Okay, fine. There really weren’t a lot of rainbows in the filming of this saga. In fact, it wasn’t a saga. Or filmed. It was fairly simple. But there was definitely a lot of puppy. Puppy, and of course Double H (or HH), head of WFTDA Broadcast Operations, who talked me through this ceremonial login event (aka, following a few easy steps that are well illustrated by screenshots). Here’s how she, and roller derby, got to this point.
So before we move on, I’m going to need you to know that there were a lot of contributing factors to the success and relative difficulty of this particular show, with two crucial details. The first of these, is that the puppy in question’s alternate nickname is sometimes ‘DestructoPup’. And the second is that Double H is also a nickname, and you should absolutely ask her what the two H’s stand for.
So imagine this scene, if you will. I’ve woken up in a blur at the tail-end of the flu, having meant to get to this article a week ago (damn fever dreams), after staying up waaaay too late last night, editing previews and making a vague attempt at packing. (Okay, so I just threw some warm-ish clothes in a pile last night – it was a very vague attempt).
I’m feeling mildly pleased with myself, having purchased yet another computer charger cord pre-emptively (see aforementioned DestructoPup nickname). My computer is charged and ready to go. I even have coffee in my hand. I’m expecting a call from Double H herself, to go over this whole thing with me. What could possibly go wrong?
At this point, I’d like to pause and openly blame / thank Trish The Dish and Ivanna S. Pankin for bringing the 15lb bundle of snuggles and enthusiasm into my life that we’ve up to now know as DestructoPup. He’s a dog with a shelter past, and some irrational anxieties, but he snuggles like he’s working his way towards a competitive level snuggle-Champs. He’s a scrappy fellow-dog enthusiast of the highest order – to watch him hurl his body gleefully at a 65lb pitbull to play is a thing of joy, and a moment that makes me wish he played derby, and was on my team.
And now I have Double H on my screen as her lovely, encouraging self, and treating my flu-addled brain with all of the warm patience in the world. As I stare at her face, I wonder how it’s plausible that she has this much focus, given that she has a small human to care for, and a whole broadcast operations to run. Plus a derby league that she does a million things for, and a whole series of upcoming games to announce for on a world stage. In fact, she’s been doing this since her first interest in standardizing operations in 2009, to announcing, until it became an actual job in 2011, and then blossomed into the full-time job it has become today.
But then I remember that a version of that is all of our stories, and it makes me feel all kinds of things, including profoundly proud of our sport. So thank you, roller derby.
So I’m going to get to the logging in part, I promise. But before that point, I just got really interested in how the ESPN thing started happening through the eyes of someone with the longstanding commitment to roller derby broadcast that Double H has. Also how hard it really was to get that ball rolling, and negotiate boundaries and mutual respect with a sports broadcasting network with the kind of clout ESPN has.
Turns out, she’s had conversations ongoing with one of their key directors of broadcast since December last year, and then spent 6-7 months asking questions and feeling the whole thing out. The guy who was the recipient of these questions has been around in the network for 16 years, and has had some history with derby. Besides going to a number of games, he has been interested in showing some Gotham games on the network when they’d been in conversation back in 2009.
When the actuality of production started warming up, it turned out it was an easy enough negotiation – the existing standard of camera angles, HD and replays was generally embraced by ESPN when they started talking tech. And the WFTDA ultimately hired DigitalWave, a production company which has some experience working with the network, and also produces ‘SnowCross’ sports out of that St. Paul area. The existing Carolina scoreboard system you’ve all seen by now, and its coding, still works perfectly for this broadcast with a few little tweaks to make it shine. ESPN didn’t want to change those graphics anyway, despite their own graphics packages being generally pretty shiny and bold. Basically, we’re anticipating this broadcast to be pretty familiar looking, with some bolder highlight options.
At this point, we appropriately pause our conversation as DestructoPup hurls himself back into the room, leaps onto the bed with me and grabs a throw pillow in his mouth almost larger than himself and shakes it like it needs to die. The dude hasn’t quite worked out that he can get warm by snuggling in blankets yet, and so I wrestle him into them and settle him in the warmth by me so we can continue this discussion. It turns out to be adorable. (See feature pic).
Then we move on to talk about how this whole ‘deal’ is working out for WFTDA, and it turns out it’s on a split revenue / barter deal principle (however you prefer to call it). In this version, the WFTDA sold half the sponsor ads for the broadcast (through the hard work of Rachel Rotten, amongst others), and gets to produce it, under their existing direction for broadcast. This means that the broadcast hasn’t at all been stuck with what frequently winds up being a gendered framework of sports broadcast production. By that I mean the ‘women’s sports approach’ which involves fewer camera angles and emphasis on the dynamic potential of the sport, in anticipation of a supposedly less invested and enthused audience. Instead we get roller derby, like we love it.
Double H tells me about how this one day of ESPN3.com screening kind of operates like a ‘first date’, including all the learning in progress and financials (they split the bill) – and the sport gets to determine whether there’s a second. Or if the next ‘date’ happens with another place.
Ultimately WFTDA has the aim for affordable access (for a potentially broad audience), plus true HD footage – and this version will include some never-before-screened footage from 2009 that Double H got when she was trying to work out broadcast then, all in HD clarity.
What that whole dating theory means in practice is that while ESPN has the games on their archives for 30 days, the footage is ultimately owned by WFTDA – and therefore controlled by the skaters, for the skaters. And while sports viewership generally is a hugely competitive arena, with plenty of competition, (Double H describes the sheer size of the highlights editing room in ESPN with some awe), roller derby stands up in this arena, and will keep doing so more and more in years to come.
So when it comes to your own set-up, you’re going to want to walk through these steps. Okay, so it’s a 4 page .pdf document, but when it’s large type and mostly screenshots, you’re probably safe. I was fine, even with the ‘help’ of DestructoPup.
If you want a more step-by-step system, this is the link you want, and it includes a desperation / emergency link, which puts you directly through to a WFTDA tech team on standby specifically for people to livechat through their emergency on Sunday.
Get it all sorted out now so you can watch on Sunday without interruptions! If you miss any games, check out our scores and recaps on our Champs Central!