Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Fan Experience

Everyone who plays derby has their own reasons, from an excuse to stay fit to loving competition.  For many, this includes a chance to compete in front of an adoring public, aka the fans.  I honestly don't know of a single skater who prefers closed bouts to open ones, as they love the sound of that crowd!

Thing is, often that crowd is the last to be considered when setting up a bout.  1st comes the track, then the skaters' needs, then those of the refs and NSOs.  Then a bunch of chairs are set up where there's space for the crowd.

This is fine if you're just interested in showing some people how roller derby works.  If, however, you want that crowd to return bout-after-bout, you have to put a whole lot more effort into improving the fan experience.  Here are some simple ways of doing just that:

The Demo Jam/Kit Checks

Some teams have let the demo jam fall by the wayside because they assume that a high enough percentage of their audience knows how derby works that they don't need to explain it any more.  They leave that to the announcers and fellow audience members.

As well, some teams plan kit checks to work around skate-outs really well.  Visitors skate whilst home are checked, and vice versa.  Otherwise, the fans get all excited during skate-outs, then have to hold on to the excitement for what can seem like a long while.  I have personally seen it really hamper a good atmosphere.

Combine the two?  Almost every bout I've been to uses a projector for the scoreboard.  This means that teams can show videos!  Why not show a demo jam/explanation of the game on the scoreboard during the kit check, then do skate outs?  A good video will have the crowd excited a bit, then the skate outs will send them over the top, and they'll be psyched for the first jam!

Premium Seats

LRG do this, and you should, too.  Separate seats, that are more comfortable, and have waiter/waitress service.  They cost a bit more, but come with amenities.  One team in Carolina has a set up where there's two couches, each with a cooler full of beer and a subway party platter.  One is for hire, the other a door prize given out to one lucky fan via golden ticket in the programme.  Who, then, wouldn't want to be the sofa king?

Some fans are willing to spend extra money on sports, and want that added comfort.  It's not only a good source of income, but it shows fans that you're willing to go the extra mile for those superfans who want to make a special event out of roller derby.

Halftime Show/Official Timeout Distractions

I know British sports don't do them, but something to watch during that 20 minutes of dead time is a great idea.  I've seen professional roller disco skaters come out for halftimes, games involving audience members, and even a 10 minute junior derby bout!

Sure, some of the fans will be going to the loo or to the beer line, but boredom is poison to a sports audience.  There has to be something going on in the middle to keep them entertained, maybe 2 skaters demonstrating their jumping ability or a derby duel or two.  Even doing the raffle would work.  Just make sure to keep the excitement up!

Same thing goes for the official timeout.  These are getting fewer and shorter, as the minor passes into oblivion, officials hone their craft, and head refs better ignore requests for official timeouts from bench managers and captains who have already burned an official review.  However, whilst they're still in existence, there has to be something to distract the audience.

Jammer dancing does this well, but only works for short timeouts.  So, announcers and organisers, get something going to distract the audience.  Could be as simple as having a league member who's not otherwise involved leading the wave or some other cheer.  Or, why not have a dance-off in the audience to some song?  Make sure the audience don't really care that the action's on hold for a minute.


What is it with derby bouts and daggum cake?  Every bout there's at least one cake, if not multiple.  I am fed up with cake!  Please, let's have the treat after a bout be savoury for once!  Wings, fried scampi, even pizza.

I was coaching against Croydon Roller Derby, and they had the best damn food spread at the after party I've seen in the whole of the UK.  They had chips, spring rolls, onion bhajis, samosas, wings, and all number of other treats to eat.  Of all the after parties I've been to, they won.  No damn cake, but real savoury food!  I know this one's personal, but learn from them!

When next you plan a bout, please put due care and consideration into the fan experience.  Do that a few times, and you'll see your attendance climb.  You may even have regular fans who have no connection to derby other than "I showed up once, it was awesome, now I go regularly."  That reasoning is exactly why I got involved in derby in the first place.  Roll on!


  1. So, Auld Reekie, at the very least, now do have savoury food as well as CAKE at their bouts. I agree there can be a preponderance of sweet foods, and it's not hard to change the balance even a little.

    I'm not so sure about the premium seats - some leagues don't have the space for additional "special seating" in addition to, or at the detriment of, the seating they need for the capacity. (Of course, it depends on what you think makes seats premium - Gotham's premium seats for their home bouts are premium because of the goody-bag and the fact they're in the suicide seats; not because they're particularly awesome actual seats.)

  2. I think the predominence of cake comes from the fact that many people find baking cakes easier than making, say, onion bhajis, and the kind of food sold at bouts is made by the hosting league's members / families.

    But I like cake.

  3. Sure, cupcakes and flapjacks are easy. But savoury corn muffins aren't really any harder...