The 3 reasons you read “Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story” — and what needs to be done now

I would have posted sooner, but I caught the flu.


I mean: WOW.

The post “Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story. Every Time” got more than 17,000 hits in one day. … and that’s before it got posted to Derby Life. This probably confirms two things: that the roller derby roster that says there are 39,000 of us is probably right (or an underestimation, as some of you pointed out) and that we do have reach.

I feel like the post deserves a follow. I tried to think — past the mucus, the nausea and the hours upon hours of sleep — about *why* this caught fire. Here are some hypotheses:

1. We feel misrepresented by the media
2. We feel our sport is epic, valuable and growing and deserves recognition as such
3. We know the monetary value of this is meaningful

Those are my top three guesses. As a journalist for the past seven years or so, I know I can’t actually ever pinpoint why people click and share the way they do. But the fact that this article blew up means something and I want to delve into that a little.

1. We feel misrepresented by the media
Cliche (I’m only stopping because I’m bored now.)

In case you don’t want to click through 11 versions of the same story, those are all the by day/by night story. YOURTOWN — By day you are a professional who thinks and talks and is productive, by night you are a roller skating super hero in fishnets with a whacky name!

2. We feel our sport is epic, valuable and growing and deserves recognition as such
– As the people with boots (Riedell, Antik and Bonts, mostly) on the ground, we know this is epic. We witness around us a rise of thousands upon thousands of women coming into this community in a viral way that might be harder to see as an outsider. So, maybe it tiffs us off to not see this represented. It feels epic, it is epic, and no one seems to notice. I think the postings of the article saying “THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING” point to this.

3. We know the monetary value of this is meaningful
– Some commenters were saying that they will hand out “Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story. Every Time” in their sponsorship packets — or should. And I think that’s a big part of it. We, as committee members and league members, have to sell this sport, literally. And we have not all been given great resources to do so. It’s hard to cite good data and it’s hard to find someone to explain that data in real terms. Sure, WFTDA says skaters spend such and such on each item, but they don’t add it up in a way that is very marketable. Maybe that’s what we were waiting for and excited about. WE know this sport is epic and massive and that translates into dollars … but how??? And my last blog post did not even do a very good job at going into that. It’s a huge underestimation that doesn’t account for most of the derby industry

How many bouts are there each year in America? 3,000? And if each makes a measly $2,000 that’s another $6 million. If there were only 250 leagues — there are way more — and they each spend $600 a month in rent, that’s $1.8 million. What about merch? If each of the 250 or so  WFTDA leagues — not other leagues — sold $1,000 in merch each year that’s another quarter million …. raffles, fundraisers, parties, other related economies …. ).

If 250 leagues each go to six away bouts a year and rent four hotel rooms at $100 a night, that’s more than half a million dollars. Shall I go on? How about just championships? Sending 11 teams to championships is probably more than $50,000 in hotel rooms alone and another $50,000 in flights (if only eight teams have to fly). Not including the food they couldn’t bring on the flight, the fees, the necessities they buy at local stores when they’re there. And there are conventions …Even the tiny NE Derby Con I wrote about is about $150 a person for 500 people, which is $75,000 in tickets, probably more than $20,000 in hotels ….

It adds up. We need someone to add this up.

So that’s why I think this took off. It’s also why I think more research has to be done. More importantly, better marketing MUST be done to show companies, sponsors, communities, Chambers of Commerces, etc the value — the real value of roller derby. Every other industry has a round figure of what they are worth, which gives them more clout to sell themselves. We need that. Desperately, apparently. And it’s sad to say, but the media isn’t going to chase this without derby making the first move. Without numbers laid out for reporters, the job is way way harder — perhaps insurmountable. But we have the power to gather this information. I’d encourage derby governing bodies to consider asking their constituents for some data — not to share on a league-by-league level, that’s private, but to share in a big-scale way so we can have the numbers to put behind us. These numbers would empower us to market the shit out of our industry and show it’s legitimacy as an investment for our sponsors all over the US and the world.

Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story. Every time.

News reporters miss the roller derby story every time. Every. Time. Distracted by the glitter, wheels, hitting and names that are bleach-penned onto our shirts, journalists slip and don’t cover roller derby like they would any other trend news story.

Regional and local papers always write the same story: YOURTOWN — By day Lacy Clems, 33, of Yourtown, is a nurse at Yourlocal Hospital. But by night the nurse pulls on her fishnets, laces up a pair of black roller skates and takes her place with the Local Rollergirls. (And then 600 more words about how people roller skate in an oval and somehow there are points scored, it’s maybe about community service and women and athletics, and also some quote about how one of the ladies uses this as stress relief from her babies and job.)

And that’s the local story.

The New York Times wrote about derby today. They wrote about Gotham’s intro to derby classes.

(Takes big breath)

And before I say what I need to say, I need to be fair: the Times let a derby girl write about derby back in 2010. They did a great job in 2009 covering nationals. And, with derby fitness classes gaining popularity, they covered this story at the exact right moment. But those are all the derby articles I can find without searching too hard.

Where were they at the first-ever world cup? Where were they at championships in 2011 and 2012 when Gotham slaughtered everyone? For the Times, it’s not just a local hokey story, it’s a national story, it’s an international trend. It’s sports, entertainment, news, economics, business. It’s a video opportunity. It’s gorgeous photography waiting to hit A1 or the cover of sports.

No matter.

They — and all newspapers — are missing the story. So, let me give it to them. This is for you, fellow newspaper reporters of the world:  Derby is the viral sport of this past decade. It has infected your town. It has infected every town in this country and many cities everywhere else in the world. In Rockland, Maine there is roller derby. In Austin, TX there is derby. Athletes skate in Berlin, London, Sydney, Brasília, Moscow, Toronto. They skate in Lansing, MI and in Moab, UT. And to those towns — those towns that can be dull, cloudy, economically depressed — these leagues are raking in two things: Women, money. To the former point: We are EVERYWHERE.

To the latter: As reporters, we love to “follow the money.” But when it comes to these hundreds of local businesses and nonprofits … nothing. Nothing on the multi-million dollar industry that is derby.

This bout brought in about 2,000 people (capacity) ... in a town of 3,000 people. That brought in ticket sales, got sponsors advertising time, brought in money to the local hockey rink ... and to the police force which surely collected parking ticket money.
This bout brought in about 2,000 people (capacity) … in a town of 3,000 people. That brought in ticket sales, got sponsors advertising time, brought in money to the local hockey rink … and to the police force which surely collected parking ticket money. Photo by Eric Baseler.

The nonprofit Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association looks over about 250 leagues. The roller derby roster — a derby name registry — has 39,239* skaters (mostly women) listed.

I’m sorry, I’ll say that again because maybe you didn’t quite read that right: 39,239 skaters. That’s as many women there are in Portland, Maine (the state’s biggest city).

OK. Now, let’s do math. Blog followers know how I love math. According to a study by WFTDA last year, skaters spent an average of $622 on skating equipment and gear in 2011, along with $656 in travel for roller derby and $223 in other support costs (dues, tickets for events). That’s $1,500 a skater. If there are in fact 39,239 skaters that is $58,858,500  — yeah, about $59 million a year from just the skaters — not the fans, the referees, the support staff, bout venues, rinks. That $59 million goes to local skate shops, local rinks, American skate companies, local hotels.

It’s a big fucking deal. (Do you hear me, New York Times?)

According to that WFTDA study last year, a third of derby fans make more than $75,000 a year. They have disposable income. Income to spend on $5-$30  bout tickets, merchandise and all the companies surrounding and sponsoring the sport.

They also have reach. About 36 percent of fans heard about derby through a friend. We have a crazy-huge network of people buzzing about derby in the world. I don’t have figures for how many derby fans there are in this world or how much they spend to travel to see games, how much they pay to stay in your towns, to eat in your towns, to support the local roller derby sponsors. Etcetera.

That’s where the story is. Somehow journalists have missed the (way more than) $59 million story of derby. A very basic story about the immensity of this sport that has lodged its claws into our nation. Sure it’s also about how thousands upon thousands of women have become better human beings: become athletes, learned to run a nonprofit, found a safe space to grow, and yes, a place to get away from stressful jobs and babies where they can wear fishnets and no one will call them a slut (…. OK, we might call them sluts, but it’s loving, not shaming.)

This sport is changing our world and impacting our local economies in a real, quantifiable way. GET ON IT, PRESS.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A journalist by day, Heather Steeves, 25, of Portland, types angrily at her keyboard. But by night, Steeves -- aka Hard Dash -- straps on her old-style black roller skates and elbows you in the face.
PORTLAND, Ore. — A journalist by day, Heather Steeves, 25, of Portland, types angrily at her keyboard. But by night, Steeves — aka Hard Dash — straps on her old-style black roller skates and elbows you in the face.

*That 39,239 number might be inflated number because of skater drop outs — but there is also a huge back up of names waiting to be registered, so it’s unclear. (To make it harder to estimate: WFTDA does not keep a headcount of skaters, and even if it did, that number wouldn’t account for the non-WFTDA flat track leagues, the banked track leagues, the USARS leagues, the renegades …)

3 lessons a transfer skater learns

As you know, I moved from my tiny league in Maine to a nationally-ranked league. As a  home team draft approaches, where people will be picked from “the pool” to join teams that choose to have them, I’ve been reflecting on my experience so far. Mostly because when I chat with other transfers here, we all share a lot in common about our thoughts on the process. That said, the thoughts below are my own.

1. Your experience in “the pool” will be different from the fresh meat’s experience.
This is the one most on my mind these days. The fresh meat who are waiting to be picked up by home teams are so nervous, they might burst, it seems. Stressin me out. It’s probably a lot like what prom would be like if you went to a school with only 5 girls, 4 boys and all the girls cared if they got asked. They’re looking around, seeing who is pretty, who is most pretty, which boys are hot, which boys can dance, and a lot of them seem to think so long as they’re asked by ANY boy, they’ll be happy forever.

As a transfer, it’s not prom, it’s marriage. It’s a negotiation of who is hot enough, who is nice, who will get your jokes and who, in the end, will be your family. That’s how it feels to me. These people are about to be my family and I want to make sure there is a place I can play and grow in that family.

But I get the freshie stance, this is like a graduation day and it’s a big deal and something totally worth being excited about. It’s just a little different for transfers.

2. You don’t skate like they skate
That’s just the way it is with a new league. The things your last league yelled at you for might not be the things your new league will yell at you for. (Well, not “yell at” …) In a way, you have to relearn things. It’s a difficult balance of keeping your style and spark while matching the new game.

On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to learn new skills and styles, but also keep your old tools in your tool belt to pull out. Sometimes you’ll hear a “woah, what was that?”

3. You might not be who you were
Wow. Sounds philosophical. No. I just mean if you were the president of your last league and ran three committees and were always a pivot in your last league, this new league might need you to instead me on the sponsorship committee in a smaller role and jam. Transferring can be about re-invention and learning a whole new way to play derby and it’s a new start to be the derby girl you always wanted to be.

Passion, obsession, feigned ambivalence

My friend messaged me this philosophy she was reading about. She said, “the key to succeeding is to want something, but not so much that you obsess over it”

This ideas has been haunting me all week. At Sunday practice I was doing an endurance drill with a teammate. She was killing it and I told her so.

“It’s because they’re all pacing themselves,” she said.

“Why would they pace themselves? It’s a 2-minute drill.” I asked.

“Everyone does,” she said.

“I don’t,” I said. “I just do the best I can and usually by the time I’m tired, so is everyone else.”

These two ideas have been battling in my mind. So when that friend messaged me with her idea, I disagreed with her. “If you want something, I don’t think you should feign ambivalence. I think you should hunt your goal, not be coy. And if you’re disappointed, you’re disappointed, but at least you gave it everything. Way better than pretending you don’t care, being disappointed, then wondering if you could have done better,” I said. But, I buffered, “that’s me and I’m cray.”

As home team draft approaches, I am seeing a lot of my friend’s philosophy. Some of my teammates say things like, “I probably won’t get drafted and I don’t want to be disappointed, so I’m just trying not to care.”

It saddens me. These are hard-working women who love the sport. Isn’t this the time to go balls out? I think it’s time to show how much you want it and how much derby means to you and how hard you will try.

But, then there is my reasonable friend who said, it’s just about not unhealthily obsessing.

True. So how do we find a balance where your heart isn’t in a grinder if you don’t achieve your goal, but also giving your goal everything you can?

As another former teammate of mine said, a healthy level of participation in derby is 7.

She meant out of 10.

For me, that means eating well, going to my practices and giving it everything I have in that time that I have and then crosstraining. It also means I have to go to movies, spend time with my loved ones and go to work.

It’s a hard balance in derby land and I wonder: Is it ever OK to be a 10? What about in the final jam, overtime in a tied game? During home team drafts? Travel team tryouts? Endurance practice? When should you be a 10? (Answers and input welcome in the comments)

Derby resolutions

Lots of people are resolving to be skinny right about now. I’m not one of them. Being skinny doesn’t help you be a muscley roller derby warrior like I want to be.

Last year I resolved to get strong and fast. It was pretty much the same one as in January 2011, when I found roller derby.

But, that saying is true: It doesn’t get easier, you just get better/stronger.

I don’t like abstract goals — immeasurable — like “get stronger and faster.”

I argue this isn’t. In January 2011 I think I could maaaaaaybe have made 25 laps in 5 minutes. This past year I made 32 laps (maybe it was 34. Honestly can’t remember) in five minutes. With that endurance, I went to Rose City Rollers to skate and was exhausted after my first endurance practice. I don’t get that tired anymore. I don’t fight to keep up — I fight to push myself now. (I haven’t times my laps since June). So, it’s not immeasurable. I am a faster me.

My thighs don’t fit into my old pants. My belly went from a little round to flat to weirdly jutting out (abs) a bit. I did 100 pushups yesterday, 10 minutes of planks, 5 minutes of crunches while watching a bout. Last year I couldn’t do 50 pushups without taking a day. I’m a stronger me.

To make it more concrete, here are some subgoals for 2013:

-Make the B team roster
-Become an integral part of my home team
-Find the volunteer job in my league where I can do the most good
-Work on arm control so that my upper body is helping, not hurting my form and stride.
-Crosstrain at least twice a week (ideally plyo for footwork)

I’d love to hear your derby goals for 2013 in the comments.

People in the North East: Go to this

Last year I heard about a new derby convention, the Northeast Derby Convention. My friends and I decided to go because it was near us and pretty cheap, but had some amazing skaters as instructors.

It was game-changing. For our entire league. (NE Derby Con doesn’t pay me. I get no swag or anything for writing this.) Ten players on my league in Maine decided to go. It cost about $150 a pop for a three-day pass. The training we got there was undoubtedly the reason that same little, newly-founded league won our New England B-team tournament a few months later.

Photo by Northeast Derby Convention. (I was paying attention to something awesome.)
Photo by Northeast Derby Convention.
(I was paying attention to something awesome.)

You need to go. It’s again $150 and it’s three days. Not many more details are available on the website yet, but let me tell you what I got last year: 21 hours on skates training. Yeah. 21. I took one off skates session too, so I think it was 22 hours total. For $150. A little math says that’s about $7 to learn jam tips from Suzy, $7 to learn to be a badass from Demanda, $7 to learn new pack strategy from Quadzilla, $7 for Teflon Donna to show you how to mohawk around people, $7 for Bonnie D Stoir to give you the puppy talk (look it up), $7 for Smarty Pants to hit you backward. I mean. Come on. You paid more for the leggings in your closet when you made fresh meat.

That doesn’t include the parties, the hang out time between sessions, the scrimmages, etc etc etc. It’s the best money I’ve spent in a while and elevated my play and my leaguemates play.

Last year the convention was set up as one-hour blocks of sessions with 30 minute breaks in between. That’s 30 minutes to digest, take notes and practice the skills you learned. Oh and rest, right. Those one-hour sessions aren’t going to be the time you need to perfect skills, but I found that my notes from last year still come in handy — because 21 hours is a lot to digest.

The other awesome thing about the sessions on-skates was that they were divided into levels: basic, home team, intermediate, elite. That meant the stars of the Boston Massacre weren’t intimidating the fresh meat from the new Vermont league and let everyone play comfortably and get what they needed from their skate time.

For the nonskaters (and skaters) they also had classes on league structure, how to evaluate skaters, etc. Super helpful for the little leagues trying to figure out the basics of derby business.

So that’s my ringing endorsement. If I were still on the East Coast, I’d be there in a heartbeat. It’s the most one-on-one time you’re going to get and it’s with the best skaters in the world today.