Where Did All The Fans Go?

FOLLOW: Editorial
What is the great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years? It is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability.  - Malcom Gladwell

I started out my derby career sitting in the crowds like most everyone else.  I sat watching what I thought at the time being so novice, some real derby.  I remembered watching it on TV when I was in high school.  Sometimes my history teacher would talk about this great sport in class when we had discussions.  He would say, you want to see some real athletes? You want to see some folks that push it to the limits each and every time they get on the court.  You need to watch Roller Derby, it comes on at 7pm.  Now those are some tough women.  In college, I was invited to a game to watch The Molly Rogers.  They were just starting out with about 15 players (now up to 63 members), but they had enough to make a strong enough team and get other leagues to come and play. The league it self was nothing but hipsters, bartenders, aspiring artists and overall the underground of the town we were in. I knew right away, I wanted in.

I have not been apart of the Molly Rogers for some time now, but I imagine they have evolved since then. Each and every sport, has their good teams and bad teams, their good games and bad games.  
Look at American Baseball while back in its heyday, it was the riot. Fans flocked to the sport, young, old, rich and poor.  They all wanted to see the great American past time. One thing we knew above all, the seats were filled each game.  Nowadays, if the team isn't in a big city, you barely see half the seats filled.  The great American past time has lost is glamour and appeal. I believe due to a few reasons, but one of them comes to mind. Most major league players these days can hit home runs. In fact, leagues don't recruit you unless you can hit a home run. The games have gotten too slow. We wait, watch and wait more for that home run. A few guys run the bases and then it starts all over again. There isn't intensity in the game. The same intensity that makes you sit at the edge of your seat in anticipation of the next pitch. Don't compare intensity with passion though. You can have passion without intensity. Baseball still has passionate fans and players alike, but it has lost its intensity.

Look at Basketball, its a sport that has both fast and slow play.  Its a sport that has five people from each team going back and forth between two hoops trying to score the most points.  If you look at collegiate basketball, it is my opinion that it has a faster game play.  Only because players are young and still have that manly vigor it takes to prove one self on the court.  If we look at professional basketball, the game is a bit slower, a bit more refined and a bit more spectacular when those big plays occur.  The passion and vigor is still there within the sport, but it has lost its overall entertainment appeal.  Some fans like both types of game play, but most fans make a choice between the two games.

Take a look at American Football or European Soccer.  Both these sports are fast, they move the ball around quickly and both can take a while to score points.  Both these sports are the most popular sports of today in their regions.  They are by far the most far reaching sports and you can't walk anywhere in the modern world without seeing some affiliation to these sports.  With soccer, you can see fast movement of the ball with very low point spreads. Some games, you could in fact not even see points scored at all.  With Football, the scores can be anywhere from 2-60 on average, but points are usually less than 60.  If you look at both the sports, they involve strategy, plays and close games.  These sports often come down to just a small point difference.


Now take a look at the dominate rule set in Roller Derby. More than half of the worlds derby leagues play by The WFTDA rule set. With some variations, most of the leagues adhere to each and every rule within the rule book. So whats wrong with it? 

Personally, I say nothing is wrong.  Its a rule set built to be safe and understandable.  Its a rule set that takes sometime to fully grasp, but in its foundation, Roller Derby is still played.  Its no lie that the rule set though has turned derby into a more strategic, safer, slower and even a more blow out prone game.  Its enough of a blow out, that the WFTDA rankings calculator is being modified to accommodate blow outs more appropriately.  It's the choice the representatives of the organization have made.  The derby community should praise WFTDA for making it a much safer game than in the past.  Less injuries occur while players have a longer time span to play derby, unlike those in the NFL where players start to max out around 10 years for bodily injuries.

We all have seen the fan decline of derby mainly because the rules WFTDA plays by.  Derby is going the way of Baseball.  Its the more strategic and slower derby that has turned fans away.  The fans don't want to watch blow outs.  They want tight games, they want up and downs.  You have home games that are packed in which major cities can put 4,000 or more butts in the seats, but have you ever taken a gander at tournament play?  Most of the seats in the stadium are actually filled by players or participants of the sport.  If neither of them are there, then the tournament has empty seats all over the place.  You can see this time and time again in their archives.  The community still has passion, but they are starting to lose the intensity.  The WFTDA rule set was once a Universal, but now the fans are in search for variability.

There is choice and just how the food industry revolutionized choice in the 80s and 90s, Roller Derby is starting to understand the need for choice as well.  When Prego made a choice to come out with chunky spaghetti sauce, they immediately sold millions.  When Roller Derby makes a choice to evolve the game more for the fans, they will start to sell out both local games and tournament venues.

Two major rule sets have started to give fans those choices.  Both MADE and USARS have created rule sets to be faster with still the strategic back drop drop of what WFTDA wants.  Blow outs still do occur, but the point differences are far less than what they are in WFTDA.  Instead of seeing the average WFTDA blowout of 200 - 30, you see blowouts of 50-30. You might not think this makes a difference, but when games are closer, leagues sell more tickets and get more butts in the seat.  Closer point spreads get fans energized to see their teams scoring.

So while the derby community argues with WFTDA for creating a slower, safer and more strategic derby, I say now fans have a choice.  Stop worrying about slow derby.  Let the fans choose.  If WFTDA starts noticing a difference with the fan base of MADE and USARS derby, they will have to evolve.  Like what Howard Moskowitz did for food science, MADE and USARS are doing for derby.  Giving fans a choice and finding variability in a sport that was once universal.

About The Author

DOB: 4/29/1984
Leagues: Bio:

I have been a Referee for Roller Derby both the WFTDA and MADE rule sets with over 5 years experience.

I am now the Owner of RDNation.com.

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Kevin Youkillus

1 point for lead. 1 point for lapping the opposing jammer. 1 point for clearing the pack. Keep the scoreboard respectable for the fans, the players, and the sport.