With the WFTDA Championships behind us, it is a perfect time for roller derby writers to pick apart the sport we love. That is exactly what I plan to do. Over the next couple months, I will publish a weekly article detailing what I think would help improve the game. You are reading Part 3 of this series. Sorry I’m a bit late this week. I’m kind of burnt out from the non-stop roller derby grind. If only there was an off season…
Part 1: For F#*k Sake: Get Rid of Minors
Part 2: New league structure: Success measured by wins not votes.
3. “When is roller derby season anyway?”
If I made an FAQ for roller derby, this question would be near the top. Casual fans always ask when roller derby season is because logically they assume there is a regular roller derby season. Every other sport has a regular season. Football has fall. Basketball and Hockey are both winter and spring. Baseball and summer go hand in hand. But, derby skaters are proud to announce, “There is no off season.” This needs to change for the sanity of the skaters and to keep fans engaged and interested.
So, how does one answer the above question? “Well, the championship is in November, but there is a World Cup in December and leagues all over the place have bouts here and there in January. There are a couple big tournaments near the end of winter here in the West, the Big O and Wild West Showdown. But, the bulk of the bouts are in the spring and summer.” When asked when the next home bout is, the reply usually isn’t a date but instead a command to check out a website.
Fans need a reliable way of knowing when it is roller derby season. As a college football junkie, when late August (the start of the football season) rolls around, I start looking at my teams’ schedules to see when they play. I would not bother looking at the schedule in the spring because I’m bound to forget it by the fall. Hell, I’m bound to forget it by next week. Potential fans need to know when it is “that time of year” to check the local team’s website for upcoming bouts.
Spectators will also develop a closer psychological connection to roller derby by associating it with a certain season. Who hasn’t experienced warm summer cheap beer nights at the ballpark? Or, tailgating before a football game in the crisp fall surrounded by the changing colors of the leaves? These are all ancillary to the game, but they are enjoyable features that keep fans coming back.
A regular season is even more beneficial for the skaters. Ask any derby player, and they will give you a list of nagging injuries. We play with these injuries because we have a bout coming up in a month or two, and we can’t afford to take time off to let a pulled groin heal. The competitive spirit in us, the drive to be the best is what will shorten our roller derby careers in the end. That is, unless, there was an off season when injuries were allowed to heal, when skaters can get that surgery they’ve been putting off.
A regular season would also help skaters’ sanity. I’ve seen skaters break down after attending two, three, four practices a week for over a year straight. Teammates’ quirks begin to wear on short tempers. It ceases to be a fun game and becomes an obsession. It becomes one’s life. A person stops being well-rounded and neglects other important aspects of her life. This coupled with skating with a nagging injury can really tax a person.
Taking these issues into consideration, I propose roller derby be a summer sport. Currently, the bulk of travel team schedules are in the summerish months. I propose “spring training” begin in March with exhibition bouts in April, and the regular season start in May: right around the time sports enthusiasts come to their annual realization that baseball is boring. With a regular season that is around three and a half months (assuming 12 weekly bouts with a couple alternating weekends off for each team), this will put the play-offs in late August. This gives nearly six months for an off-season during which there could be an all-star game or Rollercon or World Cup or intraleague games or other games that don’t really count. This will allow the injured to opt out and get their healing time without impacting their team. Many leagues already have an unofficial off season.
Complementary to the regular season idea is introducing predictable game nights. Fridays in the fall, one thinks of high school football. College football has Saturdays. Pro has Sundays. Most other sports are much more frequent than once per week, but roller derby is not to that point yet. A weekly schedule would be ideal. I recommend Saturday nights because that is already a very common roller derby night, and while derby skaters continue to juggle jobs with their derby careers, it is easier for many to travel on the weekends without missing work.
So, why weekly bouts? Quite simply, it keeps fans engaged. “If you liked watching (fictitious skater) ‘Vadge of Honor’ skate this week, you can see her next weekend as ECRG takes on their rivals from upstate.” Tying in last week’s topic, with a team’s success based on wins and teams playing a roughly equivalent number of games at any point in the season; fans could easily see where their team ranks in comparison to other teams in their division. Rather than waiting three months for a new vote, as one has to do with the current system, a fan could see, for example, ECRG is in fourth place with 5 wins and 3 losses. This would lead to the conclusion that the next game is big if ECRG wants to make the playoffs and might be fun to attend.
Finally, I would like to give a little background on how I got into derby to suggest a fan base the sport should court. Growing up playing football, I hit people to make holes for others to run through. On a perfunctory level, that is all football is: moving people around to advance the ball. But, if you look closer, you see many more intricacies that require strategy and coordinated efforts. When I first watched roller derby, I saw the same thing going on: moving people around to advance the jammer. I knew I could do well at the game. All I needed to do was figure out how to skate.
This bring me to a wild theory: like the polarizing movie Whip It suggests, roller derby is ripe for the off-season football fan. Football packs 100,000-seat stadiums. Half the fans don’t know second down from fourth. They’re just there to watch skilled individuals in tight pants perform feats of athletic prowess and bludgeon each other. Sound familiar? Where can they soothe their needs for contact sports during the off season? Right now, regional tournaments and championships are in the heart of football season. If the playoffs were earlier in the year, this scheduling conflict could be avoided freeing up football fans to see the best derby has to offer.
So far, the focus of the Taking Roller Derby to the Next Level series is on ways to make the game incredibly easy for anyone to understand at a basic level and to subsequently get engaged. A regular season with weekly bouts would further this purpose. This all, of course, is a matter of opinion. You have your own, which you should share in the comments below.
Next Week: Part 4. (a)Yes to Stats and (b)No to “Stopper Derby”