT is a BFD!

Pat yourself on the back if you are any part of today’s Derby, and let everyone in your community know the above information and they are lucky to have you doing what you are doing.

And just peruse this:  what would Leo think if he were alive?