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.
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.
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.
*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 …)