The Derby Demo
The crown watched with ever-increasing anticipation. The girls line up, four by four on the pivot line, tow at the jammer line. The jam timer holds their hand up for that first five-second countdown, and… it’s not jam time. It’s time for the derby demo.
We all know that moment, whether it’s blaring clip on the bog screen with huge floating words, or the first line-up doing a demonstration of slow-motion thrills, spills and plays-to-avoid.
It looks like it’s there to stay for the moment.
Nearly 11 years into the history of the sport, and we’re still telling people how it’s played.
We’re initiating new punters on the delights of roller derby as a tactical and legitimate (as in, made up of rules) game.
Or perhaps we’re reminding people of the structure of the bout they’re about to watch.
Given their busy lives, the vast array of other options they could have that night, and the short attention span of the modern consumer they may not know the first thing about derby.
So is the derby demo a necessary evil, crowd pleaser or simply undermining the sport.
“Life is so hectic, how you expect me to remember this.”
The fact of the matter is that people in the urban areas that support a fully-fledged league have many other prior commitments and bout night is just one of them.
The demo serves as a cheat sheet for the enthusiastic but time-poor crowd members.
It’s a way that we can keep people who love to watch, but can’t be expected to remember or know all the ins and outs.
It’s the thing that can clue in those extra family and friends who know what you love and spend all your time on, but haven’t actually worked out that it’s not all hang-lines, elbows and staged fights.
But hey, it’s filling them in, they’re watching with new-found awareness, and your frustrated explanations, “no, Gran, it’s not quite like it was in the seventies”, around the dinner table can be a thing of the past.
A league can only rely on so many invested repeat-purchase regulars at a bout and a chunk of ticket sales are always going to go to the uninitiated.
This is great!
It means that your league is capturing new markets, carving out a larger and larger niche, converting the masses, appealing to broader audiences.
Whatever you want to call it, it really is a good thing.
It’s a huge part of the reason that roller derby is exploding around the world, and we like it.
In fact, many derby girls once stumbled into a bout wide-eyed and clueless, and has their whole world change as they rushed out the next day to buy skates and become excited fresh meat.
It’s one of the ways that roller derby is so powerful in its appeal, and it has brought us new media opportunities, fans, refs, support crew and conscripts.
UNDERMINING THE SPORT
Let’s look that one last option that we like the least in the eye.
It’s the question that sits right in the back of our heads, and doesn’t like being approached.
How many sports do you know that run a video clip or a live demo on how to play the sport for ticketed fans?
None? And why would that be?
Perhaps it’s because just about every sport in the world has a longer (continuous) history than ours.
Perhaps it’s because people grow up playing rugby, netball, soccer, tennis, hockey, bowling, wrestling, swimming etc.
The fact is, there is only a select group of young women (and men) who have had any experience of roller derby in their pre-teen years. And their mothers and fathers are probably members of a league themselves.
Perhaps it’s because most of the media opportunities that we secure either call us superheroes (mild-mannered reporter by day, hard-hitting derby girl by night) or want to start their reports with references to the seventies, fishnets and hot pants.
Incorporating a derby demo before each bout sets us apart from other sports. Unlike other sports, we feel required to explain the game even prior to play.
It may even be tied up in some way with proving the legitimacy of our sport.
Does this mean that we’re hoping the demo becomes a thing of the past or does it mean it’s important that we use it strategically and regularly?
Or is it simply a delightful shortcut to get us through the boring conversations with the misguidedly interested?
You tell me.
as seen in Issue 7, Summer 2011.