Hot on the heels of our State of Derby series, we have yet another perspective on how to run a league. This contribution is our first from a derby fan- “Suicide Seats” of North Carolina. We hope this encourages others to contact us about becoming contributors, no matter what your role in the sport is.
Roller derby was born on the wave of a counter-culture movement. Most leagues today continue to draw on derby’s rough and tumble past as a badge of honor. The risqué attire, the derby names and face painting are as much about defiance as anything. I mean let’s face it. Being a little deviant is part of the fun. But at its core, roller derby is a sport. Leagues around the country are working harder all the time just to stay competitive. The days of just throwing on a pair of skates and trying to kick the crap out of each other is gone. These women are serious athletes and roller derby is quickly becoming big business. With that in mind, the latest evolution of derby seems to focus exclusively on the sport itself. In fact there are leagues beginning to sprout up that treat roller derby strictly as a professional sports franchise. Race City Roller Derby in Charlotte, NC is one of the first.
roller derby is quickly becoming big business
The idea of team uniforms and using real names on the track isn’t really unique in the derby community anymore, so I was curious what sets this league apart from others. Craig Bailey, a member of the league’s ownership group, was happy to talk to me. Bailey’s wife, Rebecca, was previously a board member of the Charlotte Roller Girls before joining with a few of her fellow skaters to form RCRD. She skates for the league’s Charlotte Speed Demons. Both Baileys also have years of experience marketing and developing sponsorships for NASCAR, so sports marketing runs in the family.
I talked to Craig off the record for a few minutes, just to find out if this guy was legit. I was curious if this was a true derby fan or just a guy with dollar signs in his eyes. It didn’t take long before I realized what a huge fan he is. RCRD uses the WFTDA rules set, so we had a long discussion about the latest outcry for rules revisions. Bailey says joining WFTDA is certainly a consideration. “Some of the best players and teams are under their umbrella. We want to compete with the best of the best and many of them are with WFTDA.”
On the business side, RCRD is a corporation rather than a non-profit. It’s the only league I know of that skaters do not pay any monthly dues. Bailey says, “We want our players to be focused on training and growing as athletes. Within our organization, all operations are handled by our management team. There are no committees and other than promotional work, the players don’t have any other business responsibilities.”
“We want our players to be focused on training and growing as athletes. Within our organization, all operations are handled by our management team. There are no committees and other than promotional work, the players don’t have any other business responsibilities.”- Craig Bailey of Charlotte’s RCRD
Bailey feels the focus on sport rather than show has positioned the league to gain much more exposure than they would have otherwise. “We are a sports team and market ourselves as such… In doing so, our team is recognized by the local media as a sports team. We are often covered in the sports section, not entertainment. Also, by marketing ourselves this way, we’ve exposed our team and the sport to many traditional sports fans who may have never found roller derby.”
They are counting on that added exposure to eventually lead them to profitability. As of now, the league has yet to turn a profit but it is able to pay its expenses through tickets, sponsorships and merchandise. “As we grow, the day will come when we are profitable. At that time, we will pay our players. It will be a relatively small salary to start and as far as we know, it would be a first for modern roller derby.”
Paying players someday? Wow, it seems our little roller derby is growing up so fast. For the parents of modern derby, I am sure this isn’t all welcome news. Will we ever see the day that fishnets and stage names go away? I certainly hope not. For me, there is certainly something unique about derby’s history that can still be celebrated. But I also understand the move toward mainstream acceptance of the sport. The real question is will these two different approaches to derby coexist peacefully? With both RCRD and the Charlotte Roller Girls competing in the same metro area for fans and skaters, it might make things more challenging. But with twice as much derby to go around, the die-hard fans certainly don’t have much to complain about.
Suicide Seats is a derby fan from eastern North Carolina. He can be found trackside at most Carolina Rollergirls home bouts. After 13 years in radio and TV, several of which spent covering collegiate sports, he has settled into a quieter existence working for a regional mortgage lender. He enjoys rock concerts, going to the beach and all levels of football. His pet peeves are merch tables that don’t sell plus size shirts, derby mascots that don’t wear skates and derby play-by-play on Twitter.