Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Magazine
also available in print – contact us to purchase a copy
• How to Make a Small League Profitable
• ACL Injuries and Prevention
• Derby Nutrition
• Statistic Changes with the 2013 Rules Set
• How to Stand out in the Fresh Meat Pool
• Research Survey Results: How Body Image is Affected by Participation
• Plus more, including the Retirement Struggle, WFTDA Division 2 Playoffs, Introduction to Derby Law
Kay Oss, Whidbey Island Rollergirls
It isn’t easy. Any small business owner |can tell you that the hours of time they put into making their company work is not adequately compensated. This is even more evident in a small town derby league, which at any given time, may have 30 members or less. Unlike with a company, we as a league cannot decide who works for us, we cannot hire and fire – in the traditional sense – and we are constrained by the wants and needs of a group of widely divergent people. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a page from the entrepreneurs’ handbooks and adapt it to our own unique style. So how do you do it? How do you make sure that a league with a relatively high turnover of members drawing from a limited population doesn’t fold because of funds?
1. know your mission
Leagues need to decide relatively early if they are a sports league or a recreational league. While it may seem that this question is only pertinent to the performance on the track, it also represents the influence of the members. If your players have a commitment level associated with a recreational league, the products of your league (bouts, scrimmages, merchandise, and even practices) need to be tailored accordingly. Members’ dues are the driving force that sustains most small leagues in between the merchandise sales, and, for the most part, is the only thing paying for practice time. A member who wants to get together and drop in to play every now and then would balk at paying $100.00 a month in dues to practice.
If the dues are creeping ever higher, the league needs to sit down and discuss the realistic expectations of practice needed for the type of play they want. Can some of that be accomplished off skates? Does a team with ten viable skaters who may have three travel bouts in a year need to practice ten hours a week? Undoubtedly, the league will never be fully comprised of just athletic or just recreational skaters. It is a luxury that can only be afforded in the larger derby markets where teams exist for every type of skater.
Additionally what are the goals of the team, on and off the track? Yes, we all know that playing derby involves volunteering and giving back to the community, but does your league want to be a symbol for the community or an entity in it? If you are a symbol of the community, the community will rally behind you and support you, even if they never attend a bout. We all know the high school football scores in our town, evenif we never attended a game. Being a symbol of the community is difficult. You have to win over the hearts of your town. Whereas, being an entity, you have to win over their pocketbooks.
2. decide how to register your business
While there are multiple options, the main choices are: a corporation or a non-profit. The non-profit status is ideal for what you want to do with the league, but the league will need to weigh the pros and cons and decide if it is simply a lofty goal. Roller derby is not easy, nor is managing it, running it, and growing it. Most entrepreneurs and business professionals will tell you the advantages of being a non-profit, and yes there are some really tempting ones, but you should also ask them about the feasibility of maintaining one when it is not your full-time job. In most states it is perfectly acceptable – and legal – to operate as a ‘community interest group,’ which is essentially a corporation on paper and non-profit in action.
It is difficult to maintain and run a non-profit. The laws and tax code can be complicated for the uninitiated. If possible, speak with an attorney that specializes in this. Use the resources you have. In a small town, it is likely that you know the folks who run the local little league, the coach of your kids’ after school soccer program, the guy who runs the non-profit animal shelter down the way. They are great resources who should be tapped.
3. get the right team at the top
Roller derby teams all run on the corporation mentality, with a board of directors at the top that manages the business side of the house so everyone can skate. (I have only seen one league not like this, and that was due to its micro size). While part of their purpose is to spread the load of work, it is also to make sure the league operates efficiently. This may seem like it goes without saying, but the leadership can make or break any league. Your Board of Directors is not your best skaters, nor your most vocal. When voting to place people in the positions, look into what they bring to the team off the track. Some people are natural leaders, others are not, and more often than not those people who are overlooked have the skills necessary to grow or sustain a profitable league. Do not simply settle for someone in a position because nobody else wants it. At the same time, do not tie jobs on and off the track with one another. For example, if possible, the Coach should not be the President or the Captain. Understandably, this is difficult in leagues with a higher turnover rate and a limited number of long-term skaters, but the point is that one position should not entitle you to the others. A great skater can lead a team to victory, and can bankrupt them at the same time. Be wary of the overzealous.
4. have a clear strong purpose and ethics
This is straight out of business school and ties into the previous point. Not only does the league need to always be aware of its purpose, but so too does the leadership. With each subsequent change in leadership, there is always the feeling that everything needs to be changed, simply because it can be. All changes should be looked at with a critical eye. Do not change something simply because you can, even if you know that things are currently wrong. This might seem counter intuitive, but remember to take a moment as a group, contemplate what needs to be changed, and how it can be changed to suit your purpose. Too many erratic changes cause the purpose to become unclear or questioned, and it is easy to lose focus. Without that, any business will see a loss in profits. Too many hands are pulling things in too many directions and the profits are quickly lost in the gaps. To use a track analogy, your leadership and purpose should be like your walls: strong and solid, and like liquid metal. You know that it is the death of your team when the opposing team’s jammer sees a hole and slips through. That jammer (and life, and stress, and change) will come up and test that wall, push it, pull it, and throw it every which way till it falls apart. Don’t fall apart.
5. the details matter
Ok, so you set up the league, you have a logo, and you have some merchandise. The few items you have sell moderately well, but if you were to account for the hours your members dedicate to selling, sorting, restocking etc... are you making a profit off it? A moderate logo will sell, we have seen it everywhere. We will buy the same tired old logos, the crappy lettering, and the unintelligible stickers, but that is because we are Derby players and we want to show our pride. A bad logo can kill your sales. A design that is even moderately offensive, poorly drawn, or just plain unknown to the uninitiated does not sell.
Likewise, poor wording or graphic issues on posters and advertising flyers can turn most people off. Roller Derby, while it is the fastest growing sport, is still relatively unknown. Always assume that your potential fan base is ignorant about what you do. If you keep using the tired cliché of pin-up girls in fishnets and a tutu with a wicked black eye, your fans will be confused when you tell them that, no you are not that, you are athletic. These are the details that define the breaking point in fan base and profit growth.
6. know and listen to your customers
Your league has two types of customers: the ones who are already fans and the ones who are not. Always listen to what your fans are asking for. Do they want more photos? More bouts? Do they want to see more girls on the team? Most of these questions are easy to answer because you can directly ask your fans, but what about those other customers? Get out and make your league known. Let everyone in town know that you exist. Even if this means buying some outdoor wheels and skating at the local skate park or along the sidewalk. People will undoubtedly ask you about your sport. Be prepared to tell them. Be prepared to get them involved. While you tell them, hear what they are asking, listen to them closely and think about what it means. If you listen closely enough you may find a new fan, a new sponsor, a person who can give you a practice space, or someone willing to lend a hand with paperwork. Be the symbol of your community and the community will invest in you.
It is not easy to make a league work both on and off the track. Problems will always be there, and when one is fixed another will come along and it will almost fall apart again. Build a support system around you and the risk of financially collapsing will disappear. Use the free lectures at the local University. Get to know the members of the Chamber of Commerce. Use the plethora of information available at the US Small Business Administration (sba.gov ), and remember that every person you talk to is a potential gold mine of information, money, or ability.
Now go put your skates on, and let someone else stress about the financials. That’s the Board of Directors’ job.