How to make a bout, a guide

“Dash, you haven’t updated your blog in days, wtf.”

You ever think it’s because I was working on something EPIC?

Coming to this blog, soon, will be a new page about how to make a bout. It’s a guide for small leagues around the nation who aren’t sure how to get rolling. There are lots of these little leagues popping up and I know I would have appreciated the help as the bout production manager of my last league, which was about a year old and totally bout-making inexperienced.

So. Here. I present you with a draft version of “How to Make a Bout” — a new page on the Dashboard, which will likely be one of many new pages on derby topics. Because this is a draft, I’m asking for feedback. In the comments below, please add your own tips, comments, advice, etc. I wrote this from a Bout Production Committee standpoint, not a league-wide — but that might come in the future, as I gain experience and feedback. So here it is, peeps. Feedback appreciated.

— Dash

Preface: When I stepped up as bout production manager for my [then-]small, [then-]new league in Maine I couldn’t find a comprehensive “how to make a bout” guide. Then I made four bouts anyway, with the help of two other committee members. So now, a veteran of small-town, new-to-this bout production, I wanted to give back. Here is what I learned. Here is how I did it. This worked for my league (we brought in about 2,000 people per bout for four home bouts — in a town of 3,000 people — and kept ticket prices at $5 a person and free for kids.). It might not work for yours. Take what works and ditch what doesn’t. But at least now there is something on the Internet to help.

The BP rule: My bout production committee (hereafter: BP … aka best people) had only one rule: Don’t freak out. To be on BP you had to adhere to our sole rule: Don’t freak out. Ever.

So, new BP person, don’t freak out.

What helped me not freak out is this: When it comes down to it — when it really really comes down to it all you need is rope and tape. Everything else is glitter. (Read that again if you have trouble adhering to the rule of BP.)

The committee: On my BP we had me, a co-chair (heavy responsibility) and two droogs. Droogs are task-doers. They would each take one smaller task a week up to bout week (like researching the cheapest, best tapes. Or making rinkside seating signs and having them printed. Or buying dry erase markers for the NSO white boards.). On bout day they were go-to people. I would say this was enough for our small league, but the more droogs the better. Pick one person on the committee who will communicate weekly with the other committee heads and get brief reports. We met once a week, starting six weeks before a bout. The BP chair always bought a pitcher of beer. It ensured attendance.
One thing that made tasks easier for BP was to have two large bins in the league lockerroom where people could put their BP items (like those signs, sponsorship committee’s bout-day banners, credit card-takers, tape, rope, etc.). This allows you to take inventory whenever you want and for others to be able to complete tasks without having to find a certain skater.

BP responsibilities: Find out what your league expects from BP. In my league, BP was very dependent on other committees (yours likely will be too), so make sure your league is all on the same page about who-does-what. For instance, does BP make and print the bout flyers? The programs? The posters? Or is that the public relations committee? Does BP get white boards and markers for NSOs and whistles for refs, or does training committee? Know this stuff.

Delegation: BP’s primary responsibility (according to me … talk to your league) is delegation. Your league is full of busy people. If you plan to assign these busy people tasks, they will need ample notice of their responsibilities. So your first duty is to make a bout master list. I hope you like color-coding. To make a bout master list, title it with the bout date. Then make headers for the due dates. I started with 6 weeks out, then 5, 4, 3, 2, week before, three days before, day before, day of deadlines. (Bored yet?) OK, then fill in things you need done. Once you’ve done that, add each committee name to the top of the document and pick a color for it. Put it in that color and then put all the tasks in the correct colors. Here is an example of a bout master list I made.  (<That is probably the most valuable piece of information on this page.) Once you have the master list and share it with everyone on the league, make sure you have someone on your committee who is dedicated to asking the committee heads where they’re at and what they have accomplished each week. This person should also send reminders of what deadlines are upcoming to each committee. One email a week would do it, “Hey training, How are you? Just wondering if you finished task A, B, C. I also wanted to remind you tasks D, E and F are coming up. Thank you!” or the like.

An example of a color-coded Bout Master List. (See link for full details)

That’s most of what BP is: organizing and delegating. Until the day of. More on that later.

Tape/rope: My league had to work in certain perimeters and certain budgets. We bought one rope and it lasted all season and I would bet it would last at least four more seasons, maybe longer. It was 1/4-inch yellow polypro rope and it was $20 for 400ft. You will need about 400 feet of rope that’s between 1/2 and 2 inches, as outlined by WFTDA. Tape was more difficult because our venue put some restrictions on us. We settled on buying blue, 2-inch-wide painters tape. Your tape will need to be 1-3-inches wide and a color that contrasts your floor. The cheapest place I found this was at Home Depot, sold in 6-packs. Painters tape comes in 60-yard rolls. Unlike the 400 feet of rope, you need at least double that (for laying below and above the rope) plus even more for fix-ups, so the 1,080-feet of tape from the 6-pack should be enough, but frankly, you can never have enough tape. Just save your receipts so you can return it — or use it for your next bout. Painter’s tape is NOT my first choice of tape. It rips. One time we did not properly stomp it down and in warm-ups on bout day we ripped up half the track by accident.
On one occasion, we held a double-header and knew painters tape would not cut it, and we got permission to use the coveted gaffers. Gaffers tape is the best. It’s cloth-like. It holds up a billion times better than painters, but doesn’t have the guckiness of ducttape. I bought mine in red from the Good Buy Guys (they don’t pay me to say that) because they were the cheapest. I got my tape a couple days later. I wanted to save my league money, so we taped down the first round (under the rope) with painter’s tape, then we put the rope down and then topped it with the more expensive gaffers tape.  If you get 2-inch gaffers, you will need three rolls (if they’re 55-yards), assuming you do the painters>rope>gaffers setup. It will set you back about $45 plus shipping and plus about three rolls of painters tape. Tape is expensive. It was my biggest expense for BP by far.
Lastly, you need some other-color tape (not the same color as your track boundary) for the jammer line, the pivot line and the 10-foot lines. You also want more tape for the 10-foot boundary required by WFTDA.

Shopping list: 400 feet rope (1/2 inch), 800+ feet of 1-3-inch-wide tape for track boundary, other-color tape for jammer/pivot/10-foot lines, other tape for 10-foot boundary.

Enough about tape? Yeah, you’ll be a tape ninja when you’re done. But remember what I said? All you really need is rope and tape. One last item though, I told my league’s sponsorship committee that tape was costing us about $100 and they found a local tree-trunk-grinding service to sponsor it, in full! They got a couple shout outs from the announcer at the bout.

Track set up: I’m not going to write about track layout. WFTDA gives comprehensive instructions and a hundred other blogs have already written about this. Just Google it. I don’t have any track layout magic for you. Just have lots of chalk and at least a 100-foot-measuring tape.
One thing to consider as a BP member though, is the set up of the track in relation to your venue. What setup will allow the most people to get a great view? What setup will be safest for referees? What will be easiest for the skaters? Where will “vendor village” be and how will people travel to the “village” and to their seat? Should you make foot traffic move around vendor village, the track, in front of other audience members? How does it relate to lighting? To the announcer?
People like sitting right behind skaters, if safe and if possible. Skaters like sitting right in front of the pivot and jammer lines (and WFTDA recommends you put team benches close to those lines) and to the penalty box. Skaters like to see the penalty board. Refs like 10-foot boundaries (usually) even when a 5-foot boundary would do, by WFTDA rules. Refs like to see NSOs and NSOs like to see the score keeper. You need to account for all of these things, plus traffic flow to the bathrooms, concessions and parking lot. Talk about this a lot beforehand with BP and make drawings, take measurements of your space, try things out.

Train: One thing guaranteed to make bout day easier is having your whole committee knowledgeable on all the “this can go wrong” stuff. Everyone on BP (assuming it’s a small committee) should know how the sound system, lights and scoreboard works. Ideally, your league will have a HR sort of committee that will organize and train volunteers ahead of time, but it’s nice to have several knowledgeable people available when things hit the fan. Of course, your volunteers should know the lighting plan, your NSOs should know how to use the scoreboard, your announcer should know how to use the microphone and your DJ should know how the music works, but BP needs to know how the microphone and the music interact. You need to know how the lighting interacts with the script/announcer, etc. Do a “dress rehearsal.”

Plan: Make sure to send the day of schedule to the other team and to your team with plenty of notice, and then let other committees know how things break down on the big day. Of course, other committees can refer to the Bout Day Master Plan, but it’s nice to reaffirm with an hour-by-hour plan, if possible. For instance, when should sponsorship hang the banners and where? When can refs warm up? When will the announcer have to do a run-through of the sound system? When do you need volunteers to set up admissions table? When do they need to staff those tables? Etc. Getting everyone on the same page and same schedule is immensely helpful. People are usually giving of their time, so long as you don’t waste it. Having a list of tasks that need to be completed helps with that.

Sleep well the night before. If possible. Don’t freak out. If you’re prone to freaking out: 1. Don’t 2. Keep paper and pen by your bed so you can write down the last-minute tasks you must do that you’re having nightmares about.

— Bout day —

Preparation: Don’t freak out. On bout day, if you are the one everyone is looking to, you need to be the calmest and the most collected. Bring enough food to get you through until late (like after-party late). I like to keep my Dash[clip]board with me with lots of pens, paper and some money. Wear something that stands out, like something with your name on the back and a colorful flourish, so people can say, “Yes, Dash is over there with the gold headband and yellow neckerchief” to aimless (no!) volunteers. Wear something with pockets. Don’t freak out. If you start to get overwhelmed, write down the tasks that need to be completed on your clipboard and begin delegating them. This is not the time to be a control freak, this is the time to rely on your leaguemates who are smart women too. And volunteers.

Admissions: You and your team should have a plan in place. Your BP team should also be ready to have your plan fail and be ready to make last-minute changes and decisions. For instance, at the first bout my last league did, we thought we could contain our admission to one table and three volunteers (one for cash sales, one for credit cards, one for counting heads. Sponsorship committee sent another volunteer to meet VIPs). We thought we’d have 200 or so guests. When 2,000 lined up out the door, out the parking lot and down the street, we had to adjust our plan. We added another table and three more volunteers. At the following bouts we had three tables (advanced sales, buy them now sales, VIP) and each had two volunteers, plus two (total) headcounters = 8, plus a volunteer wrangler. Two of those volunteers were trained on Square, a free device that takes credit cards by just using your iphone or ipad (they don’t pay me to say nice things either). Square takes 2.75% of your sale, so on a $5 ticket, you actually reap about $4.86. It’s about a $7 loss for every 50 tickets sold. For my league, that was worth it — maybe you lose two customers ($10) because they didn’t bring their cash and an ATM is too far away.
Another great tools for pre-sales was Brown Paper Tickets (no one is paying me for anything, to be clear). They have the ability to put their fees onto the customer, so your league reaps all the cash. It means online buyers pay about $1.80 more per ticket. They give you a “will call” list that you print out and keep at the door. I suggest doing this early in the day and editing it down to just names (not addresses, ticket numbers, yadda yadda).
Lastly, we utilized the skills of one of our derby girls who is an artist to make tickets. She would make 300 for each event and we would sell them at local retailers. We KNEW this would be a money-spender, not a money-maker, but it got local businesses involved, got a lot of talk going in the community, increased our visibility AND, an added perk was that they were such beautiful tickets, some people bought them just to have them. We sold extras as keepsakes at the merch table on bout day. Here is a picture of a ticket example (it was a purple cutout and had purple glitter on one edge): 

An assortment of tickets for one bout. The artist (Yellow Bird & Co) made lots of colors for this one bout. People loved it and requested certain colors.

Announcers and the script: Starting with announcers: If you have one, great. If you don’t, the best option would be a trained announcer. The Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers has a list of them. If that doesn’t work, try looking for potential talent from other sports in your area. Try the local theater. Try open mic nights (comedians can make great announcers so long as they know your league’s expectations: is your bout family friendly? Do you want him/her to joke about sexy ladies hitting each other or for the announcer to be an ambassador of derby as a sport? Etc.). Ask your league if they know someone who would be good. If it’s a new person, my old league found it was helpful to 1. Train the new announcer at scrimmage practices 2. Pair the new announcer with a non-skating player at the bout. For instance, if you have a knowledgeable player who is out on an injury  — and if she can agree to call the bout fairly and not “coach” it over the microphone — this could add strategy knowledge to your announcing.
The script is a lot like an outline. It has a list of sponsor shoutouts with the correct information, the team rosters with names and numbers, sample wording for the “how derby is played” demo (if necessary — depends on announcer’s experience), wording about the halftime shows, wording about the league and future events. It’s helpful to have the mandatory shoutouts and the rosters on separate pages for the announcer(s) to quickly flip to. Talk to your announcer about what s/he wants from you.

Halftime: I’m not going to spend much time on this because you can find helpful tips on this elsewhere. But here are some tips: Halftime shows keep people. They keep them entertained, sitting, eating, consuming, watching derby. They’re important. They’re important for another reason: ticket sales. When thinking about what to book, like “should I book a fire juggler or a 50-person dance ensemble?” think about entertainment first, but then think about “what sort of draw will this halftime show have?” If you book the juggler, people will be in awe and talk about the show, but if you book a 50-person dance ensemble, you might have 50 sets of parents (100) buying tickets ($500 by our $5 ticket price) and those parents then talk about derby at their workplaces and we spread the roller derby virus further, deeper … MWA HA HA.
*Breaths deeply*  Make sure to comp the actual performers who do your shows and make sure you have the wording they would like your announcer to use.
If you’re strapped and just don’t have a halftime show, there is an easy way to make one: Use your announcer. My last league had a mascot (a bananasuit borrowed from a local nonprofit — no, my league wasn’t “The Bananas” but kids liked it and it was free, so we used it.), so when one halftime show went a bit awry (sound system issues — try all CDs in your soundsystem first!) BP quickly invented “the banana race” which is when the announcer told every kid in the audience to come to the track and on 1 … 2… 3… chase the banana around the track! It’s entertaining, easy, free. You could also do “push the derby girl” race with three of your derby skaters in a squat while kids push her around the track. Etc.

I once led the “banana race.”

Clean up: Your audience is made of cool people. We know this because they like derby. So, make sure your announcer asks the audience for help cleaning up after the bout. The basics: throw out trash and help rip up the track (if necessary). People can be super good about this. To help them be super good about this, make sure there are lots of trash cans around the venue so people feel it’s easy to clean up after themselves. Have them by the exits and near major walkways.
My old league had a “nobody goes to the afterparty until the venue is spotless” rule — and I think it’s a solid rule. Each leaguemate had to “check out” with a BP person to make sure there was no more work to be done. If you are the BP manager, you stay last and do a final walkthrough and make sure everything is sparkling. By leaving a place better than you found it, you’re more likely to be invited back. But you knew that.

Extra tips:

  • Contact your local churches and schools to see if you can borrow tables (admissions, for volunteers to eat pizza, for the vendors, etc) and chairs (for handicap seating, VIP seating, vendors, penalty box and benches, etc) free.
  • Local farms that grow garlic often have large, industrial fans to dry the bulbs. These feel nice and breezy on the bench. Send a few emails to see if your league can borrow one for bout night. Always offer tickets in exchange for favors; it’s just polite and gets more derby buzz going in the community.
  • Like the “pull in more ticket sales by having a halftime show” you can do the same with the national anthem. If you have the local high school choir (25 kids?) sing the anthem, you might reap 50 ticket sales from their parents who want to hear them sing. Try to involve as many people in the bout as possible.
  • If your bout is family friendly, make it family friendly. Maybe get a local facepainter to hang out in vendor village. Or a hula hoop maker. One $2 solution is to go to Goodwill and buy a Twister board. Put it in vendor village and leave it there. Kids will play. And parents will shop in your sponsor village. Win win!

Epitaph: This isn’t a complete list. This isn’t a “do this, don’t do that” guide. You have to do what works for you, your committee, your league, your audience, your venue and your community. So do that. Do what feels right. But above all else, remember: You do derby because it’s fun. Your fellow leaguemates bout because it’s fun. That’s why they help with bouts. Volunteers help because derby is fun and because they want to be part of this world. Be nice to everyone and thankful and make sure that people who just want the inclusion of being in this world get that. Have fun. Relax. Make it fun. Chill out. DON’T FREAK OUT. Ever. (And if you have questions, leave them in the comment section and I’ll answer them, or maybe someone more knowledgeable than I am will answer you.) Luck!

Happy bouting!

5 thoughts on “How to make a bout, a guide

  1. Holy cow, this is super, super helpful. Thank you! I have been finding bits and pieces of things here and there to prep for when Central Maine Derby is ready to host a bout, but what you’ve provided is grand. Thank you, Dash. Don’t be surprised if you get a bunch of questions from me later on!

  2. Did you find it hard to balance being nervous for a bout and taking on BP at the same time? It seems like a lot of work for a bouting member to do…

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