What is women’s flat track derby?
Most people are familiar with the ‘50s and ‘60s roller derby. Whenever I tell someone that I am an official for women’s roller derby, they always say things like, “Oh, I remember watching that on Sunday mornings with my dad.” It used to be held on a banked track with the railing around the outside and there were elbows to the face, that sort of stuff. It was less on the athletic aspect and more on the entertainment. Around 2002 in Austin, Texas, there was a group that attempted to recreate the game and the rules by watching some of that old footage. The banked track and the rails went away, and it went to flat track. This new form of roller derby basically caught like a virus. Now there are about 1,500 roller derby leagues in the world, and of those, about 1,200 are women’s flat track leagues. Yes, it’s entertainment, and you have the production value, but most sports nowadays do.
What is the schedule like for WFTDA?
In terms of actual sanctioned events, there are thousands every year. In addition, the leagues will typically play several unsanctioned or home games for their local fans. For 2013, WFTDA is holding seven tournaments that are the major competitive events for our sport, and that will consist of six playoffs and a championship in November to determine the world champions. I manage all seven of those tournaments: work with the venues, contract with the hotels.
What do you look for when you are trying to choose a site?
Ideally, you want this to be in a city where there is already a roller derby presence and a fan base. We want to see a local league step up and say, “Yes, we want to be the tournament host league,” and we want to see they have support and the commitment from a venue that they have a relationship with already. We also want them to have the support of the city and of the convention and visitors bureau to help with the hospitality aspect. It takes a tremendous amount of man-hours to put a tournament on and we are primarily an association of volunteers.
How many members, teams, and leagues does WFTDA have?
There are currently 265 leagues in the WFTDA. Each league supports a handful of teams and that consists of anywhere from a dozen athletes to several hundred athletes. Overall, with all those leagues, the WFTDA represents about 15,000 individual skaters worldwide.
Who are your athletes?
Generally, they are women from the ages of 25 and 34. I would say that the athletes tend to be salaried professionals. Many have college degrees. They are pretty much an even split in terms of marital status. About 30% have children under 18 at home, and they are really unusually diverse in terms of body type and body size as well as their athletic background.
What challenges do you see in terms of event management for the sport?
I would like to see the venues be more like sports arenas. Right now, we are getting everything from a convention center or an expo hall that has put up temporary bleacher seating and a projector with a screen for the scoreboard and those types of things, which is totally fine, but I think it will help in the sustainability of our sport to have our tournaments in sporting venues and in stadiums with built-in seating and a scoreboard.
In addition to selling the live tickets for these recognized tournaments, we have the WFTDA.tv, which is our broadcasting arm, which is sort of like a pay-per-view webcast. So in order to do that, the venues have to have the upload speed that we need in order to broadcast the events.
Is WFTDA involved in any specific initiatives to grow the sport?
We couldn’t stop the growth if we tried! What we are trying to focus on is international growth, so the leagues in Europe or Latin America or Asia have opportunities for competitive play.